BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Andrew Sischo was a good player at Guilderland High, one of the top big men in the Albany region in the class of 2016. The emphasis, however, was on “big”. A less charitable word would have been “overweight.”
“I was almost 300 pounds,” Sischo recalled during a recent interview at Daemen, which hosts Queens College in an East Coast Conference tournament quarterfinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m. “I knew that I needed to lose weight if I wanted to play at the next level.”
A lot of college coaches saw the extra weight and dismissed him as a prospect. They assigned the easy stereotypes — slow, lazy, unmotivated — and moved on to other, slimmer, recruiting targets.
Mike MacDonald, the Daemen head coach, looked at Sischo and, while acknowledging the kid’s physical flaws, chose to see the possibilities. MacDonald has coached college ball at every level, and it was rare to see a big guy with hands, footwork and hoop skills like Sischo’s.
Daemen plays at the Division II level of college basketball, where players who don’t quite measure up to the glorified DI game can play and get scholarships. It’s a leap from DIII, the non-scholarship level of the sport.
“A lot of people didn’t think he was a DII player,” MacDonald said. “A lot of DIII coaches thought he was a DIII guy and that we were overswinging. I just thought he was a big, big body and he liked to play and was a really good kid, a good student.
“So it was worth it for us to take a gamble on him.”
MacDonald wound up hitting the lottery. In June of ’17, an Albany area AAU coach emailed him a photo of Sischo. “Check out your guy,” he wrote.
Sischo, a 6-foot-9 center, had lost the weight. He looked like a different person, a slimmed down-copy of the kid he’d recruited. MacDonald called him and said, “What happened to the rest of you?”
Well, one day Sischo simply had decided it was time to get serious. He began working out harder, avoiding fattening foods and sugary drinks. Before you knew it, he had lost 75 pounds.
“Once it started coming off, it just kept going,” Sischo said.
“His weight turned some guys away, I’m sure,” said Mike Parks, who coached Andrew at Guilderland. “But one thing Andrew does now is play with a huge chip on his shoulder, knowing that he probably was under-recruited. He wouldn’t say so, but I think that’s a big motivating factor for him.”
Sischo was further motivated when MacDonald decided to redshirt him as a true freshman. He hadn’t expected to sit his first year. Playing right away was one of the selling points of DII. But he worked his tail off in practice, at times to the dismay of the Wildcats’ regulars.
“We laugh about it now,” MacDonald said. “But that year, our redshirt team would play against our guys and beat them all the time. I would come in my office and literally put my head on my desk and say, ‘We’re 15-6, and we can’t beat THEM?’”
Sischo got a lot better in those practices. The next season, MacDonald brought him off the bench at first. But he realized after about 10 games that Sischo might be his best player. He blossomed as a redshirt freshman, averaging 15.4 points to make all-East Coast Conference first team and win league rookie of the year.
Last year, he got even better, averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds to win player of the year in the ECC and second-team DII All-American. This season, as a junior, Sischo is ninth in the land in scoring (24.2 ppg), third in rebounding (11.4) and ninth in field-goal percentage (64.3). He leads the nation in double-doubles with 20.
Sischo has the Daemen record for career field goals with 694, and he has done it with a surgical efficiency. This season, he has twice shot 12 of 13 from the field. He’s also had games of 9-for-11 and 13-for-16. He has shot over 60 percent in eight straight games entering tonight.
Oh, he also made the academic all-district team, qualifying him for academic All-America which will be released later this month. Sischo is a sport management major. His mother, Deanna, is a first-grade teacher, and his father, Kevin, a computer engineer for the government. They rarely miss a game, home or away.
There’s no question that Sischo could have played at a higher level. Any low Division I school would love to have a player of his size and skills. Niagara — where MacDonald’s son Nick is a freshman — doesn’t have a starter over 6-5 and is last out of 353 DI teams in rebounding.
“I get that a lot,” Sischo said when asked if would have been more heavily recruited if he had lost the weight sooner. “Maybe. Honestly, it worked out great for me. This is a great place for me and I fell in love with Daemen. I found a great fit. It couldn’t have gone any better.”
The Wildcats are 23-7 this season, 65-14 since MacDonald made him a starter a third of the way into his redshirt freshman year.
“We still joke about that,” Sischo said. “He says, ‘I don’t know who that coach was at the time. He probably should have started you sooner.’”
MacDonald wishes he could have Sischo forever. But he’s relieved to know he’ll have him for one more season. A week ago, he was still worried that Sischo might transfer to a DI school for his final year. You couldn’t blame the guy for wanting to prove himself at the higher levels — though he’s almost certain to do that as a professional some day.
But last week on Senior Night, Sischo realized where his loyalties lay. As the seniors who arrived with him in 2016 were being honored in Lumsden Gym, he found himself getting emotional.
“I actually started to cry,” he said. “I was so happy for them. We all kind of built this program, with the help of a lot of other guys. I texted Coach Mac the next day and asked if he would be in his office.”
Sischo went to see MacDonald and told him he’d decided to stay for his senior year.
“He’s been like a father figure to me,” Sischo said. “I’ve been close with his family, his kids. I said, ‘I want to finish it out here. It wouldn’t feel right if I moved on.’ The look on his face was great. He was speechless at first. He probably doesn’t want me telling this, but he almost started to cry. His eyes started to bubble up.”
That’s what coaches live for, to see possibilities in young players and help them succeed beyond their imaginings. MacDonald took a chance on Sischo, who’ll leave Daemen next year as perhaps the greatest player in program history. Gerald Beverly, who starred for the Wildcats from 2011-15, played in the NBA G league and is now a pro in Italy.
“Each year, Andrew has gotten a little bit better, and he sees that he has to add to it,” MacDonald said. “His work ethic is off the charts. To lose that much weight on your own, you have to have that inner drive. I already have a list of things I want him to learn next season.”
MacDonald told an old basketball joke: There will be two plays next season: “Hamilton” and “Pass the ball to Andrew.” Yes, he’ll have his star for one more year. He laughed at his good fortune, like a coach who had a great weight lifted off his shoulders.