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'5,000-miles away:' Little Rock basketball star hoping to rebuild family home in Mali

Sali Kourouma first picked up a ball in her home country of Mali when she was 11. Since then basketball has taken her around the world, most recently in Little Rock.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — “When I play basketball I just feel safe.”

Sali Kourouma first picked up a ball on an asphalt court in her home country of Mali when she was 11. Little did she know that her talent would soon take her around the world.

“I saw little kids play when I was young and thought this looks easy, I can try this,” she said.

Soon enough, Kourouma was making it look easy with the Mali national team. Continued work with the team landed her an opportunity to take her talents to the United States.

“It’s my dream, so I just have to follow my dreams,” she said.

What followed was a string of broken promises and moves from Arizona, to Wichita, to Grayson.

“I almost quit. I was tired. I was gonna go home, but at the same time I was like, this is my dream and I can fight through anything.”

The Grayson coach had connections with Little Rock Assistant Bobby Brasel, and when Kourouma was ready to make the jump to D1, he made the call.

“When I was talking with Coach Bobby I felt like if I came here I would be safe and be like family,” Kourouma said.

Kourouma had finally found a home away from home in Little Rock and even began making plans for a trip back to Mali. 

That's when, just before the season, her mom shared devastating news.

“She was like oh, the house has broke down,” Kourouma said.

Two years ago a storm tore down her family’s house, leaving them homeless ever since.

“I was like, since when? You did not tell me anything. She said 'just want you to focus on school and basketball and everything will be alright.' I said 'no, I’m going to help you however I can,'” she said.

When she did take the floor this year, it was with a heavy heart.

“It was just a mindset, I had to keep pushing hard every day like I do,” Kourouma said.

And it was a noticeable push for sure, leading the Trojans and ranking in the top 50 in scoring around the nation at 18.4 points per game. 

In that time, she has started a GoFundMe to help rebuild her family’s house. She’ll said leave for Mali this week, her first trip home in 5 years.

“They have to see the real me now, because I have grown so much,” she said.

Kourouma will give back to the children of her community, on that same asphalt court she started hooping on all those years ago.

“I want to bring them some shoes, play with them, have fun with them, and get to know them,” Kourouma said.

If you're interested in donating to Kourouma's GoFundMe, you can visit here.