When both are dressed head to toe in La Salle basketball gear, the Drame brothers, Hassan and Fousseyni, are indistinguishable.
Beyond looks, the basketball duo from Bamako, Mali, both stand 6-foot-7, are marketing majors, aspire to be professional players, and they’re both the same age — not one a minute or two older or younger as far as they’re concerned. And yes, they are twins.
That’s where the similarities only continue, as the brothers have played the game together for as long as they can remember.
Throughout their careers, they have been making history for Mali and the Drame name together — the most notable is right here in the United States during the heroic St. Peter’s University run in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
“There is a saying, you never change a winning team. Together we were winning,” said Fousseyni. “And the one question to us is why would we change it? You fix something that is broken. So, it’s not broken, why would we fix it … We’ve been winning since Day 1.”
This year, as senior transfers, they plan to replicate the run on West Olney Ave.
La Salle opens its season on Nov. 7 in a Big Five clash against Villanova. It’ll be a true test for the Explorers, but mainly for the Drame duo who have Atlantic 10 Championship aspirations and an NCAA Tournament bid in sight.
“I believe every great leader [in a coach like Fran Dunphy] has a great following. If we become a great follower, we’re gonna become a great team,” said Fousseyni. “We’re ready for the challenge. We’ve been doing it all our life.”
» READ MORE: Fran Dunphy back on practice court at La Salle, still aiming for ‘perfection’
When the twins were 13 years old, the women’s under-18 basketball team from Mali won the African Championship. It was then their father immediately pushed them toward basketball after witnessing the opportunities the sport can bring. Two of those opportunities? Nike Air Jordan shoes and, of course, playing college basketball in the States.
“Moving forward, we started falling in love with the game, said Fousseyni. “We always love to compete no matter what it is.”
As more opportunities came in Mali, the brothers grew more serious about their game. However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Hassan and Fousseyni were repeatedly called upon to try out for their country’s under-17 national team, but continued to be cut.
“The coach at that time didn’t really like us. He did it in a way to humiliate us. To call us and show people that we’re not that good,” said Fousseyni. “We took it very personally. We decided not to play for the [Malian] national team.”
Changing paths in 2016, the brothers began school at Our Savior New American School in Long Island, N.Y. They left their parents and six siblings behind only knowing “yes,” “no” and “OK” in English. Their English greatly improved thanks to their host family and their game, learning to understand basketball through film rather than simply moving on to the next opponent.
» READ MORE: La Salle eyes improvement after placing second in the A-10 women’s basketball preseason poll
In 2019, while their fellow classmates were preparing to graduate, the Drames were flying back to Mali to compete. This time, it was in the 2019 FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup — where no Malian team had been before.
“People thought Mali was just going there to hang out,” Hassan said. “Many players at the World Cup are professional or semi-pro, or projected to be top-tier players in America. Mali mentality is not about the name on the jersey. It’s the heart. I’m pretty sure, people that know us, know that the heart is over everything.”
Mali went on to defeat Latvia, Canada, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and France to meet the United States in the championship game, where they lost, 93-79. Mali was the first team from Africa to play in a FIBA under-19 World Cup gold medal game.
Added Hassan: “[Do that] and the world starts asking, ‘Who are those players?’ ”
St. Peter’s was one of many schools that came knocking on the Drame’s door after Mali’s high-level performance. Who knew the twins could turn the small Jersey City, N.J. campus into a notable basketball school and have a similar run to Mali’s on the biggest college basketball stage after the Peacocks’ Cinderella run to the NCAA Elite Eight last year?
“Our Cinderella story didn’t start at St. Peter’s. We brought that to St. Peter’s,” said Fousseyni.
The Drame brothers dreamed of going to a school no one ever heard of. The pair walked into the high school-like gym of St. Peter’s, telling the coaches and players they were there to put the university on the map.
They were met with the wide eyes of a program that had not seen a winning season since 2011.
“From that first year, we changed St. Peter’s from being a losing team to being a winning team,” said Hassan.
As time went on, everything began to come to fruition. St. Peter’s went 14-6 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season, taking the championship game over Monmouth for their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
The team upset Kentucky in the opening round, followed by Murray State and Purdue. For the Drame brothers, this was more than just another Cinderella run.
“We just go to win. Losing is not an option for us because we have more — especially when it comes to me and him — we have more to lose in life, if we lose,” said Fousseyni. “That’s our belief because we believe our dream is a family dream. It’s a community dream.”
Now, the twins have taken the same mindset to La Salle to close out their college careers. Rather than exploring a program with bigger pockets, the twins sought out a program where work needs to be done and where they can leave more of a legacy.
The pair’s ambitions and belief in those ambitions are just as tall as they are, if not taller, as they begin to walk the Tom Gola Arena floor toward the start of their senior season. The only difference is one is wearing a pair of gray Crocs and the other is sporting tan.