Silvestro Silvestro finds refuge in basketball thanks to mother's escape from South Sudan

Silvestro Silvestro finds refuge in basketball thanks to mother's escape from South Sudan

Silvestro Silvestro is a key defender for Signal Mountain

February 14th, 2018 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Preps
Senior basketball player Silvestro Silvestro shoots during practice Monday at Signal Mountain High School.

Senior basketball player Silvestro Silvestro shoots during practice...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

The first thing you notice is the name. So undeniably uncommon — Silvestro Silvestro — it causes a double-take to make sure there isn't a mistake.

But his name isn't the only thing unique about Signal Mountain's versatile senior. On the basketball court the 6-foot-2, 160-pound Silvestro can play a variety of positions — wherever he's needed — and is a gifted defender with a knack for taking charges and generally disrupting opposing offenses.

"My mom wanted me to kind of stand out, and she thought giving me that name would be one way of doing that," said Silvestro, a three-year starter for the Eagles who averages just under 10 points and six rebounds per game as well as having taken 25 more charges than any other teammate.

"Now my name is how everybody knows me, so I guess her idea worked. I'll see scorekeepers before games asking to make sure that's really my name, and people always say something to me or ask me about it."

Silvestro helped the Eagles win five of their last six regular-season games to claim the No. 2 seed in their first year competing in District 6-AA — one of the toughest in the city — and the first area Division I league to begin its district tournament tonight when Hixson's boys travel to Red Bank.

The winner plays Thursday at Central, with that winner advancing to face the Eagles in a Saturday semifinal at Howard. Third-place games are Monday and championship games are Tuesday, also at Howard.

Eight girls' teams will be competing but only seven boys' teams, because regular-season district champion Brainerd received a postseason ban for its involvement in an on-court fight with Austin-East late last month. Tyner is the No. 1-seeded team.

"Silvestro has come so far in two years on the floor," said Signal Mountain coach Steve Redman. "He's matured a lot this year and has become a leader for us because he doesn't mind doing some of the stuff that might go unnoticed.

"He takes a lot of pride in being a good defender, and that's a great example for the rest of our team. He's quick laterally and is a tough kid who's willing to take the hit. All of those things have made us a lot better."

The journey that brought Silvestro to Chattanooga has been as equally unique as his name. When his mother, Wamda Bashir, was still pregnant with Silvestro — who would be her firstborn — she fled her South Sudan home to escape the bloody civil war that has claimed more than 300,000 lives and displaced nearly 3 million of the country's citizens.

Looking to provide a safer home, the family first moved to Egypt, where Silvestro was born, then to the U.S. three months later — living in Mobile, Ala., for three years, then moving to Nashville and finally to Chattanooga when Silvestro was 7.

"My mom wanted what was best for her future family," Silvestro said. "She wanted us out of all the fighting that was going on. When I was in kindergarten I noticed that I was different, that my skin was darker than everyone else's, so I asked my mom and that's when she explained where we had come from.

"Our family went back to Sudan a couple of years ago to visit our relatives. It was emotional to meet our grandparents and other family, but there is so much poverty and fighting there that it made us kids (Silvestro has three younger siblings) very appreciative for what Mom did to get into a better situation."

Silvestro began playing basketball when he was 6 years old, and the sport has remained an important part of his life for more than a decade.

"It's my refuge, honestly," said Silvestro, who played football for the first time last fall. "Football kind of made me a little tougher, but I love playing basketball because I can even go shoot around by myself and before long I'll forget about whatever might be bothering me.

"I just want to do whatever I can to help keep our season going for as long as we can."

Contact Stephen Hargis at or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.