"I like music and football," says 6-10 Makur Puou. "My favorite movie is Superman. That came out last year. That was awesome."
"They’re like any other teenager," says Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens. "They like fast food. They like music. I would say they’ve adjusted very well."
The three of them arrived in this country and at Mooseheart in Batavia through an organization called A-HOPE. It helps student athletes in Africa transition to the United States to receive an education.
The three young men all at out their first year of basketball after enrolling at Mooseheart. Initially they were ruled ineligible to play at all by the IHSA’s executive director, but after the courts became involved the IHSA board overturned that ruling.
How skilled were they when they first arrived at Mooseheart? "Mangisto was probably the farthest advanced because he had been playing basketball," says Ahrens. "The 6’10 kid Makur he was a volleyball player, so he hadn’t really played basketball, and Akaim had been playing basketball about a month. What they’ve learned and one here in improving their game has been leaps and bounds. Their best basketball is ahead of them."
"Before I came here I used to play soccer," says the 7-1 Akaim Nyang. "People told me your height is tall so you should go to basketball."
Sudan is a country lacking in basic necessities. When these three men were very young Sudan was embroiled in a war battling for its independence. Now their country is caught up in a civil war.
"I’m a little bit sad about what happened now," says 6'7 Mangisto Deng. "The government is split and they fight each other. Right now innocent people die a lot. It’s not good."
What’s ironic is these three men come from different tribes. Tribes that are fighting in Sudan. But they’re learned to get along with each other.
"We’re all brothers now like other two guys who came. They’re from other tribes who fight. It’s sad," says Puou.
All three men get homesick for their families in Sudan.
"Oh yea. It’s very hard," says Puou. "I have to call them. Like last night my mom called me. It’s kind of rough there right now, so I’m really worried and I’m homesick. If I didn’t get to talk with them I’d always be worried."
By playing basketball and by supporting each other through their friendships these young men are able to push forward. And they have hopes and dreams like all teenagers do. One goal is to try to win a State Championship. Last season they were upset in the Sectionals.
"Definitely," says Deng. "We should have last year, but last year I feel like we didn’t have chemistry between us, so this os our first year to play, now we definitely understand each other, and we definitely have a lot of chemistry between us."
"I’m not going to say we’re going to make it, but we hope so. Make it to State Championship," says Nyang.
"We want to get farther than we did last year,: says Ahrens. "That was extremely disappointing and I think all of our kids are still extremely disappoint about what happened to us last year in Sectional. Our goal is to get through Sectional and get down to State."
After that there’s college basketball. College coaches would love to have any of these three players, but there’s one very large catch that could delay that.
"They’re getting offers, but what has happened is we’re in a holding pattern because they really don’t know, we don’t’ know how many core credit hours the’re going to have toward the NCAA, because we got them as sophomores, so we don’t have four years with them, so that’s what we’re going to have to see where they end up with core classes," says Ahrens. "Right now there hasn’t been any hours accepted from the Sudan their freshmen year, so we’re behind the eight ball with that. So we’re looking at probably a couple of them going to a junior college."
And beyond college and basketball these teens have other goals.
"When I finish my basketball and education here I want to go back to help my family," says Nyang."I want to be like business man.
"I want to go back home and try to make some changes with my family," says Puou. "Make things different. My friends to OK people.
For now they couldn’t be happier than to be in the United States.
"We have a different life right now, the life we have in America," says Puou. "It’s a goodlife. That’s what we’re hoping and that’s what we came here for."
All three of them are seniors. They could be the last basketball players from Sudan that we’ll see suit up at an Illinois High School. Last summer the IHSA put in a new rule that no foreigners will be eligible to play basketball in the future.