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Sudanese Basketball Player Follows Father’s Big Footsteps

posted on: Jul 5, 2017

Photo: Bol Bol

By David Demaria/Contributing Writer

Bol Bol has some big shoes to fill. His father, Manute, was a legendary giant, and not just because of his 7’7” frame, but because of the work he did off the court. Manute Bol was born in the town of Gogrial in what was then part of Sudan in 1962.

Following a season in Connecticut at the University of Bridgeport from 1984-85, Manute went on to play nine seasons in the NBA, after being drafted by the Washington Bullets with the 31st overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft. Though Manute was limited offensively, he is still known as one of the league’s best defenders to ever play the game, averaging about three blocks per game.

For all his accomplishments on the court, Bol’s real legacy was off the court serving as a spokesperson for marginalized people living in unimaginable conditions in South Sudan.

After a bloody genocide centered around religious and ethnic differences in Western and Southern Sudan, Bol worked with the United Nations to help the people of South Sudan achieve independence. Bol was himself a member of the Dinka tribe, who primarily inhabit the Bahr el Ghazal region of the Nile basin, Jonglei, parts of Southern Kordufan, and Upper Nile regions.

North Sudan is predominantly Arab and Muslim, while South Sudan is predominantly Christian and comprised of local ethnic groups, including the Dinka. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army carried out an all-out assault on the local populations of Southern Sudan, forcing many people into refugee camps.

Manut Bol spent much of his earnings as a professional basketball player contributing to charity organizations to help refugees, and frequently visited refugee camps after his playing days were over.

Manute passed away on June 19, 2010 of acute kidney failure. Among those attending his funeral were former players, United States Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas, former United States National Security Adviser Robert MacFarlane, and Vice-President of the National Basketball Association Player’s Union Rory Sparrow. The service was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Manute Bol’s body was placed in a specially designed eight-foot-long casket.

Manut Bol lives on through his first and second wives, Atong and Ajok, and his ten children. One of his sons, Bol Bol was born and raised in Olathe, Kansas where his father Manut lived after his playing career ended.

Photo: Manute Bol (by Declan Walsh)

Bol Bol, like his father, is very tall. He’s 7’1” now and could be 7’3” before he’s done growing. Bol spent his first three years of high school playing Bishop Miege high school in Roland Park, Kansas, but has since transferred to Mater Dei high school in Santa Ana, California. He is already a top recruit for the class of 2018.

One of the school’s recruiting Bol is the University of Kentucky, led by John Calipari, a coach famous for turning high schoolers into players attractive to NBA teams. Calipari will get his first chance to coach Bol on the United States U19 national team at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt later this month. Bol was invited to training camp and is almost certain to make the final roster heading into the prestigious youth event. Bol shares his father’s dream of someday helping people from South Sudan.

Bol Bol undoubtedly has better offensive skills than his deceased father ever possessed, and is an excellent outside shooter for someone of his size. Bol will get his first taste of international competition at the FIBA U19 World Cup, where he will begin his journey of following in his father’s footsteps, both on the court and in all aspects of his life.