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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Wednesday / September 20.
  • Long Journey from Sudan to Oklahoma

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    With both his parents dead and genocide ongoing in his native Sudan, Teeng Akol and his surviving family members fled the wartorn African country when he was a child.

    “Yes, we have a long story,” Akol, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound power forward who committed to Oklahoma State Monday, said by phone from Florida. “I lost my parents, I lost both my parents. The living was getting worse. People killing, people starving. We decided to go to Egypt.

    “We went all of us, me, my aunt and my two sisters and my brother. As a matter of fact, they’re still in Egypt.”

    Akol’s close friend, 7-foot-2 John Riek, also left the genocide in the Sudan, crossing the boarder into Ethiopia. He recently committed to Cincinnati and Akol is optimistic that Riek will become academically eligible after taking the ACT next month.

    Akol began playing basketball at 14 or 15 while in Egypt. After several years at the African Hope Learning Center in Cairo,  he came in late 2005 to the United States, where he joined several other Sudanese players at Our Savior New American (OSNA) in Centerreach, N.Y.

    After fleeing the Sudan to places like Kenya, Uganda and Egypt, Akol’s countrymen Marial Dhal, Ring Ayuel, Leek Leek, Deng Leek, Garang Magok and Thon Luony also ended up at OSNA

    “The situation in Sudan is very difficult,” Dhal told the Long Island Pulse. “For the younger generation, it’s awfully difficult just to go to school. For young people, when you graduate, you go to the Army and fight. That’s all. A lot of people are missing school down there, and only a few people get chances to go to other countries.”

    Said Akol: “I came to the U.S. for a better life.”

    Akol made his debut for OSNA in November 2005.

    “Sudanese forward Teeng Akol, a 6-foot-10 specimen, made his national debut with Our Savior New American last weekend at the National Prep Tip-Off and it was a good one,” Dave Telep of Scout wrote then.

    “Akol is a legitimate player on the perimeter, is a slender athlete and has a touch. Though not nearly as strong as he needs to be, Akol has the talent and upside needed to attract major college suitors.”

    On Long Island, Akol and his teammates lived with congregants of Our Savior Lutheran Church and gradually learned English and the game of basketball.

    Akol played at OSNA for the 2005-06 season and then reclassified to the Class of 2008 from the Class of 2007.

    After spending the 2006-07 season at OSNA, Akol left for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he spent last season.

    “I’ve improved a lot while at IMG and understand the game a lot better,” Akol told USFNation.com. “It was great working out and practicing with pros and college players. I’ve improved in strength and mentally, they taught me to make the game easier, and it’ll help me at the next level.”

    Travis Ford, then the coach at UMass, recruited Akol throughout this period.

    “He recruited me last year and I know him a long time ago when he was at UMass,” Akol said. “That’s why I felt like he knows my game. I know him a long time ago so I feel like he can make me better.”

    Akol initially committed to South Florida but after attending two weeks of summer school, he was told by the school in July that he would not be admitted for the fall semester, according to The St. Petersburg Times. He had been “provisionally accepted” by the school and allowed to take summer classes before being denied admission.

    Head coach Stan Heath said: “We love him and we were developing a great relationship. Unfortunately, USF was not the right fit for him. We will do everything to we can to make sure he ends up at the right institution and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”

    “Things just didn’t work out there,” Akol said of South Florida.

    Akol and Riek both credit Fatah Muraisi, a U.S. Army captain originally from Yemen, with helping them adjust to life in America. He calls himself a “mentor.” Akol calls him a “guardian.”

    “He’s my guardian,” Akol said. “He’s helped me with a lot of things, schoolwork. He really helped me with a lot of things.”

    After Akol decommitted from South Florida, Muraisi reached out to Ford.

    Akol considered Nebraska, Missouri, West Virginia and a few other schools after decommitting, but chose Oklahoma State because of his previous relationship with Ford and because he is friendly with a few players, including Ibrahima Thomas, a native of Senegal. 

    With his decision now made, Akol departed for Oklahoma on Wednesday and is looking forward to helping the Cowboys accomplish great things.

    “I’m going to go to Oklahoma,” he said. “Me and the coaches and staff, everybody (is) new. We’re looking to do great things for Oklahoma State. I’m looking to do my best, to put them on the map.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.