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.
Trump’s Travel Ban Could Impact Sudanese Players Attending American High Schools
Deng Gak plans to return to his home in Australia over spring break at Blair (N.J.) Academy in March, but as someone who is Sudanese he needs to know exactly how the new Trump travel ban will impact him.
“I’m going to do my due diligence before I put him on a plane at spring break, I can tell you that,” Blair Academy coach Joe Mantegna said Monday by phone. “I think he’s going to probably go back home. We have a three-week spring break in March. So I think the chances are he’ll probably go back home then. He did last year.”
President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Sudan but excluding South Sudan, for 90 days has raised many questions about how it will impact those in professional sports, but it also has implications for those at the prep level, too.
“Of course there’s implications with a kid like that when you tell his family that you’re going to take care of him and then you’re not sure,” Mantegna said of Gak. “The laws change out from underneath you.”
The 6-foot-10 Gak, who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Miami next season, was born in Egypt before moving to South Sudan, and then ultimately Sydney, Australia, with his family. He holds an Australian passport, much like Milwaukee Bucks rookie Thon Maker, who is also of Sudanese descent and played high school basketball in both the United States and Canada.
“He’s a christian Dinka whose family hails from South Sudan,” Mantegna said.
The NBA, meantime, has reached out to the State Department for information on how to approach players who may be affected by the travel ban.
“We have reached out to the State Department and are in the process of gathering information to understand how this executive order would apply to players in our league who are from one of the impacted countries,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “The NBA is a global league and we are proud to attract the very best players from around the world.”
The NBA released a statement which noted that the Bucks “were concerned about Maker’s ability to travel freely with the team back to the United States from its game Friday in Toronto.”
Ed Smith, Maker’s guardian, said Maker was able to travel.
“With Thon, he was OK getting back in from Toronto,” Smith said by phone. “I think the team’s handling it and the NBA’s handling it, so we’re just waiting for they’re official word on it. But he was OK going back in from the Toronto trip. But that was on the 27th, and I think [the ban] came into effect on the 27th so I don’t know exactly what that means.”
Alex Lasry, the Bucks’ vice president of strategy and operations, has openly criticized the ban and praised Maker as a “symbol” of something bigger.
“Today, a Sudanese refugee who fled oppression and is an incredible young man will make his second NBA start,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “I’m incredibly excited and proud of him.He’s a symbol of what makes America great and all immigrants believe about America.”
Gak is also very close with Los Angeles Lakers veteran Luol Deng, who is also of Sudanese descent and starred for Mantegna at Blair.
Mantegna has reason to be concerned about Gak traveling because he said Deng, who is a dual citizen of South Sudan and Australia, experienced problems returning to the U.S. from England in 2002.
“He was stopped in 2002 from coming back at the holiday break to Blair,” Mantegna said. “So that’s an interesting wrinkle, too. He was stopped in England in the midst of all the shoe-bomber stuff in England. He was held in the country for an extra week or 10 days. We had to use some Blair people in politics to wedge him out of there then. So I’m feeling much the same way.”
Gak, who declined comment for this story, isn’t the only high-profile American high school player of Sudanese descent.
Chol Marial is a 7-foot-2 sophomore at Cheshire (Conn.) Academy who has trained with Smith. He grew up in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan.
Asked by USA Today if he was worried that the Trump ban could have implications for Marial, a potential future pro, Cheshire coach Kevin Kehoe said: “Why would I be worried? I live in the United States of America.”
He added: “What Donald Trump signed has nothing to do with Chol Marial. As much as people don’t want to believe it this is still a democracy. It’s not a dictatorship. Donnie can sign whatever he wants, but this is still the United States of America.”
Reached by phone, Kehoe was asked if the travel ban would have implications for Marial, he said, “I can’t see how that would.”
Kehoe went on to praise Marial’s skillset and character.
“He runs like a deer, loves basketball, loves getting better and absolutely is a freakish athlete,” Kehoe said.
Despite Kehoe’s belief that the travel ban won’t impact Marial, Mantegna said there’s no way to be sure.
“It could affect him…if somebody holds him in an airport,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we didn’t thing were possible politically three months ago that are now our reality. I, as an American citizen, have never been more concerned about how this affects many people who I consider friends and family for that matter at this point. I think everything’s on the table right now.”
He added: “I’m watching the news through a very different lens than I think a lot of white middle-class Americans are. I think my lens into this is very different. While as a white man, I’m probably not affected by Donald Trump , a lot of people I’m close with are.”
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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.