Ater Majok: From Khartoum to Connecticut

Ater Majok: From Khartoum to Connecticut

250 Sudanese-Australian basketballers took part in an annual national tournament in Sydney's west on Sunday with Ater Mjok their main inspiration.

Basketball Australia, with referee assistance from Debbie Kiers at Basketball NSW and with special guest presenter, ex-Sydney King Dean Uthoff, hailed the tournament as a grand success.

BA hopes to continue its association with the Sudanese-Australian basketball community, Landon said.

Daniel Lewis from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote the following feature story on Majok's journey as well as the Sudanese tournament:

From Khartoum to Connecticut: refugee's story inspires from afar

FOR motivation, he goes back to his African roots and watches the warrior movie Shaka Zulu, but his dorm room at the University of Connecticut is decorated with a kangaroo, a koala and rosary beads.

Ater Majok, 22, might hail from war-torn Sudan, but he calls Blacktown home and his skills as a basketballer have taken him to the United States on a scholarship. His tale is so remarkable that it earned him a feature article in The New York Times ahead of his expected debut yesterday afternoon (US time) for the UConn Huskies against Central Florida University in the Big East competition.

And at Penrith Sports Stadium at the weekend, 250 Sudanese-Australian basketballers, who have been inspired by Majok, staged their annual national tournament. Twenty-four men's and women's teams from across the country dribbled, dunked and danced their way through a sporting exhibition that showed the skills of a people who are genetically ideal for basketball.

On the imperial scale, Majok is six feet, 10 inches tall and boasts what has been called a ''pterodactyl-like'' wingspan of well over seven feet. With basketball's profile so low in Sydney because of the demise of the Kings and Razorbacks, many would be unaware that Majok made his debut for Australia when the Boomers won the Boris Stankovic Cup in China in August, playing against Turkey, Angola and the host nation.

He is an aggressive player who has been on a ''bare-knuckle journey from Khartoum'', the Times said. ''Nicknamed ''The Terror'', Majok, the oldest of six children, was hardened by his roots. Refugees from the war in Sudan, Majok's family moved to Egypt when he was a child. The scar on his left ear came from a Muslim gang member's knife when he attacked Majok, a Catholic. The wound on his right thigh came similarly. Majok never forgot his father's command: ''Don't back down.''

At training, the Times reported: Majok nearly got in a fight with UConn's most intimidating player. Majok said: ''They call you the Horse, but I'm the psycho maniac. I don't run.''

Majok arrived in Blacktown in 2000 with little skill, but went on to play with the Parramatta Wildcats in the second-tier Australian Basketball Association, and one of the reasons he ended up with the Huskies was because its coaching staff includes Andre LaFleur, who played professionally in Australia.

Connecticut newspaper the Hart-ford Courant said: ''Majok's story knows no national boundary. His story crosses four nations, three continents. It is the story of human strife, life's possibilities and, yes, patience.''

Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said: ''He has had probably the greatest journey to get here of any kid we've ever had.''

It is a journey that could well see Majok end up in the biggest basketball show on earth, the NBA.

Mayor Chagai, 24, was destined for a US college scholarship before breaking an arm while going for a slam dunk. He helped organise the weekend's tournament in Penrith, where many knew Majok.

''He is a major inspiration for them,'' Chagai said. ''They could not believe that Australia would actually [appreciate] their talents. Now they believe that Australia is their home. They believe that any great thing they want to do they can do for Australia.''

The quality of the weekend's tournament had been, ''fantastic … the spirit of the game in the young people is so great''.

Chagai - from the typically tall Dinka tribe, who complains of being ''only six foot four'' and having a taller sister - arrived in Australia in 2006 and started Star Basketball at Blacktown. It was so named because Chagai wanted its members to be ''the stars of the future'' and the club had five teams competing in the tournament over the weekend.

With the help of the Sydney West Multicultural Service, Blacktown police and the Blacktown Council, Star has grown into a sporting hub for multicultural youth across Western Sydney that has helped them to integrate into Australian life, deal with racism, stay out of trouble, while improving their schoolwork.

At the weekend tournament, three Star players boasted US basketball scholarships: Atem Kuol (Guildford), Akoy Akoy (Wentworthville) and Jidu Deng (Penrith).

The western suburbs are alive to a basketball passion out of Africa and basketball was the way the tough Sudanese work out who is the toughest, Chagai said.

In related news, Rodney Halprin filed the following report on Majok’s college debut”

Majok has mixed night in UCONN debut
By Rodney Halprin
In Hartford, CT

Ater Majok came away with a win in his first college game Sunday, as his University of Connecticut Huskies ran down an energised Central Florida Golden Knights outfit 61-50 at Hartford’s XL Center.

Making his much anticipated debut after sitting out last year due to eligibility issues, Majok started for the Huskies and contested the first jump ball after receiving a warm ovation during the pre-game introductions.

This was only topped by the ovation he received when he scored his first and only point off a free throw towards the end of the first half. He would finish with 1 point, 3 rebounds and 1 turnover in 16 minutes, missing both of his field goal attempts.

Led by Seniors Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson, the Huskies overcame a poor first half which was riddled with turnovers and missed free throws. Robinson excited the crowd with a series of alley-oop dunks on his way to 26 points and 5 rebounds. Dyson was less consistent but made plays when it counted late in the game, finishing with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists on 5/15FG shooting.

Majok did look more comfortable as the game progressed, being active on the offensive glass and playing some aggressive post defence. Central Florida, Led by Michael Jordan’s son Marcus, were clearly the more energised team, executing well and applying strong defensive pressure to take a 5 point half time lead.

UCONN noticeably increased their own defensive pressure in the second half, which kick started their transition game to seize control from their less experienced opponents. The visitors failed to execute the way they wanted in the last 10 minutes and any chance of an upset road win vanished.

Despite doing some good things, UCONN Coach Calhoun conceded it was not the debut he and Majok himself expected.

“(Ater) didn’t look ready to play today and deserved the 16 minutes of game time he got,” Calhoun said after the game.

“One of the things we love about Ater is his engine but for whatever reason, it was shut off today”.

The UCONN coach was clearly heard multiple times using expletives in the direction of his players with Majok being the target on one occasion.

Citing exhaustion after a week of final exams, Calhoun wasn’t happy with the overall energy and body language of his team but was pleased the team, led by Dyson and Robinson, were able to get things right in the last 10 minutes.

For Majok, the significance of the moment hit home, when he heard his name called out during the introductions.

“It wasn’t until I heard the introductions and was in the first jump ball that I realized I was here,” Majok said.

Majok and the Huskies get a chance to improve on this afternoon’s performance when they return to XL Center on Tuesday night when they play host to the Maine Black Bears.

Image by Dean Sewell