Trying to Fit in
I was very shy when I came to Australia. It was a completely different world for me. It was so multicultural, there were people from all different countries here. It was cool to see. I loved it. The big problem was that I couldn’t speak English.
For quite a long time, whenever someone talked to me, I would just nod my head. I stayed quiet because I didn’t want to say something the wrong way and have people make fun of me. My family here was really good, they’d teach me about how to live here and they helped me practise the language.
He kept following and pretending he was looking at things on the shelves. Eventually, I had to say something. ‘What’s going on? Is there a problem?’ He said ‘No, no’. But I knew he was keeping an eye on me.
I spent a year and a half at English school, where we would always be writing and listening and doing presentations. English is a really hard language to learn. It’s so confusing. There are a lot of words that mean all different things and words that look the same but are pronounced differently.
But when you come to a new country you should learn the language and respect the way things are done in that country. So I worked really hard at it until I became more comfortable.
The English school was good for me. The teachers were very helpful. They introduced us to each other, explained where everyone came from and helped us feel settled. They did a great job.
Once I graduated from English school, I went to high school at Windsor Gardens in North Adelaide. It was another challenging time for me, trying to settle in, but I soon discovered a little secret. By being good at sport, I could make friends without having to talk much. I played everything I could – soccer, basketball, whatever – and made friends quite quickly.
the basketball bug
When I came to Australia, Mawut was much taller than me. I was playing soccer mostly and he was playing basketball. But when I was in Year 10, I grew a lot – a real lot – and became too tall for soccer. Mawut kept telling me I should play basketball, but I wasn’t interested.
Every year, in July and December, there is a Sudanese basketball tournament in Australia, which moves from city to city. At the end of 2009, my cousin Aciek, who was running the Adelaide team, which included Mawut, approached me while I was playing soccer on a field just outside the gym where the team was training.
He told me I should give basketball a real go and that playing in the tournament would be a good way to make friends and help the team. He also explained that it was a good way of keeping kids active and out of trouble. I joined in and played in my first tournament, in Sydney.
I’m not sure what it was, maybe just my competitive spirit, but I really didn’t like it when opponents would block my shot or go around me. There was quite a lot of trash talk at the tournament and I didn’t want that to go on. So, I started working hard at my game and getting better. I started enjoying it, too.
It was another challenging time for me, trying to settle in, but I soon discovered a little secret. By being good at sport, I could make friends without having to talk much.
Before long I was playing Premier League basketball in South Australia before I got an incredible opportunity to go the US, where I spent two years at Indian Hills in Iowa – my freshman and sophomore years – and then got another scholarship, to go to Louisiana-Monroe, where I played NCAA Division One. After college, I played in the NBA Summer League with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
I learnt so much in America. My game expanded and it really helped me grow as a person. You learn to adapt to different situations. I learnt about the way you should carry yourself, present yourself in public, represent a team, things like that.
I also had to learn to take care of myself, which I’d never done. In South Sudan men are not allowed to cook. So my mothers and sisters would do that for us. It was something I never had to worry about.
There was a big difference in me between when I got to America and when I left. But, even though I tried, I’m still not much of a cook.
Making it official
As a basketball player, or as a competitor in any sport, only the individual can know their full potential. I think I have a lot of potential in basketball. I’ve had some great opportunities already and I’m really loving playing for the Adelaide 36ers, where I’m in my third season. I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. But there is still a long way to go.
The next big thing in my life – and potentially my basketball – will be to become an Australian citizen. Even though I’ve been a permanent resident for a long time, living in the US for four years made me ineligible for citizenship until February next year.
As soon as I’m eligible, I want to join the rest of my family in becoming a citizen of this great country. I can’t wait.
It’s going to be a special day, but the truth is that I already feel part of Australia. I’ve been here for over 10 years, which is longer than I lived in Sudan. But it will be great to know that it’s official.
Living in Australia has allowed me to reach the position I am in today. It’s a great blessing. There are a lot of people back home who would love to be in my position. I never take it for granted. I want to put it to good use.
One advantage of gaining my citizenship will be the chance to represent Australia in basketball. I love just thinking about it. It would be amazing and I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen. It would be a blessing to play for Australia one day.