Ajer Majok: From Sudan to Egypt to Australia to UConn to...
Imagine setting up a tent in your backyard.
Now imagine living in that tent.
Cram your entire family in there.
Take that tent and put in a Sudanese desert.
Then move to Egypt. Then Australia.
Now imagine you're not doing that because some writer is doing some weird “imagination” exercise.
Imagine you're doing it because you and your family are trying to escape genocidal slaughter.
Learn four languages. Find basketball.
And, finally, imagine you the have the perfect body for that sport and every university wants to get their hands on your 6'10” frame and 7'7” wingspan. They place expectations on you that imply you will be unstoppable.
A bit difficult?
That's what the 22-year-old freshman at UConn, Ater Majok, went through.
Though his basketball presence is far from remarkable (he plays nearly 14 mpg, which is relatively admirable, but all his other stats are rather...lukewarm: 2.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG), his actual presence is astounding considering his path to Connecticut.
Majok initially committed to Baylor, but backed out of that when other schools started showing interest. Kansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Connecticut came to the forefront of his choices—and UConn topped it. However, it was still a while before he actually appeared on the latter's campus.
He committed back in 2002, but he didn't arrive until the middle of last year. That's because he declared for the NBA draft last spring, but performed so poorly that the scouts concluded he wasn't fit for the professional level.
Once Majok finally got to Connecticut, a bunch of speculation began circling him, primarily related to his academic eligibility.
According to ESPN's Andy Katz, “Majok has said he was interviewed by the school last spring in relation to allegations of possible recruiting violations related to former agent/manager Josh Nochimson, but said in the offseason he didn't know who Nochimson was at the time. There is no indication at this point that Majok's eligibility was ever in jeopardy."
So Majok is cleared to play, and according to head coach, Jim Calhoun, “he's a good addition...He's good enough to start.”
His physical stature and traits belie depth that, if tapped, could make him quite formidable. Katz continues, “The coaching staff has raved about Majok's presence, his ability to run the floor, block shots and finish. But he still hasn't played a competitive basketball game that mattered in more than two years.”
That gap in competitive play is quite apparent. At times, Majok looks entirely lost on the floor. His decisions are baffling, his instincts almost non-existent (or simply wrong). The native of Sudan looks exactly like a native of Sudan, far from someone who grew up on the streets of New York with a basketball court on every corner.
But the way he moves is reminiscent of one of the two best players on the planet: LeBron James. James is so tall and strong that it appears he shouldn't be able to do half of what he does. He moves like a guard, posts like a center, and...aw hell, you know what LeBron James does.
Majok has those same kinds of tendencies. His agility and speed are incredibly rare for someone of his stature. Plus, he's not Kevin Durant: tall, but without an ounce of strength. Majok has a clearly-defined muscular frame, not overly-muscular, but obviously strong, which gives him to ability to handle the bigger post presences in college basketball and impose his will on smaller players.
Like many foreign-born players who were scouted more for their raw talent and physical attributes rather than their basketball skills or knowledge, he still has a lot to learn.
A lot to learn.
Keep him on your radar, however. By even making it this far in life, let alone basketball, he's demonstrated a resiliency and determination to work hard and succeed. I wouldn't be surprised to see an NBA team take a shot at him after a few years, when he's accrued more experience, skills, and a greater knowledge of the sport.
He escaped genocide as the oldest of six children, lived in three countries (now four), and managed to learned four languages along the way; I think he can learn to play better basketball.
But even if he doesn't improve much, and never makes it to the NBA, at least he doesn't have to live in a tent anymore. That's something.
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