Saturday, February 28, 2015

Enter Bol Bol, 6-Foot-10 Son Of NBA Fan Favorite Manute Bol

Slowly Learning to Fill Big Shoes
CreditAmy Stroth for The New York Times

Emerging From a Father’s 7-Foot-6 Shadow

Bol Bol, 6-Foot-10 Son of Manute, Adjusts to High School Basketball

ROELAND PARK, Kan. — It is not by happenstance that toy basketball hoops are scattered about the house of 15-year-old Bol Bol, or that his bedroom in the basement is home to about 40 pairs of basketball shoes. His love for the game was passed down by his father, Manute Bol, the 7-foot-6 shot blocker whose impossibly long arms and lighthouse smile made him a fan favorite for 10 N.B.A. seasons before he died in 2010.

But Manute Bol’s on-court fame paled in comparison with the humanitarian work he did on behalf of his native Sudan, raising money and awareness for a country bloodied by civil war.

They are big shoes to fill in every way, and Bol Bol is struggling to do so.

Bol Bol, 15, son of the former N.B.A. player Manute Bol, is attending Bishop Miege
High School in Roeland Park, Kan. His father died in 2010.
Credit Steve Hebert for The New York Times
“Everyone thinks that I’m probably going to be the one, so everything’s on me,” Bol said. “I want to finish what he didn’t do.”

Like his father, Bol is unnaturally tall: He is 6-10 as a high school freshman, and growing. He has the usual teenager preoccupations: regular hangouts at a nearby mall, a popular Instagram account and a devotion to the video game “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.” He is popular with students and teachers here at Bishop Miege High School, but he is still adjusting to wearing a uniform that does not really hang well on his splinter of a frame.

Bol also shoulders his share of teenage angst, the kind that comes when you have an outsize skill set and a famous last name and have become an online phenomenon and a scouting prognosticator’s dream.

His coach, Rick Zych, has had to speak with him about his commitment to his team after Bol has either been late to practice or missed it entirely. Though he recently became eligible for Miege’s varsity — Bol transferred to Miege after starting the year at Blue Valley Northwest and had to sit out because of transfer rules — he has not earned playing time yet. At a recent game, he refused to join his junior varsity teammates on the court when Zych cleared the bench toward the end of a big varsity victory.

“He has opportunity,” Zych said. “You can control attitude and effort, and he struggles with those areas. He’s a freshman, understanding team play and attitude with the team.”

Bol Bol was born in Sudan, the first child from Manute’s second marriage, to Ajok, a daughter of an officer in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The couple came to suburban Kansas City more than a decade ago and set about raising Bol, Madut, now 8, and Garang, 6. Ajok has another child, Mariak, 2.

Manute Bol in 1993 playing against the Knicks' Patrick Ewing.
Bol was involved with Sudan Sunrise, a humanitarian
group that promotes reconciliation in Sudan.
Credit Jim Sulley/Associated Press
In 2010, however, Manute Bol died of kidney disease and complications of a rare skin disorder known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome. He was 47, and his funeral in Washington brought out United States senators and diplomats as well as basketball players.

Manute, by reputation, would give anything to support his struggling countrymen, but often gave too much, regularly putting the family in a tough financial position. One of Manute’s older sons, the 6-8 Madut (he had two sons named Madut), played basketball at Southern University but never reached the pros. Another son, Chris, tried out for an A.B.A. team. Manute’s distance alienated his older sons, who now live in New Jersey.

“I used to wonder where he was earlier in my life, why he wasn’t there then,” Chris told The Philadelphia Inquirer last year.

Bol, however, has a different memory of his father.

“He would always travel a lot for the N.B.A. and for meetings,” Bol said. “But sometimes I’d go with him. He taught me a lot of stuff when I was little.”

Bol often accompanied his father to the N.B.A. All-Star Game, where Manute was always a spectator but one admired by his colleagues. One year, Bol Bol got to step on the playing court. Another year, he shook hands with Michael Jordan. Once, LeBron James signed a pair of shoes for him.

But his first basketball memory is receiving a toy hoop when he was 5 years old, part of his father’s mission to get him to play a sport he had resisted.

“At first I didn’t like it because my dad was always pushing me to play,” Bol said.

Bol Bol dunking during a junior varsity game for Bishop Miege
High School in Roeland Park, Kan., on Tuesday.
Credit Amy Stroth for The New York Times
Earlier this winter, an eye-popping highlight video of Bol caught the eye of longtime N.B.A. fans who saw something familiar in the galloping strides of a long-limbed Bol. Though Bol had received plenty of attention in recruiting circles — his first dunk came in sixth grade — the video made him a national name.

A virtual clone of his father, save for a cluster of braids and bright Under Armour socks, Bol unleashed an array of soft floaters in the post and sweeping two-handed blocks against smaller, less-skilled opponents. It vaulted him to the top of the rankings for players in his age group.

“His skill set, the ball handling and shooting, is excellent for a kid his size,” said Zych, who has won two state titles at Bishop Miege. “When you look down the road, that’s what makes him so intriguing.”

Now, however, Bol is a work that needs a lot of progress. He is a natural gym rat who is just starting to build a work ethic. He is also headstrong and defiant, and he believes he is as good as online scouting reports say he is.

“Sometimes kids see themselves, Hey, I’m a three man at the next level,” Zych said. “High school coaches, their job is to put the best high school team out there. To be competitive at our level, our job is that we’re really trying to make him a quality post player and to utilize his size and agility. Sometimes, when kids have accolades, like it’s going to be handed to him.”

Bol’s A.A.U. team, KC Run GMC, which is based in Olathe, Kan., allows him more freedom to play how he wants: more long jumpers and slashing drives to the basket.

Bol, who is 6-feet-10-inches, stands a head above most of his teammates.
Bol came to America from Sudan when he was 2.
Credit Steve Hebert for The New York Times
“You see his size and skill set and think he would not be as agile as he is, but he’s pretty gifted in that regard,” said Run GMC Coach L. J. Goolsby. “We had no idea that he was that good of a shooter. There’s work to be done, and he has a long ways to go. He actually does have a good post game when he uses it.”

Still, Bol struggles to find his place in basketball, the game his father wanted him to play but the son first pushed away. In practice, Zych’s most frequent commands to his would-be star are “Sprint!” and “Keep working!”

Bol does, sort of.

“He’s not his dad,” Zych said. “He’s Bol Bol. He’s this piece of clay. How this piece of clay ends up being a statue is up to him. We’re just some of the people that are going to help mold this person.”

Bol’s immediate goal is to get out of Zych’s doghouse and into the varsity rotation. He also has talked to his mother about attending a more basketball-focused prep school next year. In the meantime, Bol counts the days to summer when he returns to the A.A.U. circuit, with its bigger cities and better players.

He is a boy, after all, one who often looks at a photograph he posted on Instagram. He is with his father in the hospital. He misses him.

“Pray every day to be with this man in heaven,” it reads. — Corbin Goble | New York Times

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