Mooseheart basketball standouts Makur Puou, Mangisto Deng and Akim Nyang are dealing with a two-pronged challenge in pursuit of their dreams of playing Division I hoops in the United States.
Not only are the rising seniors feverishly trying to impress college coaches with their play on the court, they also continue to play catch-up in the classroom after arriving at Mooseheart from South Sudan leading up to their sophomore years of high school.
So far, no Division I offers have materialized, and Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens suspects that might be tied to the uncertainty about whether they will be academically eligible as college freshmen.
“They’re great kids, great students academically, I just don’t know if we’ll have [enough time] in order to get them their NCAA requirements in,” Ahrens said. “That’s the thing, because I think they would have had offers.”
Barry Kroot, who coaches Puou and Deng with the Indiana Elite 17 AAU program, agrees that the 6-foot-10 Puou and 6-7 Deng are Division I material. He’s not as familiar with the 7-1 Nyang, who plays elsewhere on the AAU circuit.
“I would say that Makur has a chance to be a mid-major to a high-major player and Mangisto low-major to mid-major,” Kroot said.
If the transcript requirements end of the equation does not click for the trio by the spring – Ahrens said it could come down to the wire – starting at a junior college figures to become an option.
Both Puou and Deng also have dealt with health setbacks this summer, with Deng’s more substantial. Deng has missed the July AAU period with a shoulder injury that requires a surgical procedure this week, Kroot said.
Ahrens, citing privacy regulations, declined to elaborate on Deng’s condition but said he played with Mooseheart’s summer team in June and he expects the rangy guard to be available for high school ball this winter.
Puou, meanwhile, missed a recent AAU tournament with dehydration issues, Kroot said, but Puou is slated to compete in the high-profile adidas Super 64 tournament this week in Las Vegas.
Puou was a First-Team Chronicle All-Area selection as a junior for the Ramblers. He averaged team-bests of 19 points and 10.8 rebounds in his first season of high school eligibility while swatting 106 shots.
“His free-throw shooting and all that has gotten a lot better and his biggest asset is he plays harder than anybody,” Kroot said of Puou. “A tremendous energy player.”
The Mooseheart trio drew statewide publicity last winter as the IHSA probed their eligibility during the season. They were ultimately deemed eligible, and helped lead the Ramblers to 24 wins and a Class 1A regional title.
Ahrens said they should have plenty of help next season as Mooseheart pursues a deeper postseason run. Returning guard Hameed Odunewu is among the Ramblers’ lower-profile returners who have opened eyes this summer, highlighted by a memorable dunk over nationally renowned big man Cliff Alexander, of Curie, at the DePaul team camp.
“Hameed went up and dunked over the top of him,” Ahrens said. “You can not believe how the place erupted when that happened.”
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.