MOOSEHEART – The Mooseheart boys basketball team has an international fan base, one that’s particularly strong in South Sudan.
Senior forward Makur Puou – one of three Red Ramblers starters from South Sudan – enjoyed a congratulatory phone conversation with his mother after Tuesday night’s supersectional win against Lanark Eastland that advanced the Ramblers to this weekend’s IHSA Class 1A state tournament.
Puou said he communicates regularly with his mother, father, three brothers and sister, who live in Rumbek, South Sudan.
“I talked to them [Tuesday] night,” Puou said. “My mom called me to make sure if we won or not, and I told her we’re doing very good. She’s proud of me. All my family, my dad, too, they’re proud of me.”
Puou said Rumbek is in a relatively safe part of South Sudan, but he and teammates Akim Nyang and Mangisto Deng live with constant worries of how their loved ones are doing in the country, which has been decimated by civil war and ethnic killings.
Puou said talking with his family energizes him to make the most of his experience at Mooseheart.
“When I talked to them [Tuesday night], they all were there,” Puou said. “My mom woke them up. It was early this morning for them when I was going to bed. Everyone woke up to hear my voice. They’re really proud of me. That motivated me more.”
State favorites?: Not only does Mooseheart have a front line that more closely resembles an NBA team in stature than a Class 1A high school team, but Mooseheart heads to Peoria this weekend with the fewest losses among the four teams competing.
The Ramblers – who won their supersectional over Eastland by 18 points – would appear to be favorites to win their first state championship, but coach Ron Ahrens wasn’t ready to embrace that tag.
“I don’t know if we are the favorites but I think we’ve put a lot of work into getting to the Final Four,” Ahrens said. “I hope we go down to the Final Four and we’re successful and we can play the game we can play. If we play defense like we have been lately, I think we have a really good chance to win.”
Ahrens credited playing in the Geneva Summer League and at DePaul’s team camp, along with facing Class 3A and 4A opponents during the regular season, for the school’s unprecedented postseason run.
Mystery opponent: Mooseheart’s semifinal opponent, Mendon United, hails from western Illinois.
Ahrens said never having heard of the school before this postseason, and as of Wednesday’s practice, he knew hardly anything about the Mustangs beyond the basic information listed on the IHSA’s website.
Mendon United beat Waterloo Gibault, 67-49, in Tuesday’s Jacksonville Supersectional.
“Out of the four supersectionals, they weren’t even [online] last night,” Ahrens said. “So we’re scrambling trying to find out anything we can on them just by looking at scores and pictures and stuff like that. That’s been the tough part.”
The Mustangs’ tallest player, 6-foot-5 senior Lane Davis, leads the team at 14.2 points a game.
Mooseheart guard Hameed Odunewu said the Ramblers’ distinct and high-powered roster is much easier to research.
“It stinks because I’m sure they know everything about us, but we have no idea who they are,” Odunewu said. “To be there, they’re definitely no slouch, they’re a good team if they’re here. The fact that we have no idea what makes them good … with [Eastland in the supersectional], we were able to scout them, but now with this team, we know nothing about them.”
Rambler nation: Ahrens said Mooseheart’s entire campus will trek to Peoria this weekend, and he probably wasn’t exaggerating much.
“We’re going to charter four buses down there Friday and Saturday,” Ahrens said. “We’ll get everyone here on campus to go, and then we have probably one of the greatest fan bases in high school basketball when you say you have a million [Moose members] that are fans of Mooseheart. You never know how many are going to show up, and especially in the state of Illinois. We have a large Moose population in the state of Illinois, so we should have a good turnout for us.”