Mooseheart basketball standouts Makur Puou and Mangisto Deng have learned countless lessons since arriving in the United States in 2011.
They’re about to learn another – delayed gratification.
The top two players on Mooseheart’s IHSA Class 1A boys basketball state championship team will see their Division I college basketball ambitions delayed for a couple of years, Ramblers coach Ron Ahrens confirmed this week. The seniors’ academic credits did not transfer over from South Sudan according to NCAA Clearinghouse specifications, so Deng and Puou will head to community college next year.
Ahrens is confident they’ll eventually find their way onto D-I rosters.
“They both will be,” Ahrens said. “In all honesty, if they would have NCAA qualified, they would have both been playing Division I ball [next year], I have no doubt about that. The state tournament helped Mangisto out immensely. Mak was getting Division I offers [already].”
The other South Sudanese transfer student who started for the Ramblers – 7-foot-1 Akim Nyang – will remain at Mooseheart next year to make additional academic progress, Ahrens said. Ahrens does not anticipate Nyang having additional athletic eligibility at Mooseheart.
Puou, a 6-foot-10, shot-blocking post presence, and Deng, a 6-7 wing with impressive perimeter skills, identified earning U.S. college degrees as their mission when they arrived at Mooseheart, and they hoped to experience college basketball along the way.
Ahrens acknowledged some disappointment on their parts that D-I ball isn’t materializing more quickly. He said Puou and Deng will finalize their junior college basketball plans after focusing on the AAU hoops circuit this spring, and Ahrens thinks a more gradual transition to college life will ultimately be beneficial.
“I’m sure they want to be NCAA Division I and playing basketball right now,” Ahrens said. “My personal feeling is this is going to be a better road for them and the smartest road for them to go.”
While reaching NCAA eligibility standards in a condensed time frame was an uphill battle, Ahrens emphasized that the boys have been highly impressive in their classroom achievements at Mooseheart.
“They’ve made outstanding progress academically while they’ve been here at Mooseheart,” Ahrens said. “Just the English language alone, they’ve probably improved six, seven, eight years in their English language in only being here three, and they have improved drastically in writing the English language. … They’ve improve greatly so that they’re able to be college-bound and go to a community college, so we’re extremely happy with how they’ve progressed.”
Ahrens said the post-state championship delirium has mostly subsided since mid-March, though not entirely.
An extensive trophy case – a “shrine” to the 2013-14 Ramblers, Ahrens said – is in the works for Mooseheart’s fieldhouse, and the Ramblers are still fielding invitations from Moose lodges around the state to swing by for a meal.
Ahrens said it was “standing-room only” when the Ramblers enjoyed a fish fry at the Pekin lodge during their stay in Peoria for the state finals. Celebratory gatherings at Moose lodges in Batavia and Sterling are in the plans for May, and even more dates could materialize.
“That will bring the excitement again, and at some point, some evening, we’ll probably have dinner here on campus,” Ahrens said. “I haven’t even had a sports banquet for them yet but we’re going to try and fit all those things in before they graduate.”
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.