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Bol Bol wants to continue the work his father started

The 7-foot-3 son of former NBA center Manute Bol has the goal of one day helping others in Sudan

Twenty years ago, political activist, humanitarian and former NBA center Manute Bol was accused of being an American spy and was blocked by his native Sudanese government from escaping to the United States. Four years later, the 7-foot-6 Bol and his family, which included his young son Bol Bol, moved to America as designated political refugees. Bol said his father cared more about others than he did himself.

On Friday night, Bol played for Team USA, a group of elite American high school seniors, against a team of international teenage standouts in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon. Bol scored 12 points and grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds in Team USA’s 89-76 loss to the World Select Team. If only his father could have been there to watch.

“It means a lot to represent the country and to also be one of 13 selected to play,” Bol said. “Honestly, I am happy to be on the USA team.”

Manute Bol stood tall on and off the court during his nearly half-century on Earth as he made his presence known in Africa and the United States. In time, Bol hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps by helping others in Sudan.

Manute Bol once held an $80-a-month job in the Sudanese military in which he played on the national team, according to USA Today. Then-Fairleigh Dickinson University basketball coach Don Feeley saw Bol play basketball in Khartoum, Sudan, and persuaded him to go to the United States. USA Today wrote a 1985 story on Bol with the headline: “Scouts: Bol has slim chance of success.” Bol was selected with the 31st overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft by the Washington Bullets out of Division II University of Bridgeport.

Manute Bol played for the Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat from 1985-95. The 1986 All-NBA Defensive second-team selection averaged 2.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks for his career. He led the league in blocks in 1985-86 with Washington (5 per game) and in 1988-89 with Golden State (4.3 a game). He was also one of the tallest players in NBA history.

“I’ve seen a couple videos, basketball and documentary type of stuff about him,” Bol said.

Manute Bol earned $5.8 million during his NBA career, according to Basketball Reference, and gave a lot of that money to the southern rebels to fight against the government in Sudan’s capital and largest city, Khartoum. In 2005, the southern rebels and the Sudanese government signed a peace deal that ended the 21-year civil war. Bol also campaigned to bring peace to the conflict in Darfur.

Despite decades-long religious and tribal fighting that killed many of Manute Bol’s relatives, he had a dream of building 41 schools in Sudan where Muslims, Christians and various tribes would study together. But on June 19, 2010, Bol died from acute kidney failure and complications from Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a disorder of the skin and mucous membranes. The charity organization Sudan Sunrise has stayed committed to fulfilling Bol’s dream through grass-roots initiatives on reconciliation, education and community building.

“He did a lot of great things on the court, but most people remember him because of what he did off of it helping schools and building hospitals. He did some really good things back home,” Bol said. “I am probably most proud of what he did helping my family and everything he did in Africa. It’s probably the best thing he did.

“Not too many people could do what he did. But he just fought through everything and did what he could do.”

Manute Bol was survived by his 10 children and buried in his native Sudan. Bol attended his father’s funeral in his lone trip to Sudan when he was 10 years old.

“I was born there, but I moved when I was 2,” Bol said. “It was really cool. I was only 10 when I went back, but I got to see everything my dad was doing. It was cool to see where I was born.”

Bol said he has “always loved basketball” despite a previous story stating that his father had to beg him to become interested in playing the sport. Bol said before his father died he told him to work hard to continue to improve as a basketball player. The 18-year-old said he truly fell in love with basketball when he was in the seventh grade and his first basketball mixtape went viral.

“It was the first time the world really saw me play,” Bol said. “I just got a lot of positive feedback. It made me like basketball even more.”

Bol has been ranked as a five-star recruit and the fourth-best prospect overall in the Class of 2018 by ESPN. He said he chose to play for Oregon over Kentucky, Duke and St. John’s after building a “good relationship” with the coaching staff while also being enamored with their style of play and facilities. Like his father, Bol is a great shot-blocker but is also much more skilled as a dribbler and shooter at 7 feet, 3 inches.

Bol said he is working on his strength and being more physical.

“Bol Bol has the potential to be an impact player at every level he plays,” USA coach Mike Jones said. “To be his size and possess the skill that he does is unbelievable. He can shoot, handle the ball and score around the rim. His ability to affect the game on the defensive end is special.”

It appears that Bol’s road to the NBA could be much easier than his father’s. Like his father, he hopes to make a name for himself off the hardwood too.

“When I can go back [to Sudan], I definitely will,” Bol said. “Later on, I plan on going back and finishing everything he started. But that is later in the future. It is where I was born, so I have to go back and visit.

“[My father] cared about other people more than himself. That is one thing I remembered from my dad.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.