STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And let's stay in Africa for a story about men's basketball. Forget about the Final Four; there's another basketball powerhouse demanding the spotlight. NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports from Juba in Southern Sudan, the land of a million giants.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Every March, when it comes time to predict the NCAA championship team, it behooves a fan to place at least one loyalty bet on the hometown boys and girls. You never know. In college ball, heart can go the distance. And who wouldn't want to be in on that?
Duany Duany is a Badger for life. He helped take the University of Wisconsin to the Final Four in 2000 before playing professionally in Europe and the Philippines. But during this and every March Madness, Duany is betting on Juba Southern Sudan to go all the way; never mind that Juba is a town with only one basketball court.
Mr. DUANY DUANY (Basketball Player): When I was playing at Wisconsin, and the one thing I used to say to the coaches and my teammates is, Hey, I'm lucky and I'm blessed but there's a lot more kids back in South Sudan who have way more talent but just never had the opportunity.
THOMPKINS: Let the record show that Juba has already gone all the way. The Duanys of Juba are the only family to have had four children playing in the NCAA at the same time. Four kids, four scholarships, four top schools — Wisconsin, Bradley, Syracuse and Georgetown.
And Duany Duany's little brother Kueth was captain of the Syracuse team that won the championship in 2003. If anyone doubts that fact, their mother has the Sports Illustrated to prove it. Because of a long civil war in Sudan, the Duany kids grew up in Bloomington, Indiana.
Mr. DUANY: If you grew up in the U.S., everybody knows, you know, the state of Indiana basically as the basketball state. You know, every backyard you have a basketball court. Summertime, we'd be there from 9:00 a.m. till like 1:00 in the morning. And we got good because we played so much.
THOMPKINS: And they kept growing. Duany's little brother — the Syracuse Orangeman — is six foot six and a half. And their baby brother, a former Eastern Illinois Panther, is six foot seven and a half.
But while the Duanys are remarkable in the U.S. for their height, they appear average in Juba, where the women stand above six feet and a six foot five inch man can have a Napoleon complex. Just ask Duany how tall he is.
Mr. DUANY: I played at six five. (Unintelligible) six four and and a half. So I say six five, give it to me, you know?
THOMPKINS: Okay, I give it you. Six five.
Mr. DUANY: But I say about six eight, the way I jump, so…
THOMPKINS: Now that the war is over, the Duany kids have come to recruit in their homeland. They are looking for young Southern Sudanese to play ball for prep school scholarships in the U.S. Prep school can lead to a Division One college, which can then lead to the NBA. And who better to try than the kids from around here?
Mr. DUANY: These are kids that are 13, 14 years old, and you might stand about six foot seven, six foot eight, at 14 years old. That's something you can't teach. 'Cause every time when I find them, I say, hey, do you play basketball? They don't know what basketball is. I just tell them, all you got to do is catch the ball and dunk it. Get down there and get a rebound.
THOMKINS: Some of their high school recruits are already playing college ball, including Mac Koshwal at DePaul University. Steven Yien just graduated from South Carolina, where he was a Gamecock. Tang Okol will play next year at Oklahoma State, and John Riek will play for the University of Cincinnati.
Riek is seven foot two with a wingspan of a man seven foot eight. Maybe if he eats his Wheaties he can grow up to be an NBA star like his fellow countryman Manute Bol. There's never been any player taller than he is. But Duany says that for most recruits, college ball will have to be enough.
Mr. DUANY: Enjoy your moment, right there. It's going to go by fast. And if you are lucky enough to play in the NCAA and play at a great institution and go to the tournaments and get a chance like we got, and especially to get a chance to get a ring, we actually were lucky and blessed to do that.
THOMPKINS: And yet the Duanys still can't shake the vapors of competition from their blood. Duany's younger sister Nora was a Georgetown Hoya. She is currently Miss Southern Sudan and plans to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. And don't get Duany talking about losing to Michigan State in 2000. It's like it happened yesterday. But he did get that ring out of it.
Mr. DUANY: Says NCAA on the side. It has the year we went, 2000. On the other side it's got the school, Badgers, Wisconsin. It's got your name.
THOMPKINS: And is it silver or is it gold?
Mr. DUANY: Well, it's actually platinum, this one's platinum. That in with some diamonds. My brother's is probably nicer, because he's got the championship ring. This is the Final Four one.
THOMPKINS: See, in the Duany family, every day is March Madness.
Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Juba, Southern Sudan.
INSKEEP: Nobody covers sports like MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.