From a refugee camp in Cairo to sports stardom in America

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March 26, 2019
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From a refugee camp in Cairo to sports stardom in America

  Citizen Akoy: Basketball and the Making of a South Sudanese American by Steve Marantz, University of Nebraska Press, US $26.95,  Pp 240, February 2019, ISBN 978-1496203229

Akoy Agau moved from a refugee camp in Cairo, Egypt to America as a little boy. As his native Sudan burned in the fire of hatred, Akoy had moved to Cairo, Egypt with his family. As a six-year-old in Egypt, Akoy was among twenty million refugees outcast from or displaced within their native lands on the occasion of the first World Refugee Day on June 20, 2001. In the next year, he had moved to Maryland, USA. From Maryland, the family moved to Nebraska. At Omaha Central High School, he fell in love with basketball which later gave him his large audience. In Citizen Akoy, Steve Marantz tells the story of this amazing South Sudanese American sports star. Steve Marantz says, as a teen, Akoy courted attention with the dignity and discipline of his role model, LeBron James, and with the artifice and cool of his alter ego, Ferris Bueller. He was so bold — or brazen — as to prophesize four state championships. He became the sum of his family, faith, and education and of his appetite for basketball, social media, and drama.

In Omaha, Akoy’s family moved into Mason School Apartments, a nineteenth-century, two-and-a-half story Omanesque Revival fortress of brick with pressed metal ceilings and transom windows. Marantz says Akoy developed a love for basketball at a very early age. In the seventh grade, Akoy played for Unity Stars in the Kellom Youth League in north Omaha, and word soon spread to high school coaches and to the grassroots basketball community that operated apart from the school. Grassroots basketball ran spring-summer schedules to develop and showcase talent for colleges and shoes-and-apparel companies in search of the next Michael Jordan. In the eighth grade, Akoy joined Team Nebraska, a grassroots A AU team that had corralled some of the best South Sudanese players, including Ty. It was Ty who introduced Akoy to Scott Hammer, Team Nebraska’s coach. The two quickly bonded over basketball. Marantz says that Akoy found a mentor in Hammer, and Hammer found a talent to elevate regional and national profile of Team Nebraska and, in the best possible scenario, attract a shoe-and-apparel company as a sponsor.

Marantz says that stardom came to Akoy like the bolt of lightning on Harry Potter’s forehead. He emerged in the spring of 2010 as the next big thing. ESPN named him to its Top 100 prospects list for the class of 2013. The Lincoln Journal Star wrote that Akoy had made “a statement” and had been “mature beyond his years” in the state final. The Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska’s largest newspaper, named him Honorable Mention Class A All-State and third-team All-Metro. He has never looked back since. Akoy led Omaha Central High School team to four straight high school basketball state championships between 2010 and 2013 and was an All-State player three times. He became the most celebrated athlete in the history of Nebraska.

Steve Marantz does it again by writing another book — this time on the amazing basketball star. Marantz tells the insightful story of how a South Sudanese refugee rose to stardom in America. Marantz tells us how Akoy faced the challenges and achieved stardom against all odds. It is a mesmerizing and enjoyable story of Akoy, his family, his romance, his trials and tribulations, and most importantly, of America. This well-researched book is a gift to lovers of basketball. It is a must-read for basketball fans.

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