From war-torn Sudan to the Perth Arena: Meet the Wildcats' newest recruit, Mathiang Muo

  • Category: Local

    Most people wouldn't find much to smile about if they'd just ruptured an Achilles tendon. But then again, most people aren't Perth Wildcats recruit Mathiang Muo.

    When he finally recovers to make his National Basketball League debut, it will cap a remarkable triumph over adversity for the 26-year-old refugee, who fled Sudan when he was just a boy and first touched a basketball as a teenager in Sydney.

    Almost cast onto the sporting scrapheap by a succession of US schools and colleges, he eventually realised his talent and won a three-year deal to come to Perth and play professionally in his adopted homeland.

    His injury will keep him out all season, but the delay is just a bump in the road compared with the obstacles Muo has already overcome to get where he is today.

    At the Wildcats' season launch last week, one speaker held the crowd of 400 spellbound. It wasn't owner Jack Bendat, or new No. 1 ticket holder Dennis Cometti. It was Muo, whose off-the-cuff account of his path from war-torn Sudan to the NBL silenced the room.

    Born into the decades-long civil conflict in Sudan, Muo fled to Egypt with his mother and five of his nine siblings when the war escalated in the mid-1990s.

    Living in a stranger's home, he took a range of jobs to help out his family. For two years he worked as a domestic cleaner, leaving home for two-month stints before returning to spend a week with his family.

    "I also worked as a mechanic, just to help my little brother. I made three dollars a day, and that three dollars I would take and buy milk for my little brother," he said.

    Eventually, Muo's family were given the chance to come to Australia on humanitarian visas.

    One day, shortly after arriving in Sydney, a bored Muo wandered down to his local park. He spotted the basketball court but didn't go in; in Sudan, fences mean private property, and trespassing means trouble.

    But the next day, he saw some local guys arrive and walk onto the court. They invited him to join in. It was the first time the teenaged Muo had ever held a basketball.

    Realising he had a natural talent, he decided to take the game seriously, partly as a way to keep himself out of trouble. He took it so seriously that in 2005 he travelled to Florida to finish high school there. The school went bankrupt before he could graduate.

    He headed to another school in Boston but left when he realised the coach, who had links to the University of Massachusetts, was telling other colleges not to recruit him.

    He finally finished high school in North Carolina but wasn't ratified by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which controls access to college basketball.

    A "bummed-out" Muo didn't know what to do, but managed to score a place at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. That allowed him to get an NCAA certification and transfer to Boston's Northeastern University, with its Division 1 college basketball team.

    But Muo hit another roadblock when the university decided he did not meet its academic standards. From the prestigious Northeastern he then bounced through two years of Junior College, finally landing at Charles Southern University in South Carolina.

    After passing through three high schools and four colleges in five different states, Muo's talent finally began to shine. In his second season at CSU, he shot more than 40 per cent from outside the three-point line.

    "I played there for two years, had the time of my life, became one of the best shooters in school history and the second-best shooter in the league," he said.

    It wasn't long before the Wildcats came knocking. And then in August, on his second day of preseason training, he ruptured his left Achilles tendon.

    "I was in the doctor's office, getting an ultrasound, I had to smile to myself. I looked back at everything I've been through and said to myself 'this is the story of my life'," Muo said.

    When the Wildcats play their season opener on Friday at the Perth Arena, Muo will be watching from the sidelines - a position he will occupy for the whole season.

    But even though he'll be on crutches, you can bet he'll still be smiling.

    By (SMH)

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