6’10″ (208 centimetre) Mangok Mathiang is a product of Melbourne hitting the world stage at the NCAA Tournament – the biggest college basketball competition in the world that is currently enthralling hoops fans across the US and around the globe.
Originally born in Sudan (now South Sudan since gaining independence in 2011), Mathiang came to Australia as a primary school student aged 10 with his family and settled in Melbourne. After arriving in Australia, Mathiang fell in love with the game of Aussie Rules footy and quickly discovered he had a talent for the game, which was aided by his towering height.
Being tall and athletic, Mathiang also enjoyed basketball during his time at Emmanuel College in Altona North, and played for the Longhorns Basketball Club in Sunshine under coach Manyang Berberi (Manny), who is also a member of the Helping Hoops committee. Berberi says “Mathiang was a great kid when he played for us, he was very competitive, good student of the game, had the desire to work hard, and he always wanted to learn more about the game.”
Mathiang’s aptitude for the round ball quickly gained attention, and saw him eventually head over to the United States, where he attended Brehm Preparatory School in Illinois. Mathiang not only proved he was ready for life in the highly competitive college basketball scene, but showed enough talent with the ball and the books to earn himself a prized place at the University of Louisville, where he plays for the defending NCAA Champion Cardinals.
Mathiang’s athletic ability not only sees him perform in front of thousands, but also means he is receiving an athletic scholarship. The linking of athletic endeavours and academics means success on the court is also determined by performance in the classroom.
Manny Berberi (left) and Mangok Mathiang (right).
Mathiang’s story is just one of many. The Longhorns Basketball Club, based in Melbourne’s west, provides opportunities for many young African Australian youth, and has been a breeding ground for talent that will see many more Mangok Mathiang-type players reach their basketball dreams in the future.
Coach Manny Berberi says of the potential amongst the young African Australian community in Melbourne “There are a good number of kids with great potential for the game coming up at the club at the junior levels. We have four junior teams from U/18s to U/14s. We think with more support for the club, we can encourage many more kids to pick up the game. The biggest challenge we face is the cost of court hire to train more young players that would like to play the game. We think once this problem is sorted by any support we can get out there, we should be able to train more kids, keep them off the street and turn them into great basketball players.”
If you visit the University of Louisville Cardinals website and look up the bio of Mangok Mathiang, his hometown is listed as “Melbourne.” This goes to show that a home is where you feel you belong.
The NCAA Tournament will culminate in the Championship Game on April 7 in Texas.