Diversity on the Court; Austin’s basketball program is gaining more players from the city’s African community
Published 10:48 am Thursday, August 6, 2015
The Austin boys basketball team captured the attention of the entire community when it rattled off three straight trips to the Class AAA state basketball tournament from 2011-2013, but it’s biggest impact may have been felt in a population that wasn’t exactly lining up to play basketball for the Packers five years ago.
Now Austin has plenty of kids of African descent, most of whom are of Sudanese heritage, looking to play basketball and within two seasons it’s possible that Austin will be starting four or five players of African descent.
Goliath Oboyo played for the Packers on the 2011 state team, and then Gach Gach and Ajuda Nywesh emerged as stars and each earned full scholarships to NJCAA Division I schools for basketball.
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Austin head coach Kris Fadness said the change in the team’s demographics is a plus.
“I think it’s a positive,” he said. “The bottom line is that it opened up some diversity in our program. We’ve got kids that love basketball, they like to hang out in the gym and they have ambitions and goals. It’s great for all of our kids to learn how to work together and learn about different cultures and get along. Our kids are doing a nice job of bonding well together.”
Tate Hebrink, who will be a sophomore next season, saw varsity time as a freshman along with Both Gach last season. Hebrink and Both have become good friends, and white players and players of African descent have had an easy time mixing together on the court in their class.
Hebrink has also played plenty of youth basketball with Duoth Gach and Moses Issa since he was in seventh grade.
“The first year I didn’t know much about their style, but I knew they were good. Now we all play well together and we’re really good together,” Hebrink said. “Both and I sat together on the bus and hung out a lot in class last year. We grew a lot. We’re a lot closer friends than we were before last year.”
Fadness said a lot of people in the community have stepped up to make the transition easier for the basketball program. Since some of the players of African descent come from families of lower income, other basketball parents have had to step up by driving kids around and paying for leagues and tournaments.
“I can’t say enough about our Fast Break Club and our parents,” Fadness said. “We wouldn’t be as successful as we’ve been without these people. Our teachers do an outstanding job of putting in extra time with our kids to help them. Whether it’s before or after school. I give our teachers a ton of credit and we’ve got a great staff. It’s been a good thing and our counseling department is great as well.”
Fadness was pleased to see Nywesh and Gach earn scholarships and he’s hoping he can push the next group of African descent to aspire to earn basketball scholarships to four-year schools. To do that, the players will have to stay hard at work in the classroom and on the court.
“Those kids probably hate me because I am on them constantly about their grades and their behavior,” Fadness said. “They get a little sick of me harassing them about things like that on a daily basis. I don’t care, I call it tough love.”
Nywesh said Fadness pushed him to work hard for his scholarship and he considers Fadness to be the best coach in the state. Nywesh has also kept tabs on the Packer basketball team and has gone out of his way to be a positive influence on the younger players.
“I really talk to them and tell them to hit the books hard and keep working,” Nywesh said. “Keep working in the classroom and in the court and you can probably get an offer. They’ve all got talent. I’m trying to be the best and the biggest role model for them. I made it out of the situation they’re living in. Most of our situations are familiar. Some of them don’t have dads and they have a struggle at their homes. Basketball could be their key out. I keep telling them to work.”
Hebrink and the rest of the incoming sophomore class have high hopes for their future. The ultimate goal is a state championship and Hebrink sees that as a legitimate possibility.
“We feel like we can go to state our junior year and we can win state in our senior year as long as we all keep studying in the class room,” Hebrink said. “Logan [Braaten] and I talk to [the kids of African descent] a lot about working hard in school. They struggle in some classes and we’re there to help them out.”