Holding court; Basketball has become a way of life, not only for the Deng kids but the family

Ngor Deng goes around his older brother Deng Deng as the brothers played around in their driveway as their father, Santino Deng, looks on. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Ngor Deng goes around his older brother Deng Deng as the brothers played around in their driveway as their father, Santino Deng, looks on. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

This is the third in a three-part series on players of African descent.

When Santino Deng was growing up in what is now South Sudan, he never really thought about basketball. Aside from the occasional report about Manute Bol, an 11-year NBA vet who was from the same tribe as Santino, basketball simply wasn’t a big deal in Africa.

When it came to sports in Sudan, soccer was king and basketball was an afterthought. When Santino started attending college in Egypt, he began to watch players like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwan in the early 1990s and was drawn to the game.

Santino Deng watches his sons shoot around in the driveway of their home. “I’m happy seeing them doing something they like and they’re committed to.” Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Santino Deng watches his sons shoot around in the driveway of their home. “I’m happy seeing them doing something they like and they’re committed to.” Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Now Santino is right in the middle of an African basketball movement in Austin. With an influx of players coming to the Packers with African descent, Santino has helped many of them out as a success coach at the high school, where he deals with community issues and the culture barrier. He also has a direct impact on his three basketball-playing sons — Deng, who will be a senior in the fall, Dongrin and Ngor, who are twin brothers and will be freshmen.

Santino sees basketball as a great way for kids of African descent to become a part of the community.

“For my kids, Austin is home for them and they’ve grown up in Austin,” Santino said. “It’s the only place they know, and I always tell them this is your community and you can contribute in many ways to be part of the community. I have realized that basketball is growing in Austin.”

The Dengs have dived head-first into the basketball program in Austin. Brothers Ngor Deng, from left, Deng Deng and Dongoin Deng are just some of the increasing number of players joining the team of African descent. They are joined in the photo by their father Santino Deng.  Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

The Dengs have dived head-first into the basketball program in Austin. Brothers Ngor Deng, from left, Deng Deng and Dongrin Deng are just some of the increasing number of players joining the team of African descent. They are joined in the photo by their father Santino Deng.
Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Ngor never feels like an outsider among his white teammates. He said the team always plays together and everyone gets along.

“We’re all friends. It’s a small town and everybody’s kind of close together,” Ngor said.

Santino loves watching his sons play basketball and he likes the way the sport forces them to work hard on and off the court. As much as he wants to see his boys do well in basketball, Santino stresses school work even more.

“I’m happy seeing them doing something they like and they’re committed to,” Santino said. “Basketball is very helpful in terms of discipline and commitment. If you don’t pass in school, you don’t play. You focus on school and the kids can make friends and stay away from bad choices.”

Santino’s sons spend a lot of time playing basketball as they get to the court nearly every day. Dongrin and Ngor have already played in Target Center for their youth team at the Pacesetter tournament, and Deng has spent plenty of time on the court with his younger brothers.

“We’ve been playing basketball most of our lives together, and it’ll be fun watching the Sudanese population playing basketball for Austin,” Deng said. “I go to [Dongrin and Ngor’s] games and I help them out with what they need to learn to be successful. I play against them and play with them.”

Santino has lived in town since 2000 and his family is now ingrained in Austin, but he also tells his boys about what he left behind in South Sudan. After leaving his parents’ home at age 13 to attend high school, Santino rarely saw his parents again. War broke out in Sudan shortly after Santino left for school, which made it difficult for him to visit. He saw his mom in 2005 and 2010 before she passed away in 2012. He last saw his dad, who passed away in 2001, in 1982.

Santino wants his boys know about their family history.

“War is the reason I came here,” Santino said. “We talk about it all the time — about my home country, the war and the disconnection between me and my parents. It’s a daily conversation.”

Dongoin Deng heads into the basket as he shoots around with his twin brother Ngor and older brother Deng. Eric Johnson/Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Dongrin Deng heads into the basket as he shoots around with his twin brother Ngor and older brother Deng. Eric Johnson/Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Family plays a big role in basketball for Deng, Dongrin and Ngor and they don’t have to go too far to find inspiration. They have plenty of basketball players in their family tree, including NBA veteran Lual Deng and former Rochester John Marshall standout Longar Longar. But the boys’ biggest inspiration may come from their cousins Peter Jok and Dau Jok.

Dau played Division I basketball at Penn and Peter started for the University of Iowa as a sophomore last season. Santino and his sons have gone down to Iowa City to watch Peter play, and Peter and Dau have visited the family in Austin.

“It’s fun watching our relatives on TV doing well in college, which is where we want to be,” Ngor said. “I saw them and thought that could be us.”

Dongrin has learned a lot by watching his family play and also learned from watching the Packer basketball team play in three straight state tournaments. He’s hoping his group can get back to state and do some damage there.

“Watching those teams, I was thinking we could win a state championship for [Austin head coach Kris] Fadness one day,” Dongrin said.

 

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