Towering player, towering hopes

Akolda Manyang has been a big presence for the No. 1-ranked Indian Hills Community College basketball team. Manyang spent much of his young life in Rochester.

Akolda Manyang doesn't hesitate when talking about his future.

He's known what he's wanted since the seventh grade. Now, as a 7-foot freshman at junior college basketball power Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, he's more sure than ever that he can achieve it.

Manyang believes he will play in the NBA. His towering body, long arms and fluid on-court motions suggest he might be right. So does the statistical line he produced the other day for the No. 1-ranked Division I junior college team in the country: 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.

"I love basketball, and as a seventh grader when I realized I was going to be tall, I knew that if I kept playing, it could take me someplace," Manyang said. "You don't find a lot of people who are 7-feet, 240 pounds and can run the floor. I believe I'll play in the NBA someday."

Manyang's story has been both mercurial and troubled. He was a high school nomad, his delinquency the primary reason. He spent time at John Marshall, Century and Golden Hill before finally landing at behavior treatment center Woodland Hills in Duluth as a junior. It was then, with him being allowed to play for Duluth East, that he started to make a real basketball name for himself.


Manyang, 6-11 at the time, was cited by some recruiting services as the top junior in the state. But his season ended with controversy. Manyang was kicked off his team just as it was headed to the state tournament. He'd been accused of smoking a cigarette, something he vehemently denied.

Manyang's high school life finally finished at Potter House Christian in Jacksonville, Fla., where he continued to star on the basketball floor. Once that was done, there was a decision to make. He finally settled on it early this past summer, when Indian Hills – renowned for cranking out Division I basketball players – came calling.

Big-time player

Indian Hills coach Barret Peery felt he was getting another big-time player when Manyang said yes to his scholarship offer. Now, after working with him for six months, there's confirmation that he was right.

"He is long, athletic and talented," said Peery, in his third year at Indian Hills. "And one thing about Akolda is he loves to be in the gym. He's one of those guys who you can see on a daily basis getting better at the game. It's hard to find long, 7-foot guys who can play. He is one of those guys."

The main holdup with Manyang had always been his behavior. You don't wind up at Woodland Hills in Duluth unless you've been in trouble.

But two years hence, both Manyang and Peery say he's straightened out.

"He's done a very good job since he's been here," Peery said. "I know he had some mistakes as a younger guy. But I think that now that he's in a stable situation and a structured environment, it's helped him. He's doing very well."


Turning things around

That includes in the classroom, where Manyang posted a 3.3 grade-point average last semester.

"A few years go I was a young kid and was making stupid decisions," Manyang said. "But as time goes by people mature. I don't want to look back at the past. I'm proud of myself now. I've made a whole new turn. "

His play and his rehabilitation have gotten the attention of college recruiters, plenty of them from big schools. A University of Minnesota assistant coach was at one of his games recently. Manyang notes that top-10 program Kansas has also shown interest, which has him particularly smitten.

Still, what he wants right now is to focus on what's immediately in front of him. That is to finish out this year and likely next at Indian Hills, where junior college basketball is as good as it gets. And where his aim is to win a national championship with a bunch of teammates he's grown close to.

"What makes us good is we all connect, both on and off the court," said Manyang, whose Warriors are 22-2. "And we're not selfish; we share the ball."

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