A young Koang Doluony would make the short walk from his home to the South Omaha YMCA and kick a soccer ball around the gym.
“But nobody wanted to play soccer — everyone was too busy playing basketball,” Doluony said. “So eventually I picked up basketball, and I played it every single day because that's what my friends were doing — and that love for the game began to develop.”
The Sudan-born Doluony, whose memories of Africa came from the years he and his family spent in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, became an excellent player at Omaha Bryan and earned a basketball scholarship to Indiana State.
But after some early success, an injury and a coaching change altered his role with the Sycamores. Now, after graduating, Doluony is able to play his senior season as a transfer to UNO in his adopted second home in Omaha.
The forward is projected to start when the Mavericks open their second season as a Division I program in the new Ralston Arena at 7 p.m. Friday against Northern Illinois.
“It feels good to be back home,” Doluony said.
Doluony's story begins in Sudan, one of the world's most difficult places to live because of civil war, unrest based on ethnicity and religion, and famine.
“My parents tell me a lot of stories about what they experienced,” Doluony said. “A lot of it is pretty hard to imagine. We're some of the lucky ones.”
In Ethiopia, Doluony and his family lived day-to-day. They received help, including education, through the United Nations.
“Then one day my dad got interviewed by the United Nations,” he said. “And next thing I know, we were getting ready to come here.”
Doluony, then in fourth grade, and his family spent a year in Rochester, N.Y., with assistance from a sponsor there.
He knew some English, but it took awhile to get up to speed. And the first snowfall was a shocker — he's still getting used to winter.
But that's all right.
“Coming here to see life from another point of view, having a chance to get an education, having a chance to see the developed world in general ... it's the greatest opportunity I ever got,” he said.
Soon the family moved to Omaha, where there is a large Sudanese community.
“The way we are as a people — especially the older generation — we're very community-based,” Doluony said.
After making second-team All-Metro Conference at Bryan, Doluony had a solid redshirt freshman season at Indiana State, averaging 3.8 points in 31 games, including three starts, in 2009-10. But then his role dwindled. He played through a shoulder injury that required surgery after his sophomore season, and then after a coaching change, he never got going as a junior. He appeared in eight games last season, scoring six points.
“It was frustrating because basketball is something I've invested a lot of time in,” Doluony said. “I feel like I'm always in the gym, trying to get better. I practice as hard as anyone. Not having the chance to really help my team like I felt I could is something that challenged me in many different ways.”
At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Doluony gives his team something it has rarely had — a 6-foot-8 athlete who can play on the wing.
“I think on offense I have to be in attack mode at all times,” Doluony said. “I think I bring a lot because of my length, my ability to shoot, my ability to put the ball on the floor, and I'm pretty athletic as well.”
That translates to the defensive end, too, where Mavs coach Derrin Hansen lauds Doluony's ability to guard a couple of positions, as well as make quick recoveries.
“He can bring us some stuff we haven't had when he's assertive,” Hansen said. “And for him to be assertive and effective, he has to be comfortable with everything we're doing. Our system is all new to him, and he's still trying to feel his way around a little bit.”
Hansen said that despite Doluony's age and Division I experience, he's not being asked to carry his new team.
“We're just asking him to be a part of what can be a special year for him,” Hansen said.
Doluony, who had opportunities to play overseas before deciding to come to UNO, said he's also interested in helping refugees in Omaha by educating youths and providing resources.
He and some friends have outlined a plan and are looking at fundraising possibilities to acquire a property.
“I had an opportunity through basketball that many Sudanese youth in Omaha don't have,” Doluony said. “When you come from another country as a refugee, you come to a system that's been established — the housing is low income, in neighborhoods with poverty. Most kids grow up, and that's all they know. They don't know the opportunities that are offered in America.”
UNO adds Bullock to men's staff
Former UNO star Tyler Bullock has been hired as the Mavericks' director of basketball operations.
Bullock was a two-time Division II all-region and two-time All-MIAA player while averaging 19.1 points per game. The Lincoln North Star product spent his first 1½ seasons at Denver University.
Bullock played briefly last season in the National Basketball League of Canada.
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