UK Men's Basketball

Bol Bol’s basketball journey has taken him from Sudan to top UK recruiting target

Calipari talks about the on-court progress of 7-foot-2 son of Manute Bol

John Calipari spoke about five-star recruit Bol Bol from Team USA training camp Sunday night.
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John Calipari spoke about five-star recruit Bol Bol from Team USA training camp Sunday night.

If he plays well enough at this week’s USA Basketball training camp, Bol Bol will earn a ticket back to a place where he spent several months as a toddler during a stressful time for his family.

It would be just the latest twist in a life that started halfway around the world.

Bol — the son of late NBA star Manute Bol — is now a 7-foot-2 power forward and still just 17 years old. He’s also one of the best high school players in the United States and one of only six prospects from the class of 2018 to earn an invitation to John Calipari’s training camp to select the Team USA U19 squad.

It’s been quite a journey to get to this point.

Bol was born in Khartoum, Sudan — not far from his father’s birthplace in what is now South Sudan — and spent the first few months of his life there before his parents tried to travel back to the United States in 2001.

The family first had trouble getting out of war-torn Sudan, and then they were stranded in Cairo, Egypt for several months, unable to make it to the United States because of visa problems.

If Bol makes Calipari’s U19 squad, he’ll represent the United States at the FIBA World Cup in, of all places, Cairo.

“That’s kind of crazy,” Bol said here Sunday night. “It would definitely be fun. Because I obviously don’t remember when I was there.”

The Bol family made it out of Egypt, but their travels didn’t end there.

Bol spent his first few years in America living in Connecticut, then moved to Kansas when he was 7. During this past school year, Bol and his family moved to California, where Bol enrolled at Mater Dei High School.

“It definitely helped me become a better player,” Bol said. “California is better competition, so that helps a lot. I’m definitely happy with the move.”

Manute Bol passed away when his son was just 10 years old, and Bol is hesitant to say much about his memories of his father, who was one of the NBA’s most recognizable players during his prime and was well known for his humanitarian efforts off the court.

The younger Bol is still a few inches shorter than his dad, who was listed at 7-foot-7 in the NBA, but he’s inherited some of his father’s basketball skills, and he’s developed others that Manute never had.

Bol made a series of great plays through the first couple of sessions of Calipari’s training camp, rebounding his area well, defending the basket and creating for himself in the post. Bol’s game also extends to the perimeter, where he’s a legitimate three-point threat.

He was recently named the MVP of the Nike EYBL regular season after averaging 24.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots per game this spring. He also shot 49 percent from three-point range and led his team to a 13-3 record.

Last week, Scout.com ranked Bol as the No. 2 overall player in the class of 2018.

“I think he’s just taken the necessary steps forward,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a guy who’s over 7 feet tall and has made some significant strides on the offensive end. He’s got very good hands. He’s really gained confidence as a scorer. He’s making mid-range jump shots at a good clip and shooting nearly 50 percent from three in the EYBL, which is beyond impressive.

“So I thought he earned that bump, and he’s a heckuva prospect.”

Calipari also considers Bol a top-level recruit.

The UK coach was sitting on the baseline for one of Bol’s Nike games in April.

On that night, Bol scored 33 points, made four of six three-point attempts, and was a menace on the defensive end. Three days later, Calipari called him with a UK scholarship offer.

“I just saw Coach Cal on the baseline, so I just tried to play the best that I could,” Bol said. “It was kind of crazy. I never thought I would get an offer from Kentucky.”

A year ago, Calipari never thought he would extend one.

Though his role as Team USA coach allows him to speak openly to the media about prospective recruits — something that NCAA rules would otherwise prohibit — Calipari primarily used facial expressions and hand gestures to talk about Bol.

The UK coach made a comical face at the mere mention of Bol’s name, one that suggested he’d never seen a 7-2 kid who can do the things that he can.

Calipari said he saw Bol play a year ago, cringing at that raw performance.

“Then I saw him a month ago,” Calipari said, “And I’m like, ‘Is that him?!’”

He made a slight, steady incline motion with his hand to illustrate the normal progression of young basketball recruits: “There are guys who go like this,” he said.

Calipari then made a steep incline with the same hand: “His stuff went like that! And they say each month you see this kid, he’s just getting better and better.”

Bol listed UK, Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Southern Cal as the schools he’s hearing from the most. Daniels said UK and Arizona are the two programs with the most buzz behind the scenes in Bol’s recruitment.

UK appears to be in good shape — making this team and spending even more time with Calipari wouldn’t hurt the Wildcats’ chances — but a college announcement isn’t expected any time soon.

“I’m taking my time,” Bol said. “I might be the last person to make my decision. There’s no reason to rush.”

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