Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, fresh off of a national championship, will once again be expected to contend for the crown in the 2013-14 season. The team returns the majority of their championship roster, but also welcome in a top 10 recruiting class, thus creating high expectations. Much of the hype surrounding the recruit class has been geared towards talented backcourt players Terry Rozier, Anton Gill and 2013 Junior College National Player of the Year Chris Jones, who are all considered elite guards expected to contribute immediately. Be that as it may, no one should sleep on the 4th member of that class, Omaha Central power forward/center Akoy Agau. Ranked 87th in the 2013 Rivals 100, Agau just finished his high school season in which he became the first ever player in Nebraska to win four state championships. He also recently turned heads at the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic with an impressive all-around skill set. Agau’s journey to Louisville has been a truly difficult one, and as he prepares to arrive this fall, he is ready to make a name for himself with college basketball fans everywhere.
Born in the war-stricken African country of Sudan, Agau had a much harder childhood than most children growing up. He describes it as incredibly rough on him and his family as he, along with his parents, siblings, several aunts, uncles and cousins lived together in crowded refugee camps for some time. They had to walk everywhere if they ever needed anything. Agau did not even go to school while he was in Sudan, due to the distance. His father did his part to support the family, but was a traveling salesman and was not around very often, so he and his family relied on their mother at home. There was also, of course, the violence of war and danger it posed for his family that made it further difficult. Agau’s mother, Makeir, said in an article written last year by writer Leo Adam Biga of the Omaha-based The Reader that she once fled warring factions and government forces while she had Akoy, then three years old, on her back and an infant in her arms. They had to spend months on their feet as they fought to avoid starvation, wild animals and more violence. Eventually, Agau and his family relocated to Cairo, Egypt for a time before they were finally able to start over in America. They stayed in Maryland for a short time before relocating to Omaha, where his family settled with the help of a group of Good Samiritans. Agau remembers being incredibly overwhelmed by the transition to American life. “The big buildings, the several different cultures, and the technology were all unlike anything I’d seen,” Agau recalls. The group that helped settle them in also helped with the transition to school life and learning the English language. “I was very blessed to have those people in my life, as they made it much easier on all of us.”
Around the time he was in middle school, Agau discovered the game of basketball. Never having played it in Sudan or Egypt, he took a quick liking to the game and would play as much as he could. He eventually found his way onto Omaha Central High School’s team as a high school freshman. Each year, Agau worked hard to improve his game, and the results showed. He helped lead his school to four state championships in four years, being a key player every year. In his junior season, he put up a jaw-dropping stat line of 16 points, 13 rebounds and 14 blocked shots as he led Omaha Central to the title. This past season, he scored 8 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked 8 shots (6 in the first half) to lead his team to yet another title. He was becoming an elite recruit, but playing basketball in Nebraska does not attract the same attention as playing in a place like Chicago or New York. “It’s no secret that Nebraska is a football state,” Agau says. He did not like the idea that everyone would write off basketball players in Nebraska as playing second fiddle to the football players. Because of this stereotype, he played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder as he set out to remind people that Nebraska had basketball talent, too. He certainly helped his case when in February of this year, he led Omaha Central to a monumental school victory over national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy 70-63. Agau led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed 8 rebounds as well.
If not the state of Nebraska, Agau certainly proved to a certain trio of Big East coaches that there was basketball talent in the Cornhusker State. John Thompson III of Georgetown, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut and Louisville coach Rick Pitino all took notice of the talented big man. During the early parts of his recruitment, Agau on one occasion referred to UCONN as his dream school and on another called Georgetown his leader. Louisville seemed to be on the outside looking in with regards to Agau, but in the end broke through to win the services of the talented 6-9, 230 lb forward/center. Agau said he realized Louisville was the school for him when he took his official visit there. “I just had a feeling right when I got there,” he remembered. “Just the school, the fans, the facilities, the championship reputation…it all stuck out.” He also mentioned that when he factored in Pitino’s coaching reputation along with all the connections the coach has made over his years in both professional and collegiate basketball, Louisville was just too good to pass up.
Agau says he aspires to develop a game like Miami Heat star LeBron James. He does not want to compare himself to LeBron in any way, but just admires the way he is always all over the court and can do a bit of everything. Agau proved in the Derby Classic that he certainly has more of a multi-dimensional skill set than the average power forward or center, as he made it to the finals of the three-point contest after hitting 16 of 23 threes with incredibly soft touch in the play-in round. “I want to be the type of player who can draw double teams and create openings for my teammates,” Agau said. He believes his ability to shoot from outside will not allow defenders to give him any cushion, and he will force them to give him extra attention. While he admires the game of LeBron James, Agau says Pitino sees him playing a role similar to the role current Lakers forward and former Louisville star Earl Clark played for Louisville. “He just talked about how Earl was great on defense and could play the 3, 4, or 5 and create mismatches.” While Pitino definitely appears to have role in mind for his incoming freshman, Agau will certainly need to work for his minutes. In a deep front court that returns Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell, Zach Price, Stephan Van Treese and adds redshirt freshman center Mangok Mathiang, minutes will be hard to come by. Agau says he is ready for the challenge, though. Calling himself “the ultimate team player,” he said he is willing to take on whatever role he needs to take on to help his team win.
Along with his talent and athleticism, the thing that sticks out most about Agau is his maturity. Just a high school senior, he speaks to others with the clarity and professionalism of a man in his thirties. Despite not being from the country, he speaks English without a hint of an accent and also speaks Arabic and Dinka (his native tongue). While he admits he needs to work on his body and conditioning, he refers to his work ethic as one of his biggest strengths. Growing up the way he did, he says he really had to work for everything he wanted. His father currently works at a meat packing plant in Dennison, Iowa and comes home on weekends, and his mother also works in a meat packing plant in Omaha. Agau says the two have been instrumental in teaching him the value of hard work and treating others with respect.
Agau comes into Louisville expecting big things of himself and the program. As a player who has won four state championships, he is no stranger to success, but is expecting four national championships a reasonable expectation? “That’s already the plan,” says Agau, without even hesitating at the question. “I want nothing less.” Along with James, another player who he greatly admires is Boston Celtics great Bill Russell. “I like to joke with my friends that Bill Russell had three state championships, so I already have him beat by one,” Agau says, laughing. He then states that in all seriousness, he understands the challenges and obstacles he has to conquer to accomplish a championship at the next level. For someone who has never had anything easy, though, that is a task that Agau is certainly up for. He admits he still has much to learn, and as a freshman playing for Rick Pitino, he will have to fight for minutes. Yet, just as he proved to some of the most renowned college basketball coaches in the country that basketball talent exists in Nebraska, he is set out to prove that he is ready to take on any challenge head-on.