At the end of high school, Akol Arop was offered ten full-ride basketball scholarships to NCAA Division I schools. He was the top senior prospect in Nebraska in 2019, playing for Coaches Josh Luedtke and Andy King at Omaha’s Creighton Prep. What sets Arop apart from most basketball players is not only his tremendous talent, but also his deep-rooted faith.
Akol Arop is an American. But he is also South Sudanese by blood and Egyptian by birth. During a violent civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan, Arop’s parents fled Sudan and walked to Egypt, where Akol was born in an Egyptian refugee camp. The family then immigrated to the United States, first to Houston, then to Omaha, which is home to the largest South Sudanese refugee population in North America. Arop attended All Saints Catholic School and St. Patrick’s Church, where he became best friends with Anthony Kowal, who introduced him to sports and American life. They remain friends and brothers, as the Kowal family became a second family to Arop. Thaddeus Kowal said, “We all love Akol dearly.”
Although he started basketball later than most kids, his athletic prowess carried him. Andy King, who also coached Arop for Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, said, “He is an athletic freak the moment you watch him. He can run and jump and do things that other kids just can’t.” Arop worked hard in high school to improve his game, which showed during an eye-catching performance at an AAU tournament in New York where he was noticed by college recruiters. Arop chose the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family and Coaches Luedtke and King. I chose Nebraska simply because I knew I could practice my faith.” Though recruited by Coach Tim Miles, a coaching transition landed him with the university’s new coach, Fred Hoiberg. Arop accepted the change with grace.
Arop has always made it a priority to attend an early Sunday morning Mass in whatever town he’s in. In between games on summer AAU trips the team traveled on a 40-passenger bus, and Arop and the coaches would have the bus driver take them to Mass. If they flew to games, they would take a rental van to find a Mass, and sometimes even Uber. King said, “I would make sure he got to Mass in between games. That speaks volumes to what kind of character he has, that he always has his faith life as number one literally above everything else.”
Arop wants to continue his basketball career after college. “I hope that I am still playing basketball, whether in the United States or overseas,” he said. “Or maybe someday I can work at Creighton Prep. But most importantly, I’m going to let God guide me through life and show me what he wants for me. God has truly blessed me in life, and everything I do is for him.” The statement echoes the words of his friend, Fr. Kevin Schneider, SJ: “I’m blessed to know Akol; he’s a true man of God.”
Clay Nickson is a former intern for the Midwest Jesuits and a recent graduate of UW-Oshkosh. He is now employed by CDK Global.