Akolda Manyang may have long towered over just about everyone he runs into, but now he's doing a different kind of growing, Indian Hills Community College (Iowa) coach John Wardenburg said.
Seven-foot Manyang, who went to high school at Duluth East, made the decision to attend JUCO to improve his game and continue to mature. Now, he's being rewarded by high major Division I recruiting attention. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino starting courting Manyang this year (Tubby Smith recruited him to some extent as well) and Oklahoma and Arizona State have also been heavily involved. Iowa and Houston have recently stepped up their efforts as well, Wardenburg said.
"This place fits 'AK' like a glove," Wardenburg said of Indian Hills, which was ranked No. 1 among JUCOs nationally last year and lost of its sophomores to Division I schools after the season. "We have great structure here and we have a family atmosphere, we have tremendous support."
In 2012, Manyang's senior season at Duluth East, he was suspended during the Greyhounds' state tournament run for allegedly being seen smoking, a MSHSL violation. Manyang denied smoking but it wasn't the first time the Sudan native -- who didn't have the easiest of childhoods -- had gotten in trouble
In fact, Manyang only wound up in Duluth when, after being charged with felony theft, burglary and giving wrong information to a police officer in southern Minnesota, the court ordered he move to the Woodland Hills residential treatment program in Duluth. When he graduated, Manyang also lacked the test scores necessary for Division I, sending him the JUCO route instead.
If you ask Wardenburg, the detour has turned out to be a blessing.
"His basketball skills have improved, his work ethic has improved," Wardenburg said. "He's a tireless worker in the gym, in the weight room. And then off the floor, we've seen some great improvement. He's making excellent choices ... his academics have improved. It's been an excellent move for him."
Minnesota's new staff has watched Manyang, who has been rehabbing a torn MCL sustained in March, on a couple different occasions, including Pitino making a trip in the midst of the Gophers' NIT run.
"They've done a good job," Wardenburg said of Minnesota's recruiting efforts. "Akolda knows they are very interested in him."
Wardenburg said that Manyang, who doesn't have any visits planned yet, needs to focus on improving his back-to-the-basket game. The center has been spending his free time in the weight room, where he continues to add muscle and mass. In the last year, Manyang has put on more than 20 pounds, going from 220 to just over 240.
"He's a tremendous runner and he has great hands, he can catch the ball and has tremendous athletic ability," Wardenburg said. "His post moves are getting better and better. He needs to keep working there. The thing about Akolda that separates him, perhaps, from other kids his age, is that god has blessed him with a body that can add weight and add bulk and not slow him down."