Lopez Lomong’s great escape

This article on future Olympian Lopez Lomong appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on May 26, 2006

SOLE SURVIVOR

Kidnapped by the Sudanese army as a child, Lopez Lomong escaped the life of a child soldier the best way he knew how — with his feet

By Ed Odeven

Lopez Lomong runs because he’s a good runner. In tough times, he ran as a means of survival.

As a 6-year-old in Sudan, Lomong, the second-oldest child of five, was attending a church service with his parents in their small African village. The, as quickly as he now runs an 800-meter race, his life completely changed.

Lomong was abducted by Sudanese soldiers. He didn’t know what happened to his parents.

Years later he found out.

“They told me that we were taken away and they (the soldiers) actually left them alone because they needed child soldiers like us,” said Lomong, an NAU freshman who competes in the 800 at the NCAA West Region Outdoor Track and Field Championships this weekend (qualifying is this afternoon, the final round is Saturday).

“I was taken with the other kids somewhere in Sudan,” he recalled.

But he didn’t become a child soldier in the civil war that has devastated his country.

“Me and two of my friends, we escaped from that camp and we ended up in Kenya,” he said.

How?

“Running … and running and running,” Lomong said.

***

Lomong, now 21, started living in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, when he was 6.

He became one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, one of thousands who were displaced by the war in Sudan.

His family didn’t know of his whereabouts, and he didn’t know where his brothers, sisters and parents were or if they were alive.

When he was 16, Lomong arrived in the United States thanks to the efforts of Catholic Charities, an organization which has helped thousands of Lost Boys resettle in the United States.

Lomong settled in the small town of Tully, N.Y., which is located in the Syracuse metropolitan  area.

“I was a minor when I came,” Lomong said. “So (Catholic Services) actually helped me out to find foster parents.”

Robert and Barbara Rogers, who had one child already grown up, were eager to have another youngster in the family.

“They are awesome people,” Lopez said, flashing a smile.

“They were giving me everything and teaching me everything, like switching on the lights and all those things. I didn’t know how to do ’em. … All the time, they helped me out (and to) adapt to a new culture.”

The Rogers’ outpouring of love and devotion included their support of his athletic pursuits.

“They were going to all my track meets in high school,” he said.

So they saw Lopez earn nine varsity letters in cross country and track and field. They saw him set several school records in cross country. They saw Lopez, a three-time team captain, win a New York state crown in the mile. And they saw him lead Tully High School to state titles in the 4×400-meter and 4×800-meter relays.

He also exhibited his running talents on the national stage, placing 20th at a Footlocker Nationals competition.

“Lopez was a dominant figure in all his races during his high-school career in the small town in upstate N.Y. where he went to school,” recalled Dr. Jack Daniels, the head distance running coach at NAU’s Center for High Altitude Training who saw Lomong compete in high school when he was the cross country/track coach at SUNY-Cortland, a small school near Tully.

“What always set Lopez apart from many runners was his ‘go-for-broke’ attitude which is typical of the good distance runners in Africa. I have others tell me they just go as hard as they can hang on for the win, great; if not, they will try again next time.”

***

Since enrolling at NAU last fall, Lomong has had a successful freshman season as a student-athlete. He placed 19th at the NCAA Pre-National Championships race in Indiana last October.

He captured Big Sky Conference indoor titles in the 800 and 1,500 in February and replicated that feat two weeks ago at the Big Sky outdoor meet, crossing the finish line in 1 minute, 48.86 seconds and 3:48.64.

This, of course, put a smile on Robert and Barbara Rogers’ faces.

They routinely monitor Lomong’s track career via the Internet.

Said Lomong: “They are so happy about that and they are calling me (on the phone): ‘Keep going.’ ”

Lumberjacks head coach J.W. Hardy expresses the same optimism about Lomong’s racing, but does so in a more detailed manner.

“I don’t really think he fully understands what he’s capable of doing,” Hardy said, “and I think that’s really been the progression for him throughout the season. As the season has gone on, I think he’s getting a better understanding of what it takes to be a top-level athlete.

“(Distance running) coach (John) Hayes is doing a great job of bringing him along and getting him to understand what it really takes to be a force at the national level. I think he’s got amazing talent, and there’s so much more that he has to offer.

“We’ve just got to kind of wait and see how far his training will take him this season.”

Lomong is confident he’ll win the 800 Saturday.

His strategy?

“Run smart, relaxed,” he said. “I’ve got more speed than anyone else in the Big Sky Conference …. and a lot of endurance. (With) about 300 or 200 (meters) to go, it’s my race.”

To prepare for regionals, Hayes has guided Lomong through a series of challenging speed-related workouts, focused on lots of drills for 300s and 600s.

It’s paid off.

“I think it’s working really, really well. I’m ready,” he said.

And if there’s one thing Hardy has learned about Lomong in the past season, it’s that he’s not afraid of hard work.

“He cane in and had to battle through learning English, getting through learning another language, dealing with the academics and this and that in an American high school and then to be able to move on,” Hardy said. “…It’s been a joy to see him go out and improve, academically and athletically. I think there’s a lot left in Lopez. We’ve seen a lot in one year, but there’s so much more that we could see out of this young man out of the next three years.”

And, remember, this season’s not over yet.

Lomong has plenty of motivation for today’s 800, a race in which he’s seeded No. 3 (1:48.86; USC’s Duane Solomon is first in 1:47.74).

“If I make it to nationals, they’ll be there at nationals,” he said of the Rogerses, his American family.

***
Three years ago, Lomong was adjusting to his new life in the United States. He was struggling to learn American English. Before coming here, he had a limited knowledge of British English.

“It’s been kind of a challenge, studying. … Yeah, I came a long way,” he said.

Sudan. Kenya. Upstate New York. Flagstaff.

These are all destinations on Lomong’s life map. And throughout his unforgettable journeys from East Africa to the Western U.S., Lomong has grown into a bona fide running standout — “I think his ability is limitless in the 1,500,” said Hayes, citing his exceptional combination of speed and endurance — he never stopped thinking about his roots: his beloved parents.

Three years ago, Lopez learned his parents, Rita Namana Lomong and Lomong Lomong were alive. A U.S. organization had located them, he said.

“Some friends in Africa called me up and said, ‘You mom’s around here.’ I was like, ‘Wow, what a thrill,’ ” he said. “And I just called them and we talked. And she was crying. And I was crying. There was a lot of things going on, and trying to figure it out was very hard.”

His family now resides in Thika, Kenya, a small town near the nation’s capital city, Nairobi. His four siblings are there, too.

This has given him some peace of mind. But this much is clear: They are always on his mind.

In every race, Lomong demonstrates this.

“When I step on the track, I’m doing it for the school and also representing them back home,” Lomong said. “Every time I come to that lap, something flies through my (mind) and I can see their picture and I go and do work, you know.”

Lomong plans to visit Kenya in the summer of 2007, the first time he’ll see his family in 16 years.

He’ll run into their arms.

Stephen Curry’s rise to superstardom has been a joy to watch

Few players bring the same level of excitement to the court game after game as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. This was also true while he played in college.
Today’s entry takes a look back at Curry’s college career when he was still a junior.
This Hoop Scoop column appeared in The Japan Times in January 2009.

Neumann analyzes Curry, recalls Pistol Pete

By Ed Odeven

Every dozen years or so, a young athlete arrives on the scene — Cristiano Ronaldo, Usain Bolt or LeBron James, for instance — with the demeanor, athleticism and poise beyond their years to be the next standard-bearer of excellence in that sport.

You may not know it yet, but Stephen Curry is on the verge of becoming one of those special players, and Rizing Fukuoka coach John Neumann is one of his biggest fans.

“I wish Curry the best,” Neumann said recently, “because he is a credit to basketball and a leader. These are the things I admire about him.”

Curry, a junior guard from tiny Davidson College (enrollment: 1,700) near Charlotte, N.C., became an instant success story as a college freshman when he averaged 21.5 points per game in 2006-07.

The son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry increased that output to 25.9 last season, a season in which his scoring prowess earned him legions of fans thanks to his magical performance in the NCAA Tournament — four straight games of 30 or more points.

In doing so, he became only the fourth man in NCAA Tournament history to do this in his first four tourney games. He was held to 25 in an Elite Eight loss to Kansas.

This season, he is the leading scorer in the NCAA’s Division I (347 schools), averaging 29.1 ppg entering this week’s play. He also leads the Southern Conference in both assists (6.5) and steals (3.0), and is among the nation’s top 10 in both categories. No other player is in the national top 10 in all three categories.

Dick Jerardi, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, wrote a recent piece that offered historical perspective between Curry’s career and that of the late “Pistol Pete” Maravich, whose rise to stardom began at Louisiana State University (1967-70) before a 10-year NBA career.

Jerardi pointed out that Curry has an outside shot at breaking Maravich’s all-time D-I points record (3,667) if he continues to average in the neighborhood of 30 points per game for the remainder of this season and returns to college next fall, instead of skipping his senior season to enter the NBA, and does the same.

Maravich played three seasons — freshmen were not permitted to play on the varsity squad at the time — at LSU and averaged a staggering 44.2 ppg, a career record that will probably never be broken.

Neumann, of course, remembers those days vividly. The second-year coach of the bj-league’s Fukuoka squad starred at the University of Mississippi from 1969-71, and played against Pistol Pete in college and in the NBA.

He, too, was a gifted scorer, averaging an NCAA-best 40.1 ppg in the 1970-71 season.

Now, after nearly four decades since Pistol Pete and Johnny Neumann were the brightest offensive stars of the Southeastern Conference, Neumann was asked if he would like to see Curry break his former foe’s NCAA record.

“To be honest, Pete was a good friend of mine and no I wouldn’t like anyone to break his record, because he was special and he found God late in life and he died on a basketball court,” Neumann said.

Indeed, Maravich died on Jan. 5, 1988, suffering a heart attack in a 3-on-3 game in Pasadena, Calif. He was 40 years old.

Maravich was a pure scorer, capable of knocking down shots with regularity from anywhere on the court. His astounding scoring totals would have increased dramatically if he had played his entire career in the 3-point era (the NBA adopted the 3-point shot for the 1979-80 season; the NCAA followed suit a few years later).

For astute students of the game, Curry’s shooting ability reminds them of Pistol Pete’s. His all-around skills are quite impressive as well, according to Neumann.

“I think Curry is a great passer and plays to help his team win,” Neumann stated.

The numbers support that claim. Davidson posted a 29-5 record in 2006-07, went 29-7 last season and took a 14-3 record into Wednesday’s contest against Furman College.

Curry isn’t just a talented scorer who tries to beat opponents all by himself.

“I know that he can shoot and does it as good as anyone, but what no one ever talks about is how he sees the floor and can pass and generate offense for his teammates also,” said Neumann.

Curry’s rise to stardom has been a joy to watch. And here’s even better news: The journey isn’t over.

In terms of potential, Curry has just scratched the surface, showcasing skills that ooze out of every pore in his body, skills that only a handful of players possess every generation.

Just ask Neumann.

Women’s hoops coverage – 2006 NCAA Tournament

This game report appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.

Headline: Jacks can’t come back

March 18, 2006
By Ed Odeven

TUCSON — There are, of course, no do-overs in basketball. But if the NAU women’s basketball team could re-play the first 10 minutes of one game, it would be this one:

Saturday’s contest against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

The Lumberjacks stumbled out of the gates, falling behind 19-4 from the start at McKale Center.

It was a daunting obstacle to rebound from that deficit. The Lumberjacks gave it their best shot, though, but fell short, 74-56.

“We started behind from the beginning,” said Lumberjacks point guard Sade Cunningham, who scored a team-high 13 points. “Everyone plays with so much heart. When we were losing, I think a lot of people thought we would give up. We played hard and with heart. We showed what NAU basketball is all about.”

Naturally, Baylor’s No. 10 national ranking, its 2005 championship and the excitement over being in the tourney for the first time played a part in the NAU players’ mind-set after tipoff.

Which is why it was a challenge for Lumberjacks coach Laurie Kelly and her team to treat this like any other game.

“How do you prepare for something you have never done?” Kelly said. “I think the first 10 minutes they played afraid. We are an inside-outside team, and we just weren’t throwing the ball inside.”

Instead, the 14th-seeded Jacks settled for jumpers and didn’t attack the basket with regularity. This enabled the third-seeded Bears to put up points in a hurry, grabbing the aforementioned 15-point lead and stretching that lead to 31-10 with 8:20 left in the half.

Senior guard Nicky Eason scored NAU’s first four points of the game, and the second bucket ended a scoring drought of 7:12.

After Eason scored, Baylor star Sophia Young drilled five consecutive field goals, and at that point she had scored 16 points, or six more than NAU. Baylor led by 21 then.

“You can’t let Sophia Young score 40 points,” Kelly told her players earlier this week.

She didn’t, but she put up points in a hurry as the Bears seized the early momentum.

“I knew from the scouting report that they were going to double team me, but once my team started scoring it freed me up,” Young said.

Young, a national player of the year candidate, had 16 points by halftime, reaching double digits for the 77th straight game.

NAU seized a little momentum, Kelly said, going into the half.

With 4.3 seconds left, sophomore forward Laura Dinkins scored on a tip-in and was fouled. She missed the foul shot. That made it 43-22, Baylor, NAU’s largest halftime deficit of the season.

The Jacks were 6-for-30 from the field in the first half.

“I think at the half we knew we had nothing to lose,” Dinkins said. “We came out to leave our heart and effort on the floor. We knew this was it. We wanted to leave it all on the floor.”

Baylor expected nothing less.

“In the locker room, we talked as a team about them giving us their best shot because they were a team with nothing to lose,” said Bears guard Chameka Scott, who finished with 10 points.

Scott was right.

The Jacks played with a sense of urgency in the second half, asserting themselves in the paint and moving the ball around more effectively. They used a 9-0 spurt to cut it to 49-35 on a pair of Cunningham free throws with 13:56 left.

A trio of successive layups, two by Sandra Viksryte and the other by Eason, made the score 61-45. Eason hit the subsequent foul shot to complete a three-point play and trim the lead to 15 with 5:19 remaining. Seconds later, a 7-0 NAU run, including a putback by Viksryte and two Dinkins free throws brought the Jacks within 63-51.

That was as close as they got.

Viksryte scored all 11 of her points in the second half.

Alyssa Wahl and Eason finished with 10 points apiece. Wahl added 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. She also made both of NAU’s 3-pointers. As a team, the Jacks shot 2 of 11 from 3-point range.

The Jacks didn’t get their usual offensive production from Megan Porter and Kim Winkfield. They combined to shoot 0-for-11 from the field. Winkfield scored two points, Porter was scoreless.

NAU ended its season at 22-11. Baylor (25-6) plays 11th-seeded New Mexico, 83-59 winners over No. 6 Florida in Saturday’s last game at McKale, in Monday’s second round.

After the game, Bears coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson played her own worst critic, saying she made substitutions too quickly.

“You are trying in the moment to put the team away but you put subs in to get experience,” she said. “I took the momentum away and we never got back into the flow. I felt like we were in control. As a coach, a 12-point differential wasn’t indicative of the game.”

It was the final collegiate game for four NAU seniors – Eason, Viksryte, Kim Biswanger and Beth Hopper.

“I’m going to miss all four of them in different ways,” Kelly said. “They have all been influential on the floor, and for them to take off their jersey is difficult. I went into the locker room and just thanked the girls for getting them to where they are. They will never be the same without these girls.”

The same could be said for the Lumberjack program. This is no longer a team without an appearance in the Big Dance. Saturday’s date will forever be etched into the NCAA history books as a game the Jacks appeared in.

“It’s definitely a big step for us getting here to a place where we wanted to be,” Dinkins said. “We want to come back next year.”

Kelly said, “We just had a taste of dessert, which is the NCAA Tournament, and we want it again. We will go back and work hard over the summer so that we can be here next year.”