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The Bill Hensley Memorial Run-N-Slam in Fort Wayne last weekend was full of elite talent being recruited by some of the top college programs in the country.
Then, there was Koch Bar.
The native of South Sudan came to the United States just six months ago as a 6-foot-10 former soccer player who barely knew any English.
A beneficiary of the A-Hope Foundation – a non-profit organization that identifies student-athletes throughout Africa and helps them transplant themselves to America and receive a top-notch education - Bar now commands a decent vocabulary in English and is an eager student in both academics and the game of basketball.
With the A-Hope Foundation headquartered in Indianapolis and his prep school in Florida of West Oaks Academy not a residing address, Bar is officially an Indiana resident and plays with the Indiana Elite/Team Indiana 16U AAU squad.
Unlike many of the student-athletes that travel from city to city during the AAU season, Bar's story is more than basketball.
“Before (basketball) I played soccer, everybody plays soccer back home,” Bar said. “I started playing basketball because of my height (and) started liking it.”
Bar was identified in South Sudan by Bill Duany of the A-Hope Foundation, who travels there frequently to visit family and to build relationships with perspective student athletes.
The beleaguered country became an independent state in 2011, but has seen conflict throughout its existence. A political power struggle that erupted last December has spread to the country's ethnic divides, with an estimated 10,000 people having been killed in the conflict.
Bar has been able to escape the unrest by coming to the United States.
“Koch is one of those guys we really latched on to,” Duany said. “He is a really good kid, smart and hard working … he is just an ideal guy to get that chance, he seems to be doing really well.”
The A-Hope Foundation has a history of bringing over track and basketball athletes in the past. Former Indiana University basketball player Tijan Jobe as well as current Hoosiers Peter Jurkin and Hanner Perea came to the United States thanks to the non-profit organization.
Bar is an extremely raw basketball talent who has only been playing the sport for about two years. While tall, he does not yet have the frame to compete with players his size consistently in the paint.
However, one of the more impressive aspects of his game is his knowledge to not leave his feet on the defensive end, an aspect of the game even the best post players have issues with.
“He is gung-ho about everything – school, learning his English, playing ball, he is just hungry,” Duany said. “It's a big change (for him), but he is doing really well with it.”
Coming to a foreign country without knowing anyone can be stressful. Bar admits it is tough at times.
“When you're all alone, you miss home,” Bar said.
While major college basketball is a question mark at this point, the chances of a quality college education and the opportunity to participate in basketball past high school are much better than back in South Sudan.
“To be able to create an opportunity to get educated really is the name of the game,” Duany said. “To be able to handle the curriculum and be able to handle the pressure of being so far from home, you really have to have a lot of intangibles to … handle it, outside of just looking the part.”