Once refugees in east Africa, two Baylor basketball stars find home and family at BU
In 1994, two infant boys were born in war-torn eastern Africa — one in Kenya, the other in what is now South Sudan. Faced with the life-threatening realities of the civil wars around them, their families made the difficult choice to flee, picking the dangers of leaving their homelands over the dangers of staying put.
What were the odds that these two boys would both eventually discover basketball, both attend small heartland junior colleges, both earn scholarships to Baylor, and both experience joyous reunions with family during their senior year in the green and gold?
That is the story of Baylor men’s basketball seniors Jo Lual-Acuil, BS ’17, and Nuni Omot. In a year in which the Bears have defeated Kansas, swept Texas and trounced OU on Senior Night, it’s the reunions between the Acuils and the Omots that have proved to be among the season’s most memorable moments.
When Jo’s parents, Joseph Achuil and Ayen Mayor, arrived in Texas in December, it marked the first time Jo had seen them in person in more than four years. Jo met them at the airport in Dallas, then hustled back to Waco, arriving at the Ferrell Center just 30 minutes before tip-off. Two days later, his parents shared in the joy of watching him receive his degree in health studies and kinesiology. (Oh, and the next night, they were there for his career night against Savannah State, when he recorded 31 points and 20 rebounds.)
Jo’s family fled what is now South Sudan for the safety of Uganda when he was three years old. His father, who worked for the government, stayed behind as Jo, his mother and siblings eventually moved to Australia, where Jo picked up the game. His circuitous path took him from Sudan to Uganda to Australia, then to a community college in Kansas, before he found a home in Waco.
Nuni Omot’s journey began in a refugee camp in Kenya. He was born there after his parents had fled their native Ethiopia, traveling hundreds of miles on foot. Eventually, Nuni, his mother and his brother were cleared to emigrate to the United States. His father, Kwot, did not pass medical testing, and stayed behind. Kwot kept a picture of Nuni in his wallet for two decades, as Nuni became a star high school basketball player in Minnesota, then at a community college in Iowa, and finally at Baylor.
Around Christmas, Kwot finally made it to the United States — more than 20 years after the difficult separation that allowed the rest of his family to find freedom in the U.S. Last month, he and Nuni were reunited before Baylor’s Feb. 20 game against West Virginia. The video tells the story; Kwot’s emotions erupt upon seeing his son, for two decades an infant on a picture in his wallet, now a grown man.
Two stories, two incredible journeys, and two priceless reunions that serve as reminders of the sacrifices many families around the world make in search of better lives for their children.
Sic ’em, Jo Lual-Acuil and Nuni Omot!