WESTFIELD, Ind. — Jonathan Byrd Fieldhouse is filled with famous faces on a rainy afternoon for the last Saturday of April. If only for a weekend, this is the epicenter of college basketball as the site of Nike’s EYBL circuit stop during the second week of live evaluation period.
College coaches are permitted to be in the gym to watch grassroots basketball for only two weeks in the spring. They’re all here: John Calipari wearing Kentucky blue; Mike Krzyzewski flanked by his team of assistants; Jay Wright in a Villanova polo shirt instead of a finely pressed suit. The high school players present are well-aware of the stakes. This is where stars are born, scholarships are offered, and futures are changed.
There is only one teenage player here who already needs no introduction. He is immediately recognizable. Rail thin with impossibly long limbs, sharp cheekbones, high hips, and the early signs of dreadlocks. It’s hard to tell whether his short shorts are a conscious choice or the simple reality of being this tall and likely still growing.
This is Bol Bol, a 7’2 center in the class of 2018 and son of Manute Bol. At the moment, he’s having a hard time finding room to stretch because of the constant line of kids who want their picture with him. He’s the only person in the gym signing autographs.
To this point, Bol has mostly been noteworthy for his name and obvious physical resemblance to his late father. Scouts have been monitoring him closely since his freshman season at Bishop Miege High School outside of Kansas City, but there has always been the sense that he’s more prospect than player. This is the weekend that finally changes.
Bol’s first game in Indy is against Team Final and five-star wing Cameron Reddish, a player ranked ahead of Bol by every major scouting service. Bol leaves no doubt who the best player on the floor is. He finishes with 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field, including 4-of-6 makes from three-point range as his Cal Supreme team wins by 20.
Bol starts the next morning with a three-pointer to open the game against the Oakland Soldiers. Then he hits another one. And another. Cal Supreme suffers only its second loss in league play, but not before Bol again finishes with 33 points by going 4-of-5 from deep.
The marquee matchup of the weekend happens later in the day: Bol vs. the No. 1 player in the class, Marvin Bagley III of Nike Phamily. Bol drops 26 points and makes both of his threes and all six of his free throws as Cal Supreme wins easily. He closes the event with another dominant performance: 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting in a blowout win.
“After seeing him this past weekend, he might be in the category of top-three player in 2018,” said Corey Evans of Rivals. “His production never really warranted his high ranking until this spring.”
Scouts have taken notice, and college coaches have too. When Bol gets home to California, he finds out he has a new scholarship offer. It’s from Kentucky.
It is impossible to see Bol without thinking of his famous dad, a man who was an even bigger legend off the court for his work with refugees from his native South Sudan. How can Bol possibly live up to that standard?
“I just try to be myself,” he says, still shy and soft-spoken like many his age.
If this weekend was any indication, he’s well on his way.
Bol Bol was 10-years-old when his father died. He’s still learning how to live with dad’s legacy.
As a player, Manute Bol was a phenomenon. At 7’7, he was one of the tallest players in league history and worked to become one of the best shot-blockers the NBA has ever seen. Bol led the league in swats twice and is No. 15 on the all-time blocks list despite playing only 18.7 minutes per game throughout his 10-year career.
Bol’s impact was far greater off the court. Nearly all of his time and money went to helping his war-ravaged home country of Sudan. When his money ran out, Bol found other ways to raise funds for refugees. Sometimes that meant playing in a hockey game or riding a horse or fighting William “The Refrigerator” Perry in Celebrity Boxing.
A humanitarian of Bol’s stature shouldn’t have been reduced to a sideshow, but he often did it with a smile on his face so long as the money was going to the right place.
Bol Bol said he thinks about carrying on his father’s name often, but he isn’t sure how to do it yet. He said he’s trying to be a normal kid, but normal kids aren’t 7’2 and they don’t spend their free time hanging out with famous rappers like Migos and Lil Yachty.
One thing is for sure about Bol: He doesn’t miss living in Kansas. Bol moved out to Southern California at the end of 2016 and transferred to Mater Dei High School, where current Detroit Pistons wing Stanley Johnson recently won four state titles. What’s better about living in Orange County instead of suburban Kansas City?
“Everything,” he said.
Bol Bol seems to enjoy the side of fame that never appealed to his father. That isn’t the only difference.
Manute Bol is the only player in NBA history to finish his career with more blocks (2,086) than points (1,599). Through two sessions, Bol Bol is second in the EYBL in scoring at 25.4 points per game.
The most famous clip of Manute Bol comes from a 1993 game against the Suns. Bol hits six three-pointers in one half, a feat so improbable at the time it might as well have been a magic trick.
Manute had good touch shooting the ball, but the three-point shot often felt like a gimmick for him. He made 43 threes in his career but hit them at only a 21 percent clip.
The three-point shot is no gimmick for his son. Bol Bol might be the best shooter in the EYBL. In eight games this spring, Bol is 15-of-28 from three, making him a 53.6 percent shooter. He’s also an 84.2 percent free-throw shooter on 38 attempts.
“I’ve been shooting ever since I’ve been young,” Bol said. “I want to be able to go inside and outside.”
There was a time not many years ago when coaches would have advised Bol against shooting the three. That’s not the case anymore.
“He’s come around at just the right time,” said Jerry Meyer of 247Sports. “I’m pretty much convinced post game is almost meaningless in today’s game, especially when you look at the NBA. Having a guy like him who can shoot it with that great length around the rim is exceptional.”
As Bol rockets up the rankings and rakes in the scholarship offers, the questions about his game are finally getting answers. His potential is turning into production. He isn’t just a prospect anymore; he’s a player.
There’s only one concern left.
“The only thing that I worry about is that he gets too tall,” Meyer said. “He’s so good with the handle and facing up. If he keeps growing, it could limit what he can do off the dribble. But he’s going to be fine no matter how tall he gets.”
Bol’s biggest challenge might be living up to what people expect of him as the son of an NBA legend and remarkable humanitarian. He still has time to figure that out. For now, he’s growing into his own player and his own man. Bol Bol is just getting started.