Fox Sports (Australia)
With time to burn during the NBL off-season, the 206cm Melbourne United forward skipped town to go on a pilgrimage “home” to South Sudan.
Truth be told, his mum had to be convinced.
But uncles living in the US and Africa ensured the 24-year-old rebounding machine would benefit from the whirlwind trip and be safe in the world’s youngest nation despite the civil war.
Majok spent four days in the capital Juba flanked by family, street kids and armed guards courtesy of his uncle Jerkuei Majok, a commander in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and grandfather, Baipath Majwec, a politician.
“You can’t really travel anywhere without guards,” Majok told the Herald Sun.
“I don’t know much about guns, I just know they’re guns. It was crazy.
“At first (I thought) this is kinda scary, but my uncle told me there is nothing to be worried about… so I felt comfortable as I stayed there longer.”
Majok was only months old when the family fled Rumbek, three hours from war-torn Juba, for refuge in Kenya before the ultimate move to Perth several years later.
Not surprisingly, the spur of the moment trip that United didn’t know about was a “big deal”.
Majok received a rock star reception at Juba airport from a 50-strong welcoming party and then some congregated at his grandfather’s house for a “big feast”.
The days went quickly, starting early and finishing late, as family from far flung places flocked to meet Majok “for the first time”.
“I just thought I was going to meet grandfather and my uncle, so many people (turned up), extended relatives and all that, the welcoming party that I had was really unexpected,” Majok said.
“I was really surprised by that and it was really big for me.”
Majok was taken to the place he was born, where his mother was born and where the family lived before escaping to Kenya. It not only opened his eyes, but filled a void.
“Before (it) was just like a grey area,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about that place but then you go there and see it for yourself (and) you get a better understanding.
“You can tell what the people over there go through on a daily life basis and (it) gives you a chance to appreciate what you have right now and not taking anything for granted.”
Majok travelled with bags full of United gear and clothing to dish out among family and new friends.
Times are tough there, but sport is a most welcome distraction.
“Melbourne United is well represented in South Sudan so it was really awesome,” Majok said with a beaming smile.
“They knew that I played basketball and especially the kids… they just followed me everywhere which was really great.
“Here you live a good life, the houses are good, everything, but over there it’s like completely the opposite.”
Sixty years of turmoil and civil war in South Sudan has left an indelible scar on the largely rural terrain.
Bullet holes mark condemned buildings, while shell casings and wrecked cars lined roads outside of Juba, once a transport hub on the banks of the White Nile before the civil wars.
“My uncle took me to places where people fought,” Majok said.
“You can still see bullet shells all over the ground, like gun shots on the wall, it was really amazing and a good experience for me to sit back and see how everything went down.”
Shell-shocked shanty towns and refugee camps have made way for hotels and office blocks in Juba but there is still a “long way to go”.
But a “quick chat” with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has renewed Majok’s faith.
“I went to the State House, there was guards everywhere,” Majok said.
“He just talked about trying to develop the country and that it’s going to be up to the younger generation to make this country a better place.
“He told me to just keep doing what you’re doing, inspiring a lot of kids, it’s pretty cool to hear that from him.”
Kiir, who proudly wears a cowboy hat to official functions, a gift from US President George W. Bush, unfortunately missed out on getting any United memorabilia due to strict security provisions.
“You’re not allowed to take anything inside (the State House) they strip you of all your belongings when you walk in.”
According to those inside the Kings camp, there is also a valid explanation why the intensity on the floor has lifted tenfold.
“Because Andrew Gaze is a basketball purist,” Kings Managing director Jeff Van Groningen says frankly.
“So a non-satisfactory result makes him go back and work harder.
Melbourne United’s Chris Goulding and Casey Prather out to catch eye of NBA scouts when team faces Oklahoma City Thunder
CAN a Melbourne United player emulate Boomer Shane Heal’s 1996 masterpiece and win an NBA contract with a perfect show against the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Ex-Timberwolves big man Chris Anstey says both Chris Goulding and Casey Prather have the skills to make it in the best competition in the world and they will be hoping to catch the eye of scouts when the NBL club takes on Russell Westbrook’s Thunder on Monday morning (AEDT).
Aussie point guard Heal famously went toe-to-toe with Basketball Hall of Fame legend Charles Barkley in a 1996 exhibition game between the Boomers and Dream Team III, torching Team USA for 28 points including eight three pointers.