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Survival a tall order even at 7-foot-3

Ohlone brings courageous center to Sierra
By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Ring Ayuel has been on his own since running away from home in 1999 when he was just 11 years old. His village of Turalei in southern Sudan was under siege. Soldiers invaded the village and opened fire in the streets. Bombs reduced buildings to rubble. Ayuel could not go home to his family. “People were falling in the streets, and I thought it was for fun,” he recalled. “Then I saw the blood.” Members of Ayuel’s tribe were fleeing as his cousin was shot and killed. Ayuel ran away to save his life. Eleven years later, the 7-foot-3 Ayuel is a freshman playing basketball at Ohlone College in Fremont. Ayuel and the Renegades will travel to Rocklin on Saturday to play Sierra College at 5 p.m. The 125-mile bus ride will be nothing compared with Ayuel’s 30-day walk in 1999 from Sudan to a refugee camp in Kenya. He was hardly alone on the journey, but he was without his family. Thousands walked each night, concealed by the darkness, so they would not be spotted by soldiers. Ayuel’s shoes eventually fell apart, so he walked barefoot for as long as he could. “My feet were cut,” said Ayuel, who was then carried night after night by a friend of his parents. The United Nations refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, provided little more than safety. He wondered whether his parents, three sisters and two brothers had survived the genocide in his homeland. “I sat down and cried,” he recalled. “My family wasn’t there. I was living by myself, Who was going to take care of me? I had to take care of myself. I had to be strong.” His five-year stay at the camp ended when Ayuel was sent to Our Savior American High School, an international exchange institution in New York. He then was introduced to a new sport. Ayuel played soccer and volleyball as a child in Sudan. Given his height, he was a natural to give basketball a try. He was one of four Sudanese players on the team who stood 7-foot or taller. That was nothing new for Ayuel, who was not the tallest member of his tribe. His mother, Nyayi, is 6-11. As he learned basketball, Ayuel also had to adapt to a new language and culture at the age of 16. Ohlone coach John Peterson, who is 5-11, learned of Ayuel’s plight from a coaching friend on the East Coast. Without a high school diploma, Ayuel could only attend a junior college in California. Peterson welcomed him, and not only because Ayuel has basketball potential. Ayuel has been at the college since 2008 and is actually playing for the Renegades for the first time this season. Ayuel was a greyshirt in the 2008-09 season, allowing him to practice with the team as he focused on his studies. He did not play last season after having microfracture surgery on both knees. His impact on the team was evident, Peterson said, even when he was not playing. “We had some guys that thought they had issues They thought their lives were tough,” he added. “Whatever they’re going through isn’t that big of a deal. Look at what he’s gone through.” Ayuel smiled when asked what Peterson has meant to him. “I love this guy,” Ayuel said. The feeling is mutual. “Being around him every day is humbling,” Peterson said. “I wouldn’t mind if he stayed here forever. I could coach him for a lifetime. He’s that good a person.” Four months ago, Ayuel spoke to his parents for the first time since the day he fled. He was relieved to hear his five siblings are doing fine. He still has no idea when he will see them again. “It was special,” he said of the phone call. “I cried.” Those tears were a long time coming.