About 600 miles from the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum lies the town of Gogrial in the province of Bahr El Ghazal. It is many more miles and a whole culture away from Washington. Manute Bol learned his basketball in the Nile River Valley town and he has covered all those miles in coming to the United States.
But can he play in the NBA? Have his basketball skills caught up with his luggage? He seems to think so.
"I can't say that I will start this season," Bol said yesterday from Newport, R.I., where he is playing with the Rhode Island Gulls of the U.S. Basketball League. "If the coach sees me work hard and can use me, then maybe I will start. I don't get mad if I sit on the bench. Maybe the coach will need me, and I can learn a lot. I might start someday."
The Bullets must also think there is a chance someday he will start. They used a second-round pick in Tuesday's draft to select the 7-foot-6 1/4 center from the University of Bridgeport.
It is conceivable the Bullets might want to place Bol with a European team to gain more experience before testing him against the NBA. Neither Bol nor his lawyer, Frank Catapano of Boston, whom he met through his friend John Bagley of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is eager to talk about that.
"If they don't think I can play in the U.S., then I can find some place else to play," Bol said with a tone that made it clear he thought he was ready for the NBA.
"I wouldn't want to tell you that he wouldn't play in Europe, but at this point there is no reason to think about that," Catapano said, adding that he would contact the Bullets next week to discuss contract negotiations.
After selecting Bol, Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said that if he can make it in the NBA, he could be one of the best shot blockers in basketball history.
Bol was flattered when told of Ferry's remark. Though he was quick to point out his offensive weaknesses, he didn't argue with Ferry's assessment.
"I don't think anybody in the NBA can block shots like me," Bol said. "Right now, I don't have good offense. I'm working on both."
Bol will spend much of his summer playing for the Gulls, who say they have made him the highest-paid player in the league, at $25,000 for the season. Bol is averaging more than 16 points per game and is leading the league in rebounds (14.3) and blocked shots (12.1). Last night, in a 136-132 loss to New Jersey, Bol had 29 points, 28 rebounds and 13 blocked shots.
His 122 blocked shots are more than any other team in the league.
All along, Bol was considered something of a gamble given that he has played for only five years, none against stiff competition, and is very thin. He said he thought his lack of exposure playing at Division II Bridgeport was more of a factor, even though he was an all-America averaging 22.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 7.5 blocked shots.
"I was watching on TV with my coach (former Celtic Kevin Stacom) because I had never seen a draft before," Bol said. "I knew that I wouldn't go earlier because not that many people have seen me play. Some people think that I can't play."
Obviously, the Bullets are not among that group, which pleased Bol.
"I was happy," he said. "I think it is good because I watched them play a lot. I know (forward) Cliff Robinson. I think I played once with him in Cleveland. I think (Washington) is a nice place. I might be happy there."
What would make Ferry and Coach Gene Shue happy is if Bol would add some bulk. Bol realizes that he needs to add weight, so he said he is eating more and working with weights.
"I'm eating three or four or five times (a day)," Bol said. "I'm about 198. Right now, I feel better. I'd like to be at 225 or 230. If I weighed 250, I'd be too heavy. If I weighed 250, I don't think I could move or cut."