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December 18, 2009To listen to Ater Majok's informal press conference on Friday, click here.
STORRS, Conn. -- There were many occasions in the past 15 months when Ater Majok, frustrated by his ineligibility to play basketball at UConn, would stop by assistant coach Andre LaFleur's office to express his concerns.
The toughest time was on April 4, when Majok had to watch from campus as his teammates struggled last and lost to Michigan State in Detroit in the Final Four, ending their season one game away from the national championship.
"It was really tough watching them leave for the Final Four, and it was really tough watching them lose the game knowing that if I could have come off the bench, I could have brought some more energy," Majok said Friday. "Knowing that, it hurt me a lot and that's why right now, I'm working hard and trying to bring everybody up so everybody can work hard. because I want to take that visit again. I really want to take that visit to the Final Four."
Calling it "the end of one [journey] and the start of a new one," Majok, a 6-foot-11, 233-pound forward from Sudan via Egypt, Australia and Virginia, will get his first opportunity to help the Huskies reach the postseason Sunday when he makes his debut against UCF.
Majok, 22, originally committed to Baylor on Aug. 4, 2007, but took back that commitment and made his intent to play at UConn official on April 28, 2008.
It wasn't that simple. A refugee of the Second Sudanese Civil War, Majok escaped to Egypt when he was young before moving with his family to Australia. He began his high school at St. Mary's in Rydalmere, a suburb of Sydney, before transferring to the American International School.
The confusion didn't help the NCAA, which ruled in January -- two months after Majok expected to begin playing for the Huskies -- that he would be a partial qualifier until the completion of UConn's fall semester, meaning he can practice and sit on the bench for home games but an not travel with the team until Sunday.
Still considered a freshman, Majok, a five-star recruit ranked No. 13 in the Class of 2008, should give the Huskies a greatly-needed presence in the frontcourt in relief of Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi.
Head coach Jim Calhoun has not decided whether or not Majok will start the game or come off the bench.
"It definitely means a lot, because me and Alex are playing a lot of the minutes," Edwards said. "We're both playing like 35 minutes a game, so it definitely gives us somebody else that we can put in to give us minutes. He can rebound. He can do a lot of things that will really help us."
But there is still much Majok cannot yet do, Calhoun said, including taking the correct approach to blocking shots and controlling his aggression.
"I keep kidding him, but [he needs to] apply the rules and regulations that James Naismith wrote down," Calhoun said.
That will come in time, Majok said. As for Sunday, it's about first steps. He has already gotten 15 tickets for the game for several friends and expects much of his family, and others, to wake up at 5 a.m. in Australia to watch his debut on the Internet.
He has also tried to avoid the praise that has come with being one of the nation's top-ranked recruits and someone Calhoun has alluded to since October as being the key to the Huskies' rebounding woes.
"At the end of the day, you will see if the hype is equal to Ater or if Ater equals the hype," Majok said. "I'm not the one to tell about that."