Austin’s basketball rebirth: Sudanese have given, received so much

By Pat Ruff

Moses Idris was asked what his life might look like once he’s finished high school.

Idris is a 6-feet-3, 190-pound Austin High School senior and starter on one of the top basketball programs in the state. Like the majority of the players on this team — three of them starters — Idris is of South Sudanese descent.

“I want to play college basketball somewhere,” the soft-spoken senior said. “I’m not sure where, but I’d like to go someplace where it’s warm.”

Idris Brothers
Austin’s Moses Idris watches the 9th-grade teams play before a boys basketball game against John Marshall Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, at John Marshall High School in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / Ahlquist

So far, he’s being recruited by two schools, and neither would meet his weather criteria. One is Northland Community College in Thief River Falls, the other Austin’s own junior college, Riverland.

“We’ll see,” Idris said of his college options.

Idris was spotted one week ago in the Rochester John Marshall gymnasium taking alley-oop passes from good friend Agwa Nywesh and throwing them down for consecutive dunks. He’s averaging nine points and four rebounds this season, with 27 steals for the 17-4 Packers.

Idris Brothers
Austin’s Victor Idris warms up before a boys basketball game against John Marshall Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, at John Marshall High School in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / Ahlquist

Clearly strong and athletic, Idris might be getting even more college looks had he gotten an earlier start in basketball. It took prodding from his buddy Nywesh, a 6-3 cat-quick guard who is getting Division I college overtures, to get him out there. That was in the seventh grade.

“Moses was tall even back then, and we didn’t have anyone tall on our schoolball team, so I told him to try basketball,” Nywesh said. “With his raw athletic talent, he was catching everyone’s eye. He was already almost dunking then. Now, he loves to play and work on his game.”


Moses’ parents — Adam and Abekiew Idris — immigrated to the United States in 2006 from Ethiopia, where for nine years they’d lived in a refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Sudan. They have three sons, 17-year-old Moses, 15-year-old Victor and 7-year-old Omod.

Moses and Victor were born in the refugee camp. Omod was born in Amarillo, Texas.

In 2009, the Idris family moved to Austin. Relatives were waiting there for them as was likely factory work at either Hormel Foods or Quality Pork Processors (QPP).

“Austin has been a good place,” Abekiew said. “There is work here.”

As is true of so many young Sudanese men in Austin, the Idris brothers have hoop dreams.

Idris Brothers
Austin’s Moses Idris poses for a photo with his parents, Abekiew Oman, center, and Adam Machut, right, on senior night before a boys basketball game against Owatonna Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Austin. (Joe Ahlquist / Ahlquist

They’re dreams that sprung from watching the Sudanese players who preceded them at Austin High School, such as Ajuda Nywesh (2014 graduate), who is now playing professionally in Macedonia, as well as the Gach brothers — 2015 graduate Gach Gach, and 2018 graduates Both and Duoth, who are twins.

Gach Gach played at Division II college power West Texas A&M, while Both is a sophomore at Division I University of Utah and Duoth a sophomore at junior college North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

Both Gach, a 6-6 guard, is considered an NBA prospect.

The hoop dreams that those Packers stars generated have given much of Austin’s young Sudanese population not just joy, but purpose, inspiration and a reason to keep working — on and off the court.

“I hope that kids can use basketball as a vehicle for a better education and life,” said longtime Austin boys basketball coach Kris Fadness, reminding that when grades aren’t up to snuff, players are no longer eligible. “In the classroom, you try to get them to do the best they can. Academics have to come first.”


Like so many Sudanese parents in Austin — some, who like Abekiew, speak little English and have no formal education — Adam and Abekiew work at QPP. Adam’s shift runs from 3:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m., while Abekiew is there from 5:30 a.m. until 2:45 p.m.

John Marshall vs. Austin Boys Basketball
Austin’s Moses Idris (13) passes the ball to teammate and brother Victor Idris (15) during a boys basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, at John Marshall High School in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / Ahlquist

Abekiew is home in time to make Moses his favorite dish, Sambusa, a pastry stuffed with ground beef or lamb. When it comes to her cooking, she says with a smile, that’s the only thing he likes.

What Abekiew doesn’t come home to do is schoolwork with her kids. Her English isn’t good enough for that, which means Moses, Victor and Omod are either on their own, they help each other with school work, or they stay after school to get special instructions from school staff.

Adam finds himself continually repeating to Moses, in particular, that life continues after the balls stop bouncing, and that without a proper education, dead ends await. 

Adam believes that Moses is finally seeing the light.

Victor, whose long, muscular physique is a carbon copy of Moses’, was asked by a reporter to probe his own future, and to think beyond college. Victor is an Austin High School sophomore and the first player off the bench for the Packers’ varsity team.

“I want to continue to play basketball, to be a pro,” said the 6-4, 180-pounder, who Fadness said already resembles a man with his build. “I want to be a player. And when my playing days are done, I still want to do something with basketball.”

Tracing the Idris brothers’ athletic prowess is easy. They get most of that speed and leaping ability from their father. Adam was once an excellent soccer player in Sudan, using his explosiveness as a striker. He’s also run marathons.

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