Sports college for ex refugee

Lismore basketball player Gabriel Thiongkol is off to the Australian College of Basketball.
Lismore basketball player Gabriel Thiongkol is off to the Australian College of Basketball. Jacklyn Wagner

A FAMOUS man once said you can have all the talent in the world, but nothing can take the place of persistence.

When Lismore's Gabriel Thiongkol starts his two-year stint at the Australian College of Basketball in Melbourne next week, it's that quality which will set him apart from his peers.

The ex-Sudanese refugee has finally scored a scholarship at the college after being spotted by talent scouts.

The move will set him up for a potential pro career in the game and he'll finally have his own coach after years training solo.

A born athlete, the 22-year-old learnt the game in the refugee camps of Kenya. He played soccer as well, but an endless growth spurt that saw him shoot to a towering height made basketball the obvious choice.

His mother's determination got him and his three siblings on a plane to Australia six years ago, but she fell ill and died during the slow wait for a humanitarian visa.

When he was trialled for a lifeguard job at the Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre in 2009, he could barely swim properly, but vowed to learn freestyle to get the job.

Unlike many of us who spend years at swimming school, he mastered the technique within a month.

He is as competitive as he is determined, but it's all about improving his skills rather than worrying about others.

"I don't like to lose, but it's all about teamwork," he said.

"Playing in the game I feel really free, it's a really beautiful challenge."

GSAC manager Graham Walker said Gabriel was a true inspiration.

"He's worked so hard for this and given his background and the struggles he's been through, it's quite amazing he's persevered to this level."

Topics:  refugee

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