The worldwide journey Abu Kigab has traveled – from his native Khartoum, Sudan, to St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, to the Napa Valley – has been filled with many different challenges.
Learning a new language. Adjusting to different cultures. Finding his way around new countries.
Basketball is a big part of that as well.
Kigab, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound small forward for Prolific Prep Academy who is headed to the University of Oregon later this year on a scholarship, did not play basketball growing up in northern Africa.
He did not have a basketball to play with. There was no basketball court near his home. There was no opportunity to play the game.
It was frustrating, said Kigab, not being able to play the game he loved. He would take a piece of paper, crumple it into the shape of a basketball as best he could, and throw it into a trash can. That’s how he practiced.
“Back in Sudan, I always wanted to play basketball,” he said last week. “The game has meant a lot to me. I finally got a chance to play my dream sport.”
Kigab’s game took off when he traveled with his father, Sultan Kigab, and his two sisters, Bouthina Kigab and Nazak Kigab, to Canada.
Abu Kigab was 9 when he moved. He played two years at St. Francis Catholic Secondary School in St. Catharines. He also played for St. Francis Phoenix and for Canada in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship last summer.
He worked on his game all hours of the day, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., just about every day.
“It’s been a process,” he said. “The hardest part was probably moving from Sudan to Canada, because I really didn’t know the language. At 9 years old, trying to learn English. It’s a whole different culture, so you’re not very comfortable. That first year was extremely hard for me. It was tough at first, a hard transition.
“But after a while, everything started to click. As soon as I came to Canada, that was the first thing I did was play a little basketball. There were basketball courts all over the place. Right away, I fell in love with the game.
“My way of expressing my emotions was through the game.”
The move to Canada was for a better quality of life, said Kigab, 18.
“Basketball is just a blessing,” he said. “I really thank my parents every single day, especially my dad, for bringing us over.”
Playing for Prolific Prep
For the last two years, Kigab has been with Prolific Prep, which is based in Napa and plays a national tournament schedule. The Crew went 29-3 this past season. The three losses were by a combined six points.
Prolific Prep’s season ended in the semifinals of the Grind Session National Championships in March in Phoenix, with the Crew losing 66-64 in overtime to Hillcrest Prep at Arizona Christian University.
Prolific Prep, which won each of its three games during the “Crush in the Valley” at Napa Valley College, was listed in the CBS MaxPreps Independent Top 10 Boys Basketball Rankings during the season.
Last month, Kigab and Prolific Prep teammate Paul Scruggs, a 6-foot-3 senior point guard, played in the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic. The game, one of the oldest high school all-star games in the country, was played at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky.
Scruggs and Kigab played for the Lightning team, which beat the Thunder, 122-109.
Kigab scored 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting and had seven rebounds.
“Abu is the type of kid you will always root for because of the type of person he is, his work ethic, his character, and his personality,” said Philippe Doherty, co-founder and director of operations for Prolific Prep. “Abu was a joy to have for his two years here and will always be a pillar of our program.
“When you combine work ethic, talent, intelligence, humility and character, then you end up putting yourself in a great position to be successful in life. Abu has put himself in a great position to be successful in life and he is the type of person you will always root for.”
Kigab was born in Sudan and holds dual Canadian and Sudanese citizenship. He has attended Justin-Siena High School for the last two years and graduated early.
Oregon announced that it signed Kigab, a two-year starter for Prolific Prep, to a national letter of intent in November. He is a four-star recruit and is rated as the second best small forward in California, according to Scout.com.
“Abu has had a huge impact on our program, the community, future recruits, his classmates at Justin-Siena, his teachers, and the coaches and directors at Prolific Prep,” said Doherty. “His story, who he is, what he stands for, and the energy he shares with people is very unique and very rare in kids his age.
“Abu is a self-made person who was raised so well and comes from a couple different parts of the world, and having him be a leader in our program the last two years was an honor. Abu’s dedication to life and himself and his teammates is something you dream of when you are coaching or leading young people.
“Abu will always be held in the highest regard. His values, work ethic, and character are things you want in world leaders. We were blessed to have had Abu here for two years and his legacy will always be synonymous with the success of our program because he had so much to do with it.
“Abu will be missed dearly and we are very proud of him both on the court and off the court.”
Kigab averaged 13.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists as a junior. He averaged 8.4 points per game while playing for Canada in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
“Every year, Oregon just continues to get better,” said Kigab. “The expectation for us coming in this year is to keep the level of excellence very high. I’m very confident in my ability and my teammates’ ability. Hopefully we have another great season.
“I’m very excited about it. But at the same time, I’ve got to stay humble. I can’t get too ahead of myself. I’ve got to keep doing what I’ve been doing, to get to a higher level.”
Oregon lost in the Final Four to North Carolina in early April, 77-76, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Oregon (33-6) set a school record for wins, tied for the Pac-12 regular-season title, and advanced to the Final Four for the second time in school history.
Kigab will start school at Oregon on June 28.
Giving it his all
Growing up, Kigab said a lot of people doubted him.
“They said, ‘You’re not going to be able to make it all the way to the top.’ They never really believed in me,” he said. “My parents (Sultan Kigab and Mashair Elgadi) believed in me. From there on, I just worked hard, every single day.
“That’s what really pushed me every single day – trying to be the best at what I do.”
Kigab prides himself in having an all-around game, being an all-around player, and doing the work on the defensive end.
“Every time I play defense, I give it my all. It’s really where I use a lot of my energies. I know if I play good defense, the offense will take care of itself.
“I feel very confident in my offensive abilities. I feel like I can get the job done on both ends. I embrace hard work.”
Kigab enjoyed his two years playing for Prolific Prep. He benefited from not only the competition of games, but in practices. Former Prolific Prep players include Josh Jackson (Kansas), Vance Jackson (UConn) and Devon Daniels (Utah).
Gary Trent, Jr., a 6-5, 205 senior shooting guard who plays for Prolific Prep, has signed with Duke.
“Every time you’re in practice, you’re competing against top-level guys, every single day,” said Kigab. “That’s only going to get you better. Those guys are pushing each other to get better. It always starts in practice. It’s a very competitive environment. You can really feel it when you step into the gym. Just competing every single day in practice just gets you a lot better.
“I’m going against the top players in the country every single day. That eventually is going to get you better. It’s back and forth – we help each other out. At the end of the day, we’re just all trying to get better.”
Host family experience
Kigab stayed in St. Helena with Lester Hardy and Janet Pagano, his host parents and host family with Prolific Prep.
“Abu’s presence in our home has enriched all our lives,” said Hardy. “Abu is fiercely competitive, focused, disciplined, intelligent, passionate, poised and articulate. He has a big heart, and an amazing sense of humor.
“We will miss him greatly, but look forward to watching him play at Oregon.”
David M. Goodrich, a member of Prolific Prep’s Board of Directors, admires what he says is Kigab’s tireless work ethic, both academically and athletically.
“He has actively interacted with student-athletes at the local Napa Valley high schools to provide them with honest information about the process necessary to be an elite athlete,” said Goodrich. “The resulting motivation transferred to them will radiate throughout our local sports community for years to come.
“He has been a shining light and will be a beacon for student-athletes considering PP long into the future. He deserves all the success and associated accolades he is receiving from the basketball community.”