Following some uncertainty, it seems more likely Hurricane will indeed be lining up some tall timber from Africa on its basketball squad this winter.
The lanky teens, 7-foot-2 Bol Kuir from South Sudan and 6-10 Gabriel Beny from Sudan, were officially adopted on Thursday by Daniel Hicks, the former South Charleston High School basketball standout who also played at New Mexico State and Concord.
Hicks’ name is also familiar to Kanawha Valley residents for his recent 18-month prison sentence on a drug charge and a false statement charge stemming from a fake prep school he attempted to launch in 2011. His adoption process that was finalized this week apparently could make Kuir, 16, and Beny, 15, eligible to compete for the Redskins as sophomores this winter.
Kuir and Beny have lived in Putnam County with Hicks for a few months and enrolled at Hurricane High School last spring. They even competed with the Redskins basketball team during the SSAC’s three-week summer practice period, but since they were not part of an official student exchange program nor legally bound to a guardian in the area, they were ineligible to play varsity sports. That matter now could be resolved with their adoption.
“That is one of the hurdles,’’ said Bernie Dolan, the SSAC’s executive director. “We will have to look at all of the details.’’
Lance Sutherland, who begins his ninth season as Hurricane coach, said he originally had “no idea’’ the twin towers were coming to his school, but is happy the situation is closer to being settled. Kuir and Beny hope to be able to play college basketball in the future.
“I really like them,’’ Sutherland said, “regardless of whether they’re basketball players or not. They’re good kids — nice, well-adjusted, very polite, very mannerly. Which is uncommon with some teenagers this day and age. Most of my players at Hurricane are mannerly, and they fit right in and the other players love them. They’re not from here, but they just kind of fit in and it seems like they’ve always been here.’’
Sutherland is aware of Hicks’ background, but said he has nothing but praise from what he’s seen so far.
“He’s been very good with them,’’ Sutherland said. “He’s done a great job with them. They’ve adjusted and to my knowledge they never missed [a day of classes]. He makes sure they’ve been to practice. They seem well taken care of, seem very happy.’’
Hicks, 45, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a federal judge in April 2017 for drug and false statement charges. The sentence included 17 months on a heroin distribution charge and a month for making a false statement to a federal agent during an investigation into Hicks’ attempt at creating West Virginia Prep Academy, a proposed prep school to lure basketball recruits to the area from around the world.
In September 2011, South Charleston officials discovered more than 20 athletes in a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment. The athletes had come to the area to attend Hicks’ school. Hicks was indicted by a federal grand jury on mail and wire fraud charges stemming from the situation. He had been charged in 2011 with fraudulent schemes by South Charleston police but Kanawha County prosecutors never presented the case to a Kanawha grand jury and, instead, dismissed the allegations.
Hicks and prosecutors reached a deal in December 2016, as prosecutors charged Hicks with making a false statement to a federal investigator. That felony charge was filed by way of information, which is similar to an indictment but can’t be filed without a defendant’s consent. It usually signals a defendant has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the mail and wire fraud charges if he pleaded guilty to the false statement charge. Hicks also had to pay 23 people about $11,000 in restitution.
The potential addition of Kuir and Beny should energize a Hurricane roster that lost four seniors from last season, including Nos. 2 and 3 scorers Joe Muto and Jordan Nicely. Senior point guard Austin Dearing, who led the team with a 16.3 scoring average, is one of five upperclassmen returning from a squad that went 17-6 and was ranked in the top 10 of Class AAA much of the season.
Sutherland said it’s been about 20 years since the Redskins have had a true post player standing at least 6-7 or 6-8.