John Riek is a big man with a complicated past. In today's Daily Journal, I took a look at the 7-foot-1 Sudanese freshman, who'll make his collegiate debut tonight for Mississippi State against Wright State.
Jarvis Varnado, MSU's 6-9 senior center, isn't fully aware of Riek's back story. But he knows enough of it to appreciate his own blessings.
"It just makes you value what you've got here in the United States," Varnado said. "Makes you want to be more humble about what you've got. He probably didn't have food every day or clothes on his back, or a house to keep him warm. It just makes you value your life."
The full story of Riek was not one I was able to delve too deeply into for my story, given the space limitations of newspapers these days. For a more in-depth look, I suggest you read this Boston Globe piece on him from two years ago.
You'd expect all the drama and tragedy of his life might get Riek down, but coach Rick Stansbury said he's doing just fine.
"I say 'fine,' he's handled things better than most of us would handle it, understanding his limitations," Stansbury said. "Having to go to that classroom, and the language barrier that maybe other kids don't have to worry about, he has to worry with that. But the thing John will do, once he figures out what it is, he'll work hard, and he'll put everything he's got into it once he understands it."
Riek admits that one of the toughest parts about his journey has been not playing basketball. "It's tough for me," he said. "Sometimes when the team's playing ... it's tough for me."
Said senior Barry Stewart, "I can't imagine what adjustment he's having. I know it was an adjustment for me as a freshman coming in. But his situation, I'm sure it's been totally different."
Riek has, by all accounts, gone hard in practice. He's only missed one session since he arrived in Starkville over the summer, and he says his knee feels good. As for what he'll contribute tonight and beyond, nobody's really sure. The important thing is, he'll be out there on the floor.
"I'm just happy for him," Varnado said. "He's been working hard, and he's not been playing, so I'm just happy for him to be able to get out there and mix it up with us."
• STILL NO SIDNEY: I had a short Renardo Sidney update in today's Journal, too. Barring clearance today, he will still be on the bench for tonight's game. Who would've thought Riek would be on the floor before Sidney? Still haven't heard back from his attorney, Don Jackson.
• JUCO SIGNING DAY: Today marks the beginning of the junior college signing period. MSU is expected to sign at least three guys, and coach Dan Mullen is waiting to see who QB Cameron Newton chooses. Stay tuned for updates on that front.