The Journey to Triumph
Growing up with little hope, the only direction for Manny Arop is up.
Welcome to the life of Mangisto “Manny” Arop.
Way back when, a 6-year-old boy lived in harsh times in Sudan. Gun shots, he’s heard it. Death, he’s seen it. Success on the other hand, was something that was only dreamt of for Mangisto Arop.
“It was a tough situation. Living standards were low, there wasn’t a lot of shelter, school system was poor and we were always moving because there was war and things weren’t stable.” But instability was something that the Arop family became accustomed to as they voyaged from region to region in pursuit of a better life. A life with opportunity, a life with security. But only security was granted to the Arops as they moved from Sudan to Kenya, which, believe it or not, was an upgrade. “When we came to Kenya, it wasn’t so much life threatening, still low standards of living but at least we were safe.”
Fortunately, Manny’s mother Nyanaguek Dau kept pushing to provide her family with more tools for success. “My mom kept working, and talking to the Canadian embassy to find a way to come here, so she can give us an opportunity to get an education and live a better life,” says Manny. Nyanaquek’s four children who are now all men were truly blessed when they finally got accepted to Canada and landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2000. Even Mangisto’s older brother Buk admits, “We practically owe everything to her (mom) for she instilled in us the drive to strive for a better and brighter future. She has big dreams and hopes for us, and being in Canada means the opening of all opportunity doors.”
Manny’s favorite rapper Tupac said it best: “There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan is to show you that I understand. You are appreciated.”
It was a smooth transition for Manny to adapt to the weather and culture, as he was still young and keen to excel in his new environment. In Nova Scotia, he transferred his “futbol” skills into football skills thanks to an old neighbor who influenced him into America’s game. His father, Amour, on the other hand, didn’t feel the same way. As a matter of fact, he felt the opposite… which is why he currently still resides in Sudan. “It was too drastic of a change for him, my father was already used to one way of living so that’s why he decided to stay,” Mangisto confesses.
After a short two-year stint in Halifax, the journey continued to the next destination: Edmonton, Alberta. The reason for this cross-country shift was the same as before, to look for opportunities to progress and move forward. “Two years later we moved to Edmonton where there were good job opportunities for my mom,” says Manny. Little did he know that this move would change his life forever.
As he began playing for Ross Sheppard Secondary in Edmonton, it wasn’t basketball. Arop continued to play football until his assistant coach saw the potential he possessed on hardwood. So Manny gave it a shot, by starting off playing on his assistant coach’s community team. As he continued to grow, his love for the game followed.
“I started liking it more and more until basketball became a part of me. It’s life to me, it’s what I breathe.” Any true baller out there could comprehend. It’s simple; when stepping in between the solid lines of any court, all problems practically evaporate. This is why Mangisto never let the haters take control of his future. “When I started getting better, there was a lot of hate. But I just blocked those things out and focused on basketball,” says Arop.
What distinguishes this 6-5 wing from many others isn’t his strong frame or his ability to put the ball in the basket. Instead, it’s his zealous, nothing-to-lose approach to the game that gives him the upper hand. “I looked at it like I’m already a winner. I already came from a country of war and survived that, then came here. If I don’t make it, what is there to lose when I already won? I’m here!” Any dilemma that this 19-year-old faces now seems minuscule due to the experiences he endured thus far.
As Arop continued to harness his skills at Ross Sheppard for two years (grades 10 and 11), it became clear that he was on another level, progressing faster than anyone expected. “At the time, it was challenging for me as I was growing as a basketball player. It was good for me because I was challenged but as I got better, I needed a new challenge,” says Manny. This new challenge came in the form of the National Elite Development Academy (NEDA). For those who don’t know, NEDA is composed of the top 12 players in Canada. Mangisto was chosen as one of those players after averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds and 7 dimes for Dave Youngs, coach of the Ross Sheppard Thunderbirds.
“He did everything for us without being selfish. We had to actually tell him to be more selfish and create his own shots from within our systems as he would defer many opportunities to his teammates,” says Youngs.
The only problem was the fact that NEDA’s training facility is located in Hamilton, Ontario. When asked about his reaction to being chosen to NEDA, Mangisto replies: “There was no doubt in my mind. I wanted to go because I’m always hungry to get better and I look at it as an opportunity to take it to the next level. So there was no hesitation.”
So the journey continued… Manny packed his bags, kissed his family goodbye and it was off to basketball boot camp. Although this program included strenuous, constant workouts, Manny admits it was well worth the aches and pains. “It forces you to focus. It’s hard, but the results are good,” he says. “You practice every day, all year round’ and they focus on developing you.”
This past year was Arop’s second as a NEDA participant and resided in Hamilton, Ontario where he and his fellow teammates lived on residence, similar to the university life. The only difference was, the people getting “hammered” were the teams that they faced throughout the year as they travelled from province to province and even crossed the border for tournaments. Arop got a head-start on adapting to the University life, in preparation for his freshman year as a Gonzaga Bulldog. Manny committed to the Zags in the early signing period last year, after receiving interest from Montana, Portland, Eastern Kentucky and Oregon State. Not that it mattered… coincidentally Mangisto’s dream school has always been Gonzaga.
“It was always my No. 1 school. In Edmonton, I was always watching the Zags play because we share the same television network,” says Arop. “They also have a good reputation with developing their players and guards so I felt it was a right fit for me,”
Manny’s role as a Bulldog will be different. “They expect me to come in and contribute by rebounding, defending, scoring,” he says eagerly. Coach Mark Few has high expectations for the Sudan native.
“I look at it as a challenge and that’s what I want, I want them to expect those things of me because I know I’m capable of doing it,” says Arop. After leading the Canadian team this past summer averaging 16.3 ppg at the U19 World Championships, which featured the likes of five-star prospects Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, Mangisto is confident in his skills and feels he can compete this year as a Bulldog. In the meantime, he will continue improving every aspect of his game but at the same time focusing on improving his dribbling ability.
The near future of this Edmonton, Alberta product is obvious (Gonzaga), but his post-grad outlook remains uncertain. Apparently, Arop prefers it that way, “It’s one of those things I don’t like to talk about because there are so many things that could go wrong,” he says. “If you look too far down the road, you forget what’s right ahead of you. I just worry about little stepping stones and what I gotta do to get better and ready for my freshman year.” Undoubtedly wise beyond his 19 years on earth, Manny has traveled through more regions than a tourist on vacation!
Next stop? Wait and see.