Bol Bol isn’t as tall as his father, Manute, and they don’t play the same style game. But some scouting his NBA chances say that’s a very good thing.
Sports Illustrated caught up with Bol Bol—the 7-foot-tall son of one of the tallest players to ever appear in the NBA. The piece chronicles Bol Bol’s life and how his game has developed him into a rising college prospect. Perhaps you’ve seen him hit a step-back three or pull off enough dunks to make him jokingly challenge Shaq’s son to take over the NBA dunk contest.
But the highlights are not just viral videos—coaches say there’s real talent in Bol Bol’s game ready to make an impact at the next level.
“Bol has a unique skill set for his size,” says Wake Forest coach Danny Manning, who’s both a U19 team assistant and a former opponent of Manute’s in the NBA. “He’s capable of stepping out on the perimeter and making shots, and his length gives him a chance to do things at the rim that surprise you. He has really soft hands … and he has more ballhandling capabilities than he’s showing here. On the EYBL circuit he was on the perimeter more, putting it down a little bit. That’s not something Nutie [Manute] used to do.”
Bol, on the other hand, can actually shoot. His form isn’t perfect—the shot starts close to his chin and to the right of his head—but it works. He made 48.9% of his threes (22 of 45) in Nike’s EYBL circuit this spring, and in warmups with Team USA, he flashes genuine pick-and-pop potential. Bol is a quality shot blocker who lacks the motor to impact the game on every defensive possession, but he does things on offense that, as U19 coach John Calipari put it, are “ridiculous.” On the first night of scrimmages, Bol catches a pass on the run, in traffic, and has the body control to leap, pump his way around a defender and lay the ball off the glass—a sequence that for most frontcourt prospects would have resulted in a turnover or a miss.
What’s so interesting about Bol as a prospect is that he’s much more versatile than his late father, and he knows it. In fact, there’s a fun anecdote in the SI piece about how Manute himself knew he wasn’t much of a shooter.
What becomes evident in Colorado Springs, though, is that Bol is no facsimile of Manute, whose standing reach of 10′ 3″ gave him value as a shot blocker and rim protector. Manute was a non-factor on offense—his average NBA usage rate was a minuscule 7.9%—and his occasional three-point shooting was regarded more as a source of comedy than an actual weapon. “His form … was not like the regular form that anyone would shoot,” Bol says of Manute, who made 21.0% of his threes in the NBA. “It was kind of like a slingshot. But he liked to joke that he was the best shooter ever.”
Bol Bol actually had some interesting insight on his father’s career and the process he underwent to come from Africa to play in the NBA. The piece called the transition “unique” and that’s actually a bit of an understatement. Bol said his father had “barely” played basketball before he came to America, which happened after Cleveland State learned he existed after head coach Kevin Mackey was tipped off by an agent.
Mackey actually flew Bol and another foreign player to America, put them up in a Cleveland apartment, then went about trying to get the 19-year-old eligible for college without any transcripts or working understanding of English. Once he got on the court, though, Bol was ready to talk trash right away.
Manute spoke almost no English and had no acceptable transcripts, either, so they enrolled him in an ESL program at nearby Case Western Reserve while letting him play in summer pickup games at Cleveland State’s gym. Mackey observed one day and saw Manute swatting shots at will—and testing vocabulary on a Cleveland-born prospect, on summer break from D-II Virginia Union, who’d had the temerity to shove him. “I’ll kill you, Charles Oakley!” Manute kept shouting while pointing at the future Knicks power forward. “I killed a lion!”
Manute ended up playing elsewhere and was drafted into the NBA anyway, but it was a wild story that ultimately set the course for his son to see his own NBA fortunes rise decades after Bol’s arrival in America. Many in the piece see Bol Bol’s basketball prowess as a second coming of Manute, and a look at what could have been had he not taken up playing basketball seriously at age 19.
“One thing I always believed about Manute,” says Mackey, who’s now a scout for the Pacers, “is that had he grown up here in the U.S. and had the opportunity to learn the game from when he was young, he might have been an All-Star. Maybe even a Hall of Famer. So let’s see what his son can do.”
Whether Bol Bol can make the impact his father did in the Association is impossible to know, but it certainly seems like he’s gaining considerable buzz despite still playing high school ball in California.