From South Sudan, Daniel a valued leader for Packers in single year of eligibility
West Fargo — Four months ago, Noah Daniel was the new kid at West Fargo High School. He was also new to America.
His first day of school was tough. Daniel, a 19-year-old freshman, moved to West Fargo from the North African country of South Sudan in September with his parents, younger brother and two sisters for his dad’s job.
“It was kind of very terrible because I was lonely,” Daniel said of his first day. “I had no friends here. I was uncomfortable at the beginning, but the teachers helped me out and the students are also nice to me.”
Making friends was easy for Daniel. He quickly won over his classmates, teachers and teammates. When Daniel, a 6-foot-4 guard on the Packers basketball team, was heading into practice after school on a Thursday, kids smiled as they walked past him in the near-empty hallway.
Daniel has been playing basketball for about 12 years now, but this will be his last year playing high school hoops. Though academically only a freshman, his age makes him ineligible to play basketball after this season. In North Dakota, students cannot play high school athletics once they turn 20 years old.
“I have to do whatever it takes for me to get better and to help my teammates,” Daniel said on the time he has left with the Packers. “I’ve enjoyed it. I’m still going hard. I have to do my best to catch up and continue the year.”
Daniel has racked up 11 points and 20 rebounds in 10 games this season for the Packers (6-5, 6-4 EDC).
“I love the school, but this is my last year of playing basketball in high school. I still encourage my younger teammates because I’ve been playing basketball for so many years, so I don't feel that bad,” Daniel said. “Sometimes when life cuts you in some situations, you have to just continue like that.”
West Fargo head coach Adam Palczewski said it would be tremendous if Daniel could play another year in the green and white jersey.
“We would love that,” Palczewski said. “But his presence in our school is an extraordinary thing.”
Palczewski has a little over six weeks left coaching Daniel on the court. He said he’s torn.
“I want to be around this young man as much as I can be, because he makes people feel better about themselves,” Palczewski said. “Whether you're an adult or a student working with him, he's that kind of person. I want him to be able to play on our team more, because he's such a good influence on all of our guys. But at the same time, I understand life is about more than basketball.”
Everyone on the bench, whether they’re seniors or underclassmen, listens to what Daniel has to say, his coach said. There’s a wisdom in his words that people stop and listen to.
“I just wish I could have him for one more year,” Palczewski said.
Palczewski said one of Daniel’s best qualities is his maturity, and how he encourages his teammates.
“He’s able to share wisdom and experiences with our younger players,” Palczewski said. “He does make our team a lot better. He is one of the kindest people I've ever met. And those things far outshine what he does on the basketball court.”
Daniel is now at a place where he’s starting to play more minutes. Palczewski said the Packers are trying to get him to play more of a role on the team.
He shot 2-for-2 from the floor for a season-high four points and three rebounds in West Fargo’s 67-53 win over Grand Forks Central on Saturday, Jan. 25. Daniel models his game after his favorite NBA player, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Daniel has had to adjust to how basketball is played in the United States. It’s different than how he grew up playing in South Sudan, but Palczewski said he has adapted well.
“It’s been interesting, you know, trying to be patient with him, and he's pushing himself,” Palczewski said. “He's a very competitive guy. He wants to contribute all the time.”
A difference Daniel has encountered with basketball here compared to South Sudan, is teams will usually have five players who box out when someone shoots free throws, whereas here, there’s three on each side of the lane.
The only hurdle Palczewski has encountered with Daniel is that he only gets one year with the Packers.
“He's gonna get as far as he can,” Palczewski said. “I think he's a good enough player and has the skills and the wherewithal in his mind to play maybe at a higher level, even if he takes a couple years off from it.”
The Packers dealt with a situation similar to Daniel’s in recent years. It was a different tweak on the rule, as the player was in his fifth year of high school.
Palczewski said the kid was a tremendous athlete. He didn’t play his senior year at West Fargo, but through connections the former Packers head coach Greg Limke had at Bismarck State College, he was able to play two years of junior college basketball.
“There are opportunities and avenues for kids to continue their basketball career and their education beyond here, even if they can't play all four years of high school,” Palczewski said.
Palczewski thinks that could be a possibility for Daniel, too.
Daniel said West Fargo is the first school in his 19 years of life that he's enjoyed. He likes the teaching style and environment, he said, even though the education system is different. Growing up, he was taught British English.
Daniel is still trying to get the North Dakota accent down. He understands what people are saying, but has had a hard time trying to talk with the American accent, he said. The language is a bit different than what he learned in Africa.
After living in the United States for months now, Daniel has picked up on an American phrase he views as odd. He thinks it’s silly when people say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“I don’t know the person, why would I ever judge them?” Daniels said.
Palczewski said that sentence was a microcosm of who Daniel is and how he treats other people.