There was an abundance of skill and power on display when Texas Christian University touched down in Blacktown, and one player had every supporter on his side.
Kouat Noi was raised in Newcastle but the 6’7 athlete drew a large cheer from the western Sydney crowd the moment his name was called out on Tuesday night.
As the first South Sudanese player to represent Australia’s under-17s, he was always going to get a good reception. Hitting the first three-pointer of the match and throwing down a huge dunk over an opponent certainly helped his case.
It was a welcome homecoming for the 19-year-old who left Australia three years ago to pursue his American basketball dream.
Noi said he was grateful to get such a good reaction from familiar opponents in Blacktown’s Savannah Pride basketball program.
“I was playing against them since I was 10 years old, so I grew up with all these guys, looking up to them. So coming back and playing against them was a privilege,” he said.
The journey to potential stardom hasn’t been easy for the player, who spent his senior year at Montverde Academy on the sidelines. He used his experience to encourage fellow South Sudanese-Australian athlete Chol Adup during a similarly difficult spell.
“I look at him sometimes like my little brother, so every time I see him I’ll try to give him some motivation to get better every day,” he said.
Noi said it was a "blessing” to be back in Australia and visit his family, including his parents who both made it to the game in Mount Druitt.
It was a unique site to see an elite American college team, who are spending the first few days of their tour at the Marriott in Circular Quay, take their coach 50 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD.
Hundreds of excited fans, most of them teenagers, packed the unassuming stadium while local rugby league teams trained outside.
TCU basketball coach Jamie Dixon said it was the relationship with Blacktown’s Mayor Chagai that brought the team to western Sydney.
The exhibition match against Savannah Pride was more of a warm up for the well-oiled college unit, who blew their ad hoc opponents away in an entertaining 108-54 win.
Dixon said it was good for the squad to develop their camaraderie and meet future Australian teammate Lat Mayen, who has committed to joining TCU for the upcoming season.
“The basketball’s good here. I know we played a younger team here today but we’re going to play older teams as we go forward so it was a good first game, first opportunity for us,” Dixon said.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm here. Mayor and what he’s done with the program says a lot, and I think there’s going to be a lot of great young players coming out of here down the road. Obviously there’s been some already and more to come.”
TCU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have two more games in Sydney, followed by three in Melbourne.