A few months later Calhoun began recruiting Deng and encouraged him to come to the U.S. to finish high school. Calhoun recommended Deng to Saint Thomas More, a 200-student school 14 miles from the UConn campus, and officials there offered him a scholarship. After what Calhoun describes as "a zillion phone calls"—including a few by Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman to the Immigration and Naturalization Service—was able to help Ajou get a student visa. When Calhoun told Aldo the news, the giant, dignified man shed tears of joy.
Culture shock struck Deng again at Saint Thomas More. "It was in the middle of nowhere," he says. "This wasn't the United States I had heard of. I thought I was going to go back to London after a week." He persevered, though, graduated on time and averaged 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks a game.
Though he and his family have been separated for much of the last two years, Ajou has never been alone. Ed Bona, a Sudanese Dinka who played at Fordham from 1979 to '83, lives in West Hartford and often invites him over for dinner. Ed's father, Bona Malwal, worked in the government with Aldo, and their sons call each other cousins. Although neither of Ajou's parents has been able to visit him in the U.S., Ajou has been joined this year by two siblings—his 6'7" brother, Luol (who goes by Michael), 14; and 6'3" sister, Arek, 16—who are attending school and playing basketball at Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J.
When Aldo left Sudan almost six years ago, all of the Dengs' assets—two large farms, six houses and livestock—were taken by the government. "We are very poor now," says Aldo, who relies on the British government to provide a modest flat, along with a small stipend. Yet, as his family begins a new chapter, in England and America, he says he couldn't be more proud.
Someday, Aldo hopes, the Dengs can return to Sudan, to their friends and relatives, but for now the war continues, with no end in sight. It's reason to ask: As Ajou grows older and spins farther and farther from his homeland, is it better for him to be involved in the political debate over Sudan or be removed from it? "He must know the survival of his country," Aldo says. "I have shown Ajou videotapes that can turn your face, children who are walking bone. He watches, he's aware, but then he switches to basketball videos. He may not be interested in practicing politics right now, but he must know what his nation is about."
Don't worry, Aldo. He knows. On his answering machine message, the one in which he politely mispronounces his name, Ajou closes with that vitally important—and elusive—word: "Peace."