Matur Dhal is far from the average basketball player. Listed at 6 feet 11 inches, he already stands out from the other players on the court. But what really sets him apart from the pack is his inspiring journey from South Sudan to now playing at Cal Poly.
Growing up in South Sudan, Matur was heavily involved in soccer and volleyball, but in 2016 it all changed when his friends and family advised him to try basketball.
“Soccer wasn’t for me anymore; I kept growing and was too tall,” Dhal said.
While only playing basketball for six years, it ended up working out well for Matur, as he committed to play basketball at Cal Poly, continuing his still-young career.
His dream to play basketball in America comes with a hard decision — leaving home.
San Luis Obispo is 9,123 miles from Juba, South Sudan, where Matur grew up. He knew that going back home was not going to be an option, at least early in his college years.
Being so far away from home is not an easy transition, there are constant battles that one has to face, athlete or not. But support is not something that Matur is lacking, as back home he has a huge support system every step of the way.
“Coming here, everybody back home is behind me,” Dhal said. “I have to carry that on my shoulders. It makes me proud that I make my home country proud.”
In Matur’s freshman season at Cal Poly, there were moments of inconsistency, which are normal for a freshman center, but the expectations for his second year are much higher.
“He has a chance to be a special player for us if he continues to work at his game,” head coach John Smith said. “He has an incredibly high ceiling with a chance to showcase his defensive abilities while adding some offensive weapons.”
Aside from being a determined athlete practicing for hours and lifting weights everyday at 6 a.m. like it’s a full-time job, Matur has made a strong presence on Smith and his teammates in the locker room.
“What people don’t know is that Matur is one of the most charismatic guys on the team,” Smith said. “One of the nicest human beings in the world with a great personality.”
Matur had not been home since he left for high school in 2017, but that all changed when he had the opportunity to fly back this past summer.
“I was so excited, and could not believe that it was happening after that long,” Dhal said. “I missed my family, my childhood friends and also the coaches that started me on my basketball path.”
The trip home was more than just an overdue homecoming, as Matur volunteered for the Luol Deng Foundation, formerly known as the Manute Bol Foundation, which inspires South Sudan’s youth through the game of basketball.
“This foundation helps kids stay off the streets, focus on school and basketball, ” Dhal said.
Manute Bol, 10-year NBA veteran, native of South Sudan and one of the most influential and recognized basketball players in the world, and one of Matur’s role models.
“Manute Bol is a legend, not just in South Sudan but across Africa and in the world of basketball as well,” Dhal said. “He did a lot for my country and all the kids look up to him.”
Now, Matur serves as a role model for the current young basketball players in his home country, and he had a specific message for them.
“I started here, if I did it anyone of you can,” Dhal said. “It is all about working hard and believing in yourself. Your opportunity will come.”
Five years ago, Matur was in their same shoes as these young, hopeful athletes, so following in the footsteps of the legends before him was a proud moment.
Being away from home has taught Matur many lessons, but representing his country and recognizing how South Sudan has shaped him has been the most impactful lesson.
“South Sudan is my home country, born and raised,” Dhal said. “The home that shaped me and made me the man I am today. Hopefully one day I will be able to give back to my country all they gave me.”
Matur’s journey is far from over. Praised highly for his work ethic and ambition to be great, he is set up for success. The presence of his home country behind him everytime he steps on the court continues to reinvigorate his passion.