- Mike Fish, ESPN Senior Writer
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MARIETTA, Ga. -- It's a Saturday afternoon in February. David Nyarsuk has just put up monster numbers leading Mountain State University, an NAIA power in West Virginia, past Life University: 25 points (a nearly perfect 10-of-11 from the field), 17 rebounds, 3 blocked shots. The big man from the Sudan is feeling good about his game, only to turn antsy when the conversation moves away from the court.
His legal paperwork to be in the country isn't up to date. He mentions the possibility of deportation. "Right now, I have a big problem," says Nyarsuk, who in March would be named to the all-tourney team after leading Mountain State to a second-place finish in the NAIA national tournament. "They can send me back home. I don't know why all this happens."
Nyarsuk, a 7-foot-1-inch center, has been down on his luck almost since the day he arrived in the U.S. from Sudan three years ago. Unlike a lot of African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education (A-HOPE) foundation players, he never has enjoyed the good fortune of being taken in by a host family. The boarding schools he was sent to as a junior and senior both went out of business. He signed a basketball scholarship with West Virginia after last season, but his English remains rough, and he failed to qualify academically. So on this afternoon, the freshman is playing in front of maybe 300 people in a tiny gym on the northern outskirts of Atlanta, against a chiropractic college.
By his emotional account, Nyarsuk is an A-HOPE player who inexplicably fell through the cracks, left to fend for himself in a complicated foreign land, his calls for help to foundation leaders Mark Adams and Duany "Doc" Duany having gone unanswered.
"I mean, Duany is my guardian, but Duany is never around," Nyarsuk says. "Since he got us here, he goes back to Sudan to find other players. I don't know what he is doing. When Duany went back to Sudan, he left us with Mark Adams. Mark Adams is supposed to take care of us. Mark Adams is the one that is supposed to do everything.
"I don't understand. They brought me here and didn't follow with me. They didn't contact me. I used to all the time trying to find them, call them. They don't get back."
Nyarsuk traces the jam he's in to the Indiana foundation.
The issue, as Nyarsuk explains it, is he remains in the country with an expired visa and without a current I-20 immigration document -- dubbed the "Certificate of Eligibility" because it is used to obtain a student visa and gain entry to the United States. In short, the I-20 is issued by a government-approved U.S. school certifying the foreign student has been admitted to a full-time study program and has the financial resources to be in the country.
The problem began when A-HOPE initially targeted Nyarsuk to attend United Faith Christian Academy. Officials at the Charlotte-based school sent out his I-20 but later terminated it when he failed to enroll. A school official claims the academy experienced similar paperwork issues with other A-HOPE players, including 7-foot-1-inch Indiana commit Peter Jurkin, who will be a senior in the fall at United Faith.
After Nyarsuk failed to enroll at United Faith Christian Academy, he was placed at The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., but officials at the new school apparently never filed an I-20 document with the U.S. embassy in Sudan. The school closed after Nyarsuk's only year on campus.
"When they did this, I don't know nothing about any of this," Nyarsuk says. "I don't know anything about I-20 exactly. I just got here in United States. I was excited to go to school, and that is it. Wherever they take me, I just go because I don't understand anything at that time.
"So, when I went to Patterson, I was illegal in Patterson because I don't have I-20. I don't understand this. Duany and Mark Adams, those are the people that understand this. They are supposed to know. They are supposed to contact the Patterson people and get the I-20. But nobody was following it up. And I have no idea. I am in school and playing basketball; I don't know about those things."
Bob Bolen, the Mountain State coach, says that the college found Nyarsuk's I-20 to be "out-of-status" after he enrolled and that officials have since worked with him to file the necessary immigration paperwork for reinstatement. "He has got all his proper documents, and everything looks good," Bolen says.
Adams, in an email response to questions from ESPN.com, says he still believes Patterson filed the proper paperwork and suggests that Nyarsuk could be confused, saying Mountain State could be in "hot water" with U.S. immigration officials if Nyarsuk enrolled with an expired I-20. Yet Adams says he is aware of the Mountain State coach taking Nyarsuk to Washington, D.C., to get a new passport, as well as preparing to drive him to Canada to get a new visa and I-20.
Bolen says that he mentioned the trips as possibilities when he called Adams trying to track down paperwork in August, but that they were never made. He remembers telling Adams, "Boy, the kid has all kinds of problems. We never had anything like this." Bolen says that was the last time he spoke with Adams.
Adams says A-HOPE helps student-athletes -- 22 since 2003 -- with "all aspects of obtaining a student visa," which he notes is particularly laborious in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In his "A Word From the Founder" letter on the A-HOPE website, Adams writes that the foundation not only assists student-athletes on their arrival in the U.S. but, he adds: "Each individual has a file that is maintained to ensure all records are current, I-20s are up to date and they are in good standing with the Immigration Service."
When ESPN.com asked Adams about Nyarsuk's situation in early March, he wrote that he would look closer at it. "And if you are looking for imperfection, I will raise my hand and be the first to say that I am not perfect," he says. "I have made mistakes trying to help these kids over the years. Maybe sometimes I tried to help too many kids and spread myself too thin. It's a challenge with a full-time day job, and my own family/kids' needs, but I am comfortable that I have done the best I can."
Asked last month whether he had heard from Adams or whether anyone from A-HOPE had followed up with any assistance, Nyarsuk told ESPN.com: "No, I don't even talk to him. I am done with him."
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5dDavid M. Hale