AFL: Swans coach John Longmire has some decisions to make ahead his sides’ blockbuster clash against the Western Bulldogs this weekend with a number of key players returning from injury
IT’S a family sports story like no other.
Sydney Swans star Aliir Aliir has revealed that Thon Maker, the Aussie export poised to take the NBA by storm, is also his cousin.
Sudanese refugee Aliir opened up to The Daily Telegraph about his pride at Maker’s top 10 selection in the NBA Draft and spoke longingly about a day in the future when the family might be able to all gather again under the same roof and reflect on just how far they’ve come.
Aliir and Maker – whose mothers share the same bloodline – arrived in Australia as refugees with nothing.
They lived together in each other’s pockets shooting hoops for three years as kids in Newcastle, before the families split in two between the east and west coast of the country.
United and motivated by the sense of struggle they shared, sporting prodigies Aliir and Maker have chased their respective AFL and NBA dreams on opposite sides of the globe to prove that blood truly is thicker than water.
“Thon is one of those hardworking guys. He’s put a lot of dedication into wanting to be an NBA player and it takes a lot of courage to leave your family behind and go. At first he left the refugee camp to come over to Australia and then knowing he had to leave his family again to do what he had to do,” said Aliir, who yesterday joined the Jr. NBA clinic and Charity Bounce in Sydney, mentoring 40 disadvantaged kids from 15 multicultural backgrounds.
“When we moved over here Thon came with us to Newcastle and then he went over to Perth and we went to Brisbane. He went to the States and started high school and college and he’s just grown as a person. To see him get drafted the other day, it’s a huge wrap for the family.
“The family is proud of him and hopefully we can all go over there and see him play.
“My childhood memory is being around family because family is the biggest thing for me. Those memories will stay with me forever and hopefully one day we can all get together in one house and chat about the things we’ve been through and our journeys.”
Former San Antonio Spurs great Bruce Bowen yesterday addressed kids at the first ever Jr. NBA clinic in Sydney about how he grew up in a house with a drug-addicted mother and an alcoholic father – and how he resolved to never make excuses for himself regardless of his situation.
Aliir admits he and Maker have also used their personal hardships to fuel their hunger to succeed.
“Obviously I came from a refugee camp and when we came out here we had nothing,” he said.
“At the end of the day I wanted to make something of myself and to help the family out.
“It sort of drives you to want to make it at the top level. You just want to make your family proud and you want to help your family out as much as you can because they’ve helped you come here, the struggles you’ve been through, and the journey you’ve taken.
“Ever since I got drafted kids have seen me as a role model. I didn’t think I was but we’ve had to embrace our role. Hopefully we can inspire kids, because at the end of the day anything is possible.
“If you can make them more happy that’s a blessing.”
Aliir is in regular contact with Thon and his younger brother Matur Maker – who also appears destined for a shot at the NBA – and is already planning how he might be able to travel to the US in the Swans’ off-season to watch his cousin run out for the Milwaukee Bucks.
A furore has broken out in the US over allegations Thon is older than the 19 years he proposed for the draft, but according to Aliir, his cousin isn’t fazed by much.
“Thon is very quietly spoken and a genuine nice guy. He came out to Sydney a couple of months before the draft and I went and caught up with him. He’s just a chilled out guy. When he comes to his basketball, that’s when he brings out all his feelings and emotions.
“I don’t think he was too nervous. He knew what hard work he’d put in.
“I’ll give him a call later on in the week, I’ll just let the draft settle down.”