On the first possession of a a 15th region quarterfinal game Tuesday night, Shelby Valley's 5-foot-6 point guard Keian Worrix, one of the top players in the region, stood above the foul line as part of a 2-3 zone.
A couple of feet away was Belfry center Bol Kuir, standing 21 inches taller.
At 7-foot-3, Kuir dwarfed over Worrix — just as he does over essentially any player he’s played against. Playing in his first year of high school, Kuir's size and unique ability is drawing all sorts of attention — from defenders trying to stop him, from basketball fans across the state, and from colleges.
Fitting in, in Appalachia: How 7-foot-3 Bol Kuir is a 'unicorn' in the mountains
Here’s what to know about Kuir:
First year of high school basketball
Kuir is a native of South Sudan, a country that was locked in a civil war from 2013 to 2020. He grew up primarily playing soccer and came to the United States about two-and-a-half years ago, initially living in West Virginia with a guardian.
He attended Hurricane High School and played with the West Virginia Generals AAU team. After he was ruled ineligible to play high school basketball in West Virginia, Kuir and his guardian moved to South Williamson, Ky., and before the 2020-21 school year Kuir enrolled at Belfry, a school of about 600 in Eastern Kentucky.
Belfry is a tiny community in Pike County, 20 miles from Pikeville. It’s so close to the state border that some students who attend Belfry live in West Virginia.
At Belfry High, which is about five minutes from where Kuir lives, the 7-foot-3 phenom teamed up with one of his AAU teammates, sophomore point guard Sal Dean.
Kuir is 18 and will turn 19 in August, but he’s currently a high school junior and is playing his first year of organized high school basketball.
Darrell McCoy, a sports media personality in eastern Kentucky, has called Kuir a “unicorn” — the same nickname NBA fans have dubbed tall, versatile players like Kristaps Porzingis of the Dallas Mavericks, who is also 7-foot-3.
With his size, Kuir is able to grab rebounds like few others. His 14.0 average leads the state, and he racked up 42 in one double-overtime game, the second most in state history. He also averages about four blocks and scores 14 points per game.
In Tuesday’s regional quarterfinal, Kuir had just 8 points and 5 rebounds, but Belfry coach Mark Thompson said Kuir, who was triple-teamed at times, was instrumental in the team’s 63-48 win.
“He is drawing so much attention, it opens it up for everyone else,” Thompson said on Wednesday.
Kuir can dunk very easily, which is to be expected, but he’s also been able to penetrate and score from the perimeter this season, as well as knock down a few 3-pointers — rare for someone of his size.
“He’s a legit 7-3, and he moves well, he has good feet, he jumps well, as a 7-3, and that sounds kind of crazy,” Thompson said.
Which NBA players does Kuir like?
Kuir grew up liking soccer and disliking basketball. The only basketball players he heard much about were local legends Manute Bol and Luol Deng.
But now, he loves basketball, he said, and he enjoys watching Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis.
Kuir wows in games sometimes, but he’s also still growing accustomed to the sport. Thompson said that, in practice, he’ll make plays that shock the coaching staff.
“We’re looking at each other in practice, like ‘Did that just happen? Did he just do that?’” Thompson said.
Kuir and Belfry play Friday against Paintsville in the 15th region semifinals. The winner will then advance to Saturday’s regional final.
Next year, Belfry again figures to have a strong team, as it will return three starters: Kuir, Dean and De’Mahjae Clark, who led the team in scoring on Tuesday with 16 points.
Kuir’s college recruitment has been quiet — in large part because he is so new to basketball and because this is his first year of high school basketball — but he’s begun to receive interest from several Division I colleges over the past couple of months. As pandemic restrictions are lifted and coaches can watch him play in person, it’s likely he’ll soon receive DI scholarship offers.
He will spend this summer playing with the Atlanta Celtics, which is the same club program that, in 2003, had several future NBA players including former UK standout Randolph Morris, as well as Josh Smith and top NBA Draft pick Dwight Howard.
“I think once college coaches are allowed to be in the gym and see him, I think it’ll pick up,” Thompson said of Kuir’s recruitment.
It’s not a rebound, but here is a reverse dunk from Kuir last night. pic.twitter.com/X0lvvC471W
— Hayes Gardner (@HayesGardner) March 12, 2021
Kuir said he’s looking forward to working out, practicing his post moves and his 3-point jump shot over the next several months. He’s hopeful to play pro basketball down the road.
“I want to go to college first, for two years or one year, then try to go to the league,” Kuir said of his future.
Thompson, a longtime coach, said he's never seen anything like Kuir, a super-tall athlete with "such a pretty shot," and he said it's been a treat to watch him and the Belfry team develop.
“It’s been fun to coach a kid that’s 7-3, and normally as a basketball coach, you’d never see that," Thompson said. "But just to see the kid develop has been fun. And to watch my kids, the kids I’ve coached for years, bring him in and make him a part of who we are and care for each other the way they do, it’s more than just basketball.”
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Meet Bol Kuir, the 7-foot-3 Eastern Kentucky Belfry basketball star