One of the top junior basketball stars in the state of Minnesota -- and possibly one of the most underrated prospects in the Class of 2013 -- is at risk of missing his team's state quarterfinal because of one of the more unique violations of recent years: He was allegedly seen smoking on a street corner, an indiscretion which was reported to authorities, though those authorities have yet to announce who it was who reported the teen.
As first reported by the Duluth News Tribune, 7-foot Duluth (Minn.) East High star Akolda Manyang was suspended for the entire Section 7 boys basketball tournament and is still being held out of competitive action because he allegedly smoked a cigarette in public. The incident, which was not confirmed by any chemical tests and was reported by a single source who has, as yet, remained anonymous, violated a Minnesota High School League's rule that forbids tobacco use by players.
Meanwhile, Manyang has steadfastly denied that he smoked a cigarette at all, with Duluth East assistant coach Will Starks backing up the lanky senior who could graduate this year but hopes to finish school with the class of 2013 because he is currently in only his third year of high school education.
In fact, Starks claims that the dispute over when Manyang would graduate, a fight which involved both Duluth East officials and representatives from Woodland Hills, the facility where he lives, may be at the heart of the player's ongoing suspension. According to Starks, Woodland Hills officials wanted Manyang to graduate in 2012, and when Duluth East coaches and administrators refused to support that idea, the living facility's representatives became much more hostile.
"They were saying that, 'We need you on board with us in terms that Akolda is going to graduate this year,'" Starks told the News Tribune. "We said, 'No, we don't agree with that.' He's already stated that he wants to graduate in 2013 because he's only had three years of high school. So they got upset and made up their minds that, 'OK, you guys don't want to roll with us, then we'll roll right over you.'
"Four days later, they get him on a violation for smoking."
If that assessment is anywhere near accurate, it adds even more fuel to conspiracy theories that have been raised about Manyang's alleged smoking. The teen claims that he twice offered to undergo chemical tests at Woodland Hills to prove that he had not smoked but was not allowed to take them on either occasion.
Even more troublingly, Manyang hasn't even been told who it was who reported his smoking, leaving he and Duluth East officials no opportunity to prepare any kind of cross examination of that witness.
Make no mistake: Missing out on Manyang would put a major damper on Duluth East's title hopes. The center was a dominant force in Minnesota basketball during the 2011-12 season, averaging 17.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.7 blocked shots per game. You can see Manyang's full repertoire of skills in the video above and in this clip from Minnesota Preps.
Whether or not Manyang is made eligible for Wednesday's Class AAAA state quarterfinal against Osseo (Minn.) High or not, Starks insisted that officials would continue to fight to clear the teen's name.
"Regardless of the decision they make, we're not just going to forget about it," Starks told the News Tribune. "There's going to be a firestorm no matter what after all of this, because people have stepped way over their bounds in the way they've handled this entire situation."