Reporting John Lauritsen
DULUTH (WCCO) – When the boys state basketball tournament starts Wednesday, one of the top players in the state may not be playing.
Duluth East’s 7-foot center Akolda Manyang was allegedly caught smoking by a staffer at a youth facility where he has been living. That’s a violation of high school league rules.
“I was crushed. I was crushed. I couldn’t believe it,” said Assistant Coach Will Starks.
The morning of Duluth East’s first playoff game they found out they wouldn’t have Akolda. The 18-year-old has been staying at Woodland Hills, a facility in Duluth for at-risk youth. About a week ago a staffer there said they saw him smoking. Woodland Hills contacted the athletic director at Duluth East, who subsequently removed Akolda from the team.
“He should have spoken to Akolda first to find out the specifics of the situation and we wouldn’t be here right now,” said Starks.
Starks admits Akolda has been in trouble before, which is a big reason he ended up at Woodland Hills. But Akolda told him that he wasn’t smoking and Starks believes him, in part because Akolda asked to be tested for nicotine.
“My understanding is that he told the staff at Woodland Hills that, you know, ‘if you guys don’t believe that I’m telling the truth then you can test me,’ and they weren’t interested in that. So, there was never a test,” said Starks.
A representative at Woodland Hills told us that due to data privacy they can’t comment on the matter. But Starks thinks he already knows the answer.
“I don’t think (he was smoking) at all. In fact, I know he wasn’t. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him and it’s just amazing that people would shut the door on a kid like this,” said Starks.
Starks says the two people who were with Akolda Manyang the morning he was accused of smoking, are smokers themselves. They have said Akolda wasn’t smoking with them.
The team appealed his suspension, but that hearing was Monday and the school’s appeals committee doesn’t have to make a decision until Thursday.
By then, Duluth East could be out of the state tournament. They play Osseo in the first round at the Target Center at noon on Wednesday.
Starks says he was suspended at the beginning of the school year at Duluth East for an un-related incident, but hasn’t been in trouble since the basketball season started.
Akolda is averaging about 18 points and 14 rebounds a game.