This is John Riek

Current Mississippi State freshman big man John Riek, all 7-1, 242 pounds of him, has quickly become a fan favorite. Who is this big man, where did he come from, and how good can he become?

John Riek, who grew up in war-torn Sudan (his brother and father both died in the war in Sudan) then moved to Ethiopia with his remaining family where they lived in a village without running water and electricity and children weren't allowed out after 6 pm due to the danger of tigers and hyenas after dark, first arrived in the United States in mid-January, 2007 where he initially attended prep school at the Our Savior New American school in Centereach, New York (Long Island).

As you would expect, being all of 7-1 and 225 pounds with a wingspan of 7-foot-9 and a 9-foot-9 standing reach, talk was rampant about this recently arrived big man.

According to a February 15, 2007 report by senior reporter Brian Towey, John Riek, who was listed as John Riek Suas at the time, was fast becoming a prospect to watch even back then.

"Riek has only been in the country since mid-January, but has shown enough promise that high majors are already interested," wrote Towery. "(He) is active defensively. He has the ability to reject and alter shots by opponents trying the paint area offensively. Riek has also showed the ability to catch, turn, and score at close range. He's pretty mobile for a seven-footer, and has a tremendous wingspan."

At that time, he was receiving recruiting interest from a wide variety of schools ranging from the likes St. Francis of New York to high-major schools such as St. John's, DePaul, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Georgia Tech.

About a month later's publisher Mike Sullivan was just as high on John after having seen him play in a few games.

"John is one of the best big men I have seen play this season," said Sullivan. "He plays each possession like it's his last of the game. John is a hard worker and due to his desire to win, will eventually be recognized as one of the best players in his class. I like the fact that John dives on the floor for loose balls. He also is smart enough to hold the ball over his head when he is in the lane, preventing smaller bodies from stealing the ball away from him."

Mike even made a prediction about Riek's future.

"Mark these words down regarding John Riek Suas -- he will be a pro someday in the NBA. He has the size, heart, and is amassing a better set of skills each time he practices and plays another game."

Three months later, June 19th to be exact, National Recruiting Director Dave Telep, added fuel to the John Riek potential fire by writing that, "John Riek was the top big man at the 2007 Nike Hoop Jamboree. The Sudanese center made it hard to score on and when he wasn't cleaning up his own misses, he was showcasing an enormous wingspan."

Dave went so far as to write that, "after the jamboree, the word should be out that this could be the best African post product to come through the pipeline since DeSagana Diop."

And as you would expect, after such a great jamboree, John's recruiting status skyrocketed.

On July 2nd, 2007, he was moved to the number 2 spot on's class of 2009, just behind a player who would eventually become a college teammate of his, Renardo Sidney.

And the list of colleges recruiting him expanded almost to the length of his enormous wingspan.

In February schools such as St. Francis of New York to high-major schools like St. John's, DePaul, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Georgia Tech were interested. Near the end of June, other schools such as Syracuse, Ohio State, Georgetown, Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut and a few others jumped into the hunt for this big man from Sudan.

Three weeks later John played in the LeBron James Skills Academy tournament and his play did nothing but enhance his future potential.

According to Telep, after seeing John play against more talented big men than he faced at the Nike Hoop Jamboree, "(John's) raised his game. As LeBron James encouraged him to 'keep it high big fella' Riek caught it, scored and proceeded to pin a litany of shots up against the backboard. He's begun working his way into the conversation for the top slot in his class. As a prospect the ceiling is way up there with room to improve. His hands don't work quite in unison with his body just yet."

This tournament may have also been the first time Mississippi State head basketball coach Rick Stansbury saw John in action. Stansbury was mainly there to watch Scotty Hopson, who was a Mississippi State commitment at the time.

Considering John blocked three of Greg Monroe's shots (Greg would eventually sign with Georgetown and become one of the best big men in the college game) in a head to head matchup the second day of the tournament, you have to believe Stansbury liked what he saw of the big man.

After his play during the two-month span of June and July, listed John among the top 10 performers at the halfway point of the summer circuit. In addition, the praise for his talent level also grew.

"After watching Riek play and in most cases, out perform, every big man camper at the LeBron James Skills Academy, observers in the gym walked away with the same feeling. Riek is going to be a high draft pick," said Telep.

But also brought into question at this time was John's background, most notably his age and grade classification.

"The challenge comes in figuring out his age (John wasn't sure), where he'll attend school and what year he'll be," wrote Telep of the youngster who now was known to have already graduated from high school.

In a July 20th article, Telep answered both questions.

"We've confirmed (John) is enrolling at the Winchendon School and is a 2008 post-graduate student," wrote Telep. "That means he's not going to be in our Top 100 but will be the No. 1 post-graduate player on our board."

John also started being seriously talked about as a high NBA draft choice at this time.

"Is he a potential NBA selection next year, you bet," wrote Telep. "Our source indicated that since he's a post-graduate, the option to play for pay will be there. Should he continue progressing at his present rate, in our opinion he's a high selection. That would leave him weighing the chance to earn serious dollars against bettering his English. When that happens, the international language of 'fat NBA contract' usually wins out."

However, once John attended and played a season of post-graduate ball at the Winchendon School, the luster started wearing off.

"As stellar as Riek was at LeBron (in the summer of 2007) his season at Winchendon couldn't have gone worse," wrote Telep on May 22, 2008. "By all accounts, Riek struggled mightily at the school before eventually heading off to IMG Academy for pre-draft training. At Winchendon he was a complete non-factor. If you speak with any New England Prep School League coach they'll offer the same opinion: what did everyone see in him last summer?"

He also went from being a sure-fire NBA high draft pick to a player who might be drafted.

"At this point, the Jekyl & Hyde Sudanese big man could go in any direction - someone may take him in the June draft (or) they may not," wrote Telep, who still rated John as his No. 1 post-graduate prospect among the post-graduate class of 2008 due to a great extent what he saw in the summer of 2007.

It turned out his problem during the just-completed season was due to two knee injuries believed to have occurred either in late 2007 or early 2008.

After declaring and eventually pulling his name out of the 2008 NBA Draft, John had surgery on his injured knee. In the meantime, he also committed to playing college ball at the University of Cincinnati.

According to's Dave Telep, as told to him by Fatah Muraisi, Riek's advisor, "Tony Stubblefield (of Cincinnati) started recruiting John in March. At the time I told him we were keeping college as an option. Tony continued recruiting him, John pulled his name out and in June we had an MRI on his knee. He had ACL surgery done on his knee. That put college as the No. 1 priority."

But John didn't end up at Cincinnati and re-opened his recruitment. That's when Mississippi State got involved in his recruitment.

Because Mississippi State already had Jarvis Varnado, the nation's top center prospect, on the team, they could take a chance on a big man who was about 65% healed from an injured knee that would probably take another year to heal to the point where it was even close to where it was in that glorious summer of 2007.

After signing with Mississippi State over offers from numerous other schools, including Cincinnati, Providence and Pittsburgh, another obstacle occurrred.

Mississippi State and John had to deal with the NCAA as far as John's eligibility this season due to issues involving him declaring and backing out of the 2008 NBA draft and the benefits he may have received during that period. Ultimately, the NCAA ruled John would have to miss the first nine games of the season, then be eligible to play.

Although it was somewhat anticipated that John might redshirt this season, his recovery has come along so well that he has been cleared to play and has played in two games so far, getting his most extended action in last night's game against Centenary (8 mins, 6 pts, 7 rebs, 3 tos).

While continuing to recover from his severe knee injuries and, basically, learning how to play the game, John is not expected to be a major factor for Mississippi State this season, but should be a factor next season.

As for how good John will eventually be, that depends on who you ask among all the so-called experts. At the most optimistic end, he could end up being a tremendous defensive presence with limited offensive ability to, on the bottom end, a player who may not pan out if his knee doesn't come back to close to what it was in the summer of 2007.

But what you will get from John, based on everything I have read and what we have seen and heard this season, is a young basketball player who will play and work hard every time he is on the court.

That is John Riek...for now.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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