Reath’s home country — beaten down, war torn and depleted of resources — was entrenched in a civil war when 9-year-old Reath’s uneducated parents, Nyanen and Thomas, simply wanted their children to have a better life.
They finally found one in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, where the beleaguered family sought federal financial aid for their impending emigration to Australia.
“It was tough,” Reath said. “They were really motivated to try to get us out of there. They wanted us to get a better opportunity for ourselves — to get an education. Both of my parents, they’re not really educated, but they did their best. They wanted us to get in a better situation.”
Reath, the eldest of the seven children and one of LSU’s starting forwards, said his parents have yet to see him play basketball in the United States. He tries to FaceTime his family at least twice a week.
Crossing the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the U.S. is expensive, Reath said, and his parents are holding out hope to come see their son play in America in a year or two, he added.
Reath, who posted six-straight double-digit scoring games to begin the season, sure is making them proud, but for reasons unrelated to his skills on the court.
“They were proud and happy for me,” he said. “What they were really proud of is that I was going to pursue an education. That’s what really brought us to this world, first world countries, to get educated. And maybe one day we can go back to our country and help our people out.”
Reath hadn’t even thought about playing basketball until he hit a growth spurt in his early teenage years.
“I got taller than everybody else,” Reath, who has 15 blocks this season, said. “All my friends said, ‘try basketball,’ and I fell in love with it then.”
He began to take basketball seriously in the ninth grade after a childhood packed with soccer and Australian rules football. He was the “ruckman” in football, meaning he executed jump-ball-like plays for the tallest player on the team.
“When I stopped playing football at first, I wasn’t as good or as coordinated because that’s when I really hit my growth spurt,” he said. “I was just trying to get used to it — the running and the catching and the physical part of the game. That really helped me with basketball now.”
A few years later, in a summer Australia league, Lee College assistant coach Marcus King spotted the taller-than-everyone-else Reath just prior to his 18th birthday.
“He watched me play and said that if I would work on my game and get better, [I could] get a free education,” Reath said. “Why not come to the States?”
His parents thought it was a good idea as well, and he jumped at the offer.
Reath, whose family lives in Perth, Australia, spent two seasons at Lee — a junior college in Baytown, Texas — prior to joining the Tigers for this season.
To Reath, the fundamentals and technical finesse of Division I basketball loomed large before his move to LSU.
“It’s a little bit more technical,” he said. “You’ve got to pay attention to the little details. When you set the screen, [it’s all about] the angle you set the screen. It’s a little more technical.”
He caught on fast. In his 29 minutes of LSU’s opening game with Wofford on Nov. 12, Reath posted 23 points and 14 rebounds.
He moved to Baton Rouge with now-roommate and fellow Lee College transfer Branden Jenkins. The transition to SEC basketball became less stressful beside an old teammate.
“He’s like a brother to me,” Jenkins said. “It’s good to have him around on bad days and good days. We’ll have fun. It’s good to share this experience with someone who’s not from here.”
Through his first seven games, Jenkins watched from the sidelines as Reath sashayed to an average of more than 10 points per game. Jenkins has been nursing a knee injury that required off-season surgery.
Reath’s adjustment to Division I hoops and his role as LSU’s sole rim protector have been smooth sailing, Jenkins notes.
“It’s been fun,” Reath said. “It’s been great. Playing against different opponents, playing against some bigger guys. It’s more competitive at this level, so that makes it a little more fun.”
Reath understands he is LSU’s shot-blocking, Praetorian guard at the opponents’ nets, but he has also become a vocal leader on defense — exactly the type LSU coach Johnny Jones requires.
“He really impacted the game in the second half because he had five blocks,” Jones said after LSU’s most recent win, 84-65, against Houston. “The shots he didn’t block, they tried to adjust it to get it over his hand and they missed shots. He was rather impactful for us.”
~ Courtesy of LSUnow.