ONTARIO, April 22- A promising young basketball player who arrived in Canada from South Sudan has had his sporting dreams shattered by immigration authorities, who claim he lied about being 17 and was actually aged 30.
Jonathon Nicola arrived in Ontario in November, under a programme for refugees called Canada Homestay.
His application for the scheme was supported by Pete Cusumano, coach of the basketball team at Catholic Central High school in Windsor. He was told about the talented 6 foot 9 “teenager” by basketball colleagues, and was moved to help the young man.
The South Sudanese sportsman was spotted by a Sudanese player, Deng D’Awol, who had played college basketball in the United States, and was coaching in South Sudan. D’Awol and Cusumano assisted Nicola’s attempts to move away from South Sudan, and Cusumano took him in as a lodger, telling colleagues that the tall, talented youngster could possibly could play in the NBA some day.
“I think this kid will have a chance at the NBA,” he told his local newspaper, The Windsor Star. “I have never said that about any kid from Windsor.”
Nicola played sport once he was driven from his home village on Boxing Day in 2013, and was no longer able to go to school.
“I am playing basketball because otherwise, I am falling into things that my family doesn’t want me to do, the bad things,” he told the paper in January. “If I had the opportunity to go to the NBA I would definitely go.” But he said his focus was on studying.
“My big deal is the education. This is my main thing. If I focus only on sport, nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future. Maybe I go to college and I break my knee or my ankle. If I’m not educated, I won’t have the opportunity to get work either here or back home.”
The Detroit Pistons, who play just across the river from Windsor, donated clothing and equipment for Nicola to use, including size 16 shoes.
“He’s never played organized ball,” said Cusumano. “He’s just played pickup ball. He’s not used to structure, so everything’s new to him.”
He was not yet the team’s star, but they had high hopes.
The Canada Border Services Agency announced on Wednesday said it had arrested the South Sudanese national for a violation of the country’s Immigration Refugee Protection Act. He remains in custody, with another hearing next week.