Greenforest celebrates first international valedictorian

DhiaukueiDKDut was a student in South Sudan in 2019 before graduating from Greenforest McCalep Christian Academy in Decatur as the school’s first international valedictorian on May 26 – a little more than a year after Dut helped lead the school’s basketball team to its first state championship since 2017.

Dut—a 7’1” forward who’s committed to play college basketball at Georgia State University—said he used his time in high school to prove that he could excel on and off the court.

“Everywhere I go, people know I play basketball. I want to be known as an academic warrior; I’m not just tall. Greenforest taught me how to focus on every aspect of my life that I needed to focus on to make that happen,” said Dut.

However, he said his journey wasn’t always pretty compared to the outcome.

“I lost my mom after I had been here for three weeks,” said Dut. “That gave me the motivation to really work hard and make my brothers and sisters back home proud of me and to be able to change their lives one day. I’ve put in a lot of work, sacrificed a lot, stayed disciplined, and blocked out the negativity.”

Greenforest head coach Rory Griffin said Dut even adjusted faster than most international students, despite the rough first month.

“It didn’t take DK that much time to get acclimated,” added Griffin. “It speaks to his courseload and his family back home. He comes from a very educationally driven family, and they pride themselves on that.”

Greenforest—which has a yearly presence of international students on its basketball teams—won a state championship in 2022. Dut was then the valedictorian of 2023, was named to the Beta Club and National Honor Society, and even won a regional track medal, but he said the culmination of those feats provided the honor he is the proudest of.

“Being named as a valedictorian and winning a state championship were like cherries on top, but the thing that I took the most pride in was that I was able to choose what college I wanted to go to,” said Dut. “I had [offers from] Yale, UPenn, and different Ivy League schools. I had different schools from the SEC and the Sunbelt offering me.”

He said he chose Georgia State for the academics, the coaches, and the Atlanta weather, in addition to being a short drive away from Greenforest.

Dut said he has plans on and off the court after college. Griffin added that some of the same traits which helped Dut become valedictorian can help the Greenforest alum achieve his goal of making the NBA.

“He gets a kick of the fact that he is different because he sees all the success he’s having,” said Griffin. “He has the tools to take his game all the way to the NBA. It’s not just his motor, I think sometimes we overuse that word, but it’s his ability and desire to go the extra mile. He’ll always be in the gym if he can. He’ll study when other kids want to go out.”

Griffin added that Dut’s basketball skills are also desirable. “Skill wise, he’s a 7-1 kid who can run the floor, stop on a dime, hit a three, one dribble pull-up, or even go all the way to the basket. Shot blocking comes natural to him too, which is something the NBA is looking for.”

Dut said his off-the-court goals are the main motivation for him to do well in the classroom and on the court.

“Having academic experience is great, especially in places like Africa. I want to bring different jobs and opportunities to my place, to my village, to my country. If I make enough money, I can build hospitals, water wells, and shelters for those in need back home, even sports facilities. Those are my aspirations.”

Dut said he plans to study cyber security and business administration in college. Georgia State’s basketball program is under second year head coach Jonas Hayes – who is partially known for his development and coaching of tall players. Former NBA forward Jarvis Hayes is also an assistant coach for Georgia State.

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