FORT MYERS — Watching Akoy Agau clog the lane Tuesday in the first round of the City of Palms Classic, it's hard to picture him as anything but a basketball player.
Yet growing up, the Omaha (Neb.) Central senior preferred the pitch to the hardwood. In his native Sudan, he played soccer because basketball didn't exist in the North African country.
It wasn't until the age of 8 when his family escaped the civil wars of his homeland and arrived in the United States that Agau found basketball. And even then, it wasn't his first choice.
"I always thought I was a normal person," the 6-foot-9 Agau said. "When I came to America everyone told me I was bigger than everyone else. They told me about a sport called 'basketball' I had never heard of.
"I just started getting involved (with basketball). I started playing and just fell in love with it. I've been playing ever since."
In less than eight years, Agau has developed into one of the nation's top recruits. Ranked No. 84 in the Class of 2013, the 240-pound power forward had scholarship offers from heavyweights Connecticut, Florida and Georgetown. He signed with Louisville in November.
A college education wasn't even a thought 10 years ago, much less an option. Agau didn't attend school in the Sudan, and his family constantly feared for its safety in the dangerous country.
"It wasn't a great environment," Agau said. "My family wanted to provide with us and get us an education."
When he was 7, Agau and his family escaped to Egypt, the country directly north of Sudan. A year later the family landed in Baltimore before making its way to Omaha the next year.
Though he didn't play basketball until around the fifth grade and didn't get serious until seventh, Agau quickly caught on. He's now one of the biggest reasons Omaha Central has won three straight state championships. Agau had a triple-double — 16 points, 13 rebounds and 14 blocks — in last year's title game.
Though he started late, Agau caught up to the rest of his class through diligent work in the gym and on the court.
"He's a kid that loves the game," Omaha Central coach Eric Behrens said. "He loves to get in the gym and work out. He likes to lift and he likes to do all the stuff not everybody likes to do. He really is a kid that you'd call a gym rat."
Agau's passion has endeared him to his teammates, but so has his personality. Behrens said the power forward is one of the most popular kids in school and is a true leader among his teammates.
"You can recruit a kid for his ability, but you don't really understand what you're getting until you get him in the locker room and see how well he does with the other guys," ESPN senior recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. "Akoy is a kid like that. The physical stuff is all important, but he's got some intangibles, some people skills that are special. He's a neat kid."
Now Agau and his Omaha Central teammates are out to show there's more than football and cornfields in Nebraska. The Eagles want to prove they belong among the nation's elite basketball programs.
They started Tuesday with a second-half outburst that led to a 62-37 victory over McDonough (Ga.)-Eagle's Landing. Agau had a modest 16 points and six rebounds, but he made his presence known inside.
Agau's defense helped hold Eagle's Landing's 6-foot-10 power forward Desmond Ringer, a South Carolina recruit, to nine points.
"He's really good," Eagle's Landing coach Clay Crump said of Agau. "He's imposing and a very good defender. He did a great job in the middle. He's going to have a great career at Louisville."
Omaha Central already can call itself the best team in the Cornhusker State with confidence. The 2,500-student school has won six of the past seven championships in the state's largest classification.
The Eagles are the first team from their state to play in the prestigious City of Palms. With Tuesday's victory, Omaha Central tied its state record by winning its 41st straight game.
"They say we got a bunch of cornfields and tractors and we ride horses to school and no one plays sports," said Agau, one of the top recruits to come out of Nebraska in years. "This is definitely special. This is something no team from Nebraska has ever done, so it's a privilege. We have to come out and work hard and prove we're one of the best teams in the country."
Omaha Central will have its hands full in its attempt to break the record for longest winning streak. The Eagles play Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, ranked No. 2 in the country by MaxPreps, in today's quarterfinals.
The Eagles could have stayed in Nebraska and easily recorded their 42nd straight victory. Instead, they want to test themselves on the national stage before chasing their fourth straight title back home.
"It's one of those concessions we have to make," Behrens said. "If we've ever had the team to play in this tournament, it's this group. This is too good of an opportunity to pass up for some record."