I’d like to think that I helped. Geez, if we didn’t intervene he’d probably be in jail. It was pretty serious. —Kearns High basketball coach Dan Cosby
TAYLORSVILLE — Since they burst onto the local basketball scene a few years ago, it hasn’t been uncommon to see former Sudan refugees Bushmen Ebet and Kur Kuath light up opponents and scoreboards in high school and college.
If you want to see the two Salt Lake Community College standout players’ faces light up, just mention Kearns High basketball coach Dan Cosby’s name.
They both credit their old high school coach for getting them on a path to success, which currently includes them contributing to another stellar season at SLCC.
The Bruins are ranked sixth in the nation and sit atop the SWAC standings (23-2, 6-1). SLCC was named the NABC team of the week after impressive wins at the College of Southern Idaho (103-99 in double overtime) and at Snow College (85-73).
“It’s been a really cool connection,” SLCC coach Todd Phillips said of the Kearns teammates. “They are both elite athletes. It’s been good, been fun to coach them. They’re good kids, happy kids, and they work hard.”
That development is rewarding for Cosby, who helped influence Ebet and Kuath in different ways.
For Ebet, that included Cosby — and Kearns High principal Maile Loo — vouching for his character to a 3rd District Juvenile Court judge, and closely working with him after the then-18-year-old ran afoul of the law his senior year.
“He’s a big influence in my life,” Ebet said of Cosby. “I give him my thanks and everything for putting me in this position. He’s the one who got me here. Me putting in the work got me here, too.”
Ebet went on to earn first-team all-state honors after leading Kearns to the Class 4A championship game in that 2015 season. The explosive guard is now SLCC’s leading scorer. He is weighing future options while receiving high interest from a lot of major Division I programs, including USC.
Ebet sat out the 2016-17 season after playing a sixth-man role on SLCC’s NJCAA national championship team in 2016. Phillips says Ebet’s quickness and athleticism — “Bushmen could probably walk on football and be a DB,” he said — overshadow the 6-foot-3, 175-pound sophomore's consistently good 3-point shooting.
This season has been a blast for Ebet at SLCC, especially now that Kuath, a year behind him at Kearns, is at his side again. They each consider the other a brother, having eventually ended up in the Salt Lake suburb after their families fled from Sudan when they were kids.
“I thank Jesus, first, for giving me a second chance,” Ebet said. “I can’t really explain it. It’s just another chance, another opportunity for me that I can’t just stop taking advantage of it and lose it again.”
Cosby said Ebet, who had an unstable home situation, was with the wrong crowd and just needed positive nudging to become a productive member of society again.
“I’d like to think that I helped,” Cosby said. “Geez, if we didn’t intervene he’d probably be in jail. It was pretty serious.”
Cosby recalled his own rough youth, when he bounced from South High to Kearns High before graduating in 1988. He eventually received mentorship and support from Kearns coaches Kenyon Clark and Tom Larson, even living with their families.
“I was going down that same track and somebody helped me, so that’s why I helped them,” Cosby said. “They’ve got good hearts. Sometimes they just need to know someone cares.”
Kuath needed some tough love from Cosby to get in gear early in his high school career. Although Kuath had good height and incredible length — he’s now 6-9 with a massive 7-5 wingspan — he just didn’t put forth the effort to maximize his size.
Cosby bluntly asked Kuath, “Are you willing to do what it takes to play?” Kuath responded, "I don’t even like basketball enough for that."
“Oh," Cosby replied, "you’ll be tall for nothing.”
The Kearns coach didn’t stop there, though. He challenged Kuath to harness his God-given physical gift for bigger things than basketball, including assisting relatives who remain in a tough situation in Africa.
“If you care about them,” Cosby said, “get a college education through basketball and then go help your family.”
Cosby worked with Kuath’s teachers to give him another chance. Some teachers had written the struggling student off, concerned “he’s going to amount to nothing” because of the path he was on.
But Cosby wouldn’t give up on him.
“He was a great influence on my life. If it wasn’t for Coach Cosby, I don’t think I would be playing basketball right now,” Kuath said. “He pushed me. He made me who I am. He was a great coach. I need to thank Coach Cosby every day.”
Kuath’s said Cosby "changed my life" when he challenged him.
Bruin sophomore shooting guard Bushmen Ebet interacts with teammates during practice at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. | Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News
“He was just straight up with me and told me if I’m not going to train or do anything to get better then I won’t make the team next year, so that just motivated me to get better and just got me right,” Kuath said.
“I wasn’t really into basketball too much over the years. I found out I loved the game. It’s just been great.”
Doubters became believers because of his efforts.
“Kur is just a good kid,” Cosby said. “He has a motor most guys don’t have. You never have to tell him to hustle.”
Phillips was a doubter. He didn't think Kuath was at the Bruins' level after the skinny kid came out of Kearns in 2016. The SLCC coach helped him find a playing opportunity at Western Wyoming Community College. Two things led Kuath to SLCC: 1. He was miserable in Rock Springs, Wyoming; and 2. He grew an inch and a half while improving.
Phillips watched Kuath on the court with his players in the offseason and told himself, "Oh my gosh. I made a big mistake."
The combination of athleticism, mid-range shooting, interior dominance and defensive tenacity make Kuath a nice player. But Phillips said his Rudy Gobert-like wing span sets him apart. There are a lot of 6-9 guys. There are very few whose arms stretch out 89 inches wide.
Four-year universities agree. Though it appeared Kuath might attend Utah, he decided to play out of state to "focus more on basketball without distractions."
Kuath recently verbally committed to play for Oklahoma. It's easy to see why colleges covet his skill set. The 19-year-old is averaging 11.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, four blocked shots and makes opponents second-guess going in the paint. Phillips calls him "a game-changer" because of his length and mobility.
"Blocks are definitely one of my favorite things of playing basketball," Kuath said. " I just let people know, 'Don’t come into my paint.' It's just what I do."
Added Cosby: "He was a late bloomer. He was a good shot blocker, but now he's amazing."
Both student-athletes still have work to do and challenges to overcome, but Phillips likes where they're headed.
"They'll both succeed," he said.
There was a time not too long ago — before a caring coach went out of his way and they got out of their own way — when that was not a given.