WASHINGTON -- It's not the run-of-the-mill NBA draft choice who is greeted by his new team's owner with the query, 'Do you drink milk mixed with blood like they do in Uganda?'
But, then again, Manute Bol is not exactly the run-of-the-mill NBA prospect.
Bol is a 7-foot-6 , 198-pound Dinka tribesman from the arid south of Sudan who entered the draft after just one year in small-time American college basketball.
The Sundanese giant with the distinctive V-shaped decorative scars of his tribe lining his forehead and scalp was selected by the Washington Bullets in the second round of the June 17 NBA draft.
And in answer to team owner Abe Pollin's question, Bol answered politely, 'No. I don't know about that.'
The rail-like Bol, who is the starting center on the Rhode Island Gulls of the new United States Basketball League, has drawn interesting reviews from NBA executives.
Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Pat Williams said, 'It looks like he gave blood and forgot to say, 'When.''
Milwaukee Bucks coach Don Nelson, however, said, 'In 23 years in the game, he's the most amazing shot-blocker I've ever seen. I imagine (Bill) Russell might have done some of the things Manute can do when he first came into the league, but I never saw (Russell) block more than five or six shots in a game.'
Washington Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said, 'His legs aren't any bigger than my arms, and I'm not exactly Steve Reeves or Lou Ferrigno.'
But Ferry added, 'He is just absolutely unique and can do incredible things. He catches the ball off the rim and dunks it flat-footed and he does it with grace. If he can make it in the league, he has the potential to be the best shot blocker in the history of basketball.'
'There's just nothing to compare him to right now, first of all because there's nobody that big.'
Bol's friend and lawyer, Frank Catapano added, 'He's got great desire and heart. He's fearless. He's played games at the Continental League level (in the USBL) and he's been a dominant player - shot-blocking, rebounding. He's not afraid of anybody.'
It was not a paved road that led this 23-year-old to the ranks of American professional basketball.
Bol, whose mother died when he was very young, herded cows on his father's farm while growing up in the dry savanah of southern Sudan, a poor African nation.
The stories he tells of his childhood are distinctively out of the ordinary.
For instance, he says one day as a youngster, while herding his cows, he came upon a lion in the underbrush.
'I killed it with a spear,' he said.
He never even saw a basketball until a family member introduced him to the game about 5years ago.
'My cousin told me about basketball and said I could become a good player and enjoy myself. So I tried it,' Bol remembers.
With a wince, he also recalls the ill-fated first time he tried a dunk.
'I broke my teeth,' he said. In fact, he wears false teeth still because of the poorly-timed initial jam.
But there isn't much need for an NBA-style monster-dunk with Bol. Flat-footed, he can drop the ball down through the hoop.
After playing locally, government officials assembling the Sundaese national basketball team got word of Bol and recruited him. Bol toured with the Sundanese team in international competition in Africa and the Middle East.
'He's easily the best player ever to come out of the Sundan,' said Catapano.
Bol enrolled at Division II University of Bridgeport in Connecticut last fall and played his first basketball in the United States, ending the year a Division II All-America and averaging 22.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and nearly eight blocked shots per game.
But, with the death of his father back in the Sudan, Bol decided it was time be started earning money.
'When my father was alive, I could call him and have him send me the money. But now there's no one who can send me the money. If I want to buy clothes or if I want to go somewhere I can't go because I don't have the money. If I want to help my sister at home I can't help her because I don't have the money,' he said.
Bol declared himself eligible for the NBA draft and signed a contract to play for the Rhode Island Gulls this summer.
NBA scouts began to show up in ever-increasing numbers to Gull games to get a look at the 7-foot-6 wonder, whose Gull teammates include former Tulane star John 'Hot Rod' Williams, a central figure in the investigation of point-shaving at the school, and former North Carolina State stand-out Spudd Webb.
Ferry said, 'I saw (Bol) play his first game and then I saw him play about two weeks later. And, you know, he just improved so much. If he can just keep doing this, I don't think there's any way to tell how effective he'll be in the (NBA), defensively because he's just an awesome shot blocker.'
Dallas, Indiana, Cleveland, Boston, Milwaukee, Detroit and Phoenix all joined the Bullets in eyeballing Bol.
But Bol himself does not know if he's ready to play in the NBA against sides-of-beef types like Philadelphia's Moses Malone and New York's Patrick Ewing.
'I'll do my best, but I don't say that, yes, I'm ready,' he admitted. 'I can't say I want to be like Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or Moses or something like that. You've got to work hard to be like that.'
First and foremost, as far as the Bullets are concerned, is putting some weight on their new, antennae-thin prospect.
Ferry is having team doctors come up with a rigorous weight-gain and strength program for Bol, and instructed new assistant coach Fred Carter to give him intensive basketball tutoring.
And the general manager joked, 'If he can't put on weight with all these nutritionists, we'll just put him on my beer and hot dog diet. That ought to work.'
Bol does not see himself as outsandingly thin.
'I think I might put on a little bit of weight, but not that much. Like people say I should be 250 (pounds). But I don't think I can run at that much. I'll be like a Chinese guy,' he said, with an incorrect reference to Japanese sumo wrestlers.
Bullets executives set up a recent news conference with Bol at a downtown ticket center.
Among the first questions that Bullets owner Pollin asked Bol upon meeting him for the first time was, 'Do you drink milk mixed with blood like they do in Uganda?'
That proved to be the first of hundreds of out-of-the-ordinary questions thrown at Bol: 'How many miles can you walk without resting?' ('15'); 'Do they have ice cream in the Sudan?' ('yes'); 'Could you do an interview in Arabic' (he did); 'What did you think the first time you saw snow?' ('Oh, it was terrible').
A crowd of nearly 100 people gathered outside the downtown building, demanding a dunking exhibition on the hoop conveniently set up by team officials. Bol consented. He placed a red, white and blue Bullets cap on his head, grabbed a basketball and waded through the crowd.
He sauntered to the regulation-height hoop, reached up and calmly dropped the ball through without so much as standing on his tip-toes.
The crowd roared.
Manute smiled sheepishly.
Catapano, his friend and lawyer, noted, 'He's an attraction just walking down the street, so he's put up with this for a lot of years. He's had doses of it since he came to this country and I think he's handled it very well.'
Bol admitted that he likes the attention.
'It feels good. Somebody might know my name who I don't know and say, 'Hi,' to me and I'll say, 'Hi,' to him because I don't know their name. If you don't like people, I don't think it's nice. You've got to be nice to people.'