Duop Reath is spending Christmas Day in Baton Rouge.
To many of us, that doesn’t sound like all that raw of a deal. It’s 70 degrees and sunny, with a slight breeze capable of making you forget that Jack Frost is nipping at the noses of nearly everyone else in the country.
But, unfortunately for Reath, Baton Rouge is not home. Nor is Louisiana, nor the United States, nor the Western Hemisphere for that matter. Reath’s family lives in Perth, Australia. Were a direct flight from New Orleans to Perth to exist, it would be a 22-hour journey. And if you think flights are uncomfortable for you, try being 6-foot-10.
But Reath can’t make it back to Perth for Christmas. LSU’s practice and game schedule doesn’t permit the junior center to do so. So instead — for the third year in a row — he’ll have to rely on FaceTime calls to see his family during the holiday season.
“You get used to it,” Reath said. “It’s just a sacrifice you’ve got to make, I guess.”
Sacrifice is the story of Reath’s life. When the public address announcer calls Reath’s name at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center before LSU basketball games, Perth is announced as his hometown. And this isn’t false. Reath moved to Australia when he was 9 years old and spent most of his formative years living and learning in Perth.
But Reath spent the first 9 years of his life in the war-torn South Sudan, a country that has been mired in civil wars on and off since the 1950s. Formerly a British imperial territory and more recently subject to Sudanese rule, South Sudan officially became an independent nation in 2011, six years after Reath, his parents and his six siblings moved to Australia.
Upon surfacing in Australia, Reath found himself a natural athlete, excelling as a soccer player and an Australian rules football player. He didn’t actually begin playing basketball until high school, when the sport was thrust upon him because of his size. From Australia, Reath made his way to Lee Community College, a junior college in Texas where he spent two years alongside future LSU teammate and roommate Branden Jenkins.
All these journeys, from South Sudan to Australia to Texas, led him to Baton Rouge, where he’s started all 11 of the LSU’s (8-3) games this season. The transition to Division I basketball isn’t easy, but Reath has made it look that way. Reath is averaging 15.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, as well as a team-high 1.9 blocks per game.
When asked about Reath’s development, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones laughed. He said he probably would’ve slept a lot sounder in the offseason if he knew Reath would catch on to things this quickly.
That said, he isn’t surprised.
“When you talk about transitioning from high school or junior college or whatever to a first-year Division I college basketball, it’s different,” Jones said. “Pace of play, the athletes, all of those things go hand-in-hand with different styles of play. And he’s done a really good job of adapting and playing with his back to the basket.
“We run a lot of stuff and he’s been able to pick things up offensively and defensively and the schemes,” Jones continued. “It’s been good. To say that I knew he would be playing this well  games in, I wouldn’t have been able to say that. But I’m not surprised because of his work ethic and what he gave us during the offseason.”
Sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney noticed the same thing Jones did when Reath arrived. When asked to describe his first impression of Reath, Blakeney said “he was a dog,” meaning Reath was competitive and loud, talking constantly to everyone on the court.
And since then, things have only gotten better. Since junior power forward Craig Victor returned to LSU’s starting lineup five games ago, Reath and Victor have been a force, combining for 28.4 points and 15.8 rebounds per game. Over that stretch, Reath has posted 23-point and 21-point games, both of which with eight rebounds to boot.
But there’s still room for him to grow.
“One of the things I talk to him about is his ability to lead while he’s out there on the floor,” Jones said. “I want him to be able to come out with it. Because he plays a certain way and he’s generally very vocal on the floor… I think he’s got to continue to do that as well, just as he’s worked on the small parts of his game.”
As for Christmas, don’t feel bad for Reath. Jenkins won’t be making the trip to his home of Chicago either, so Reath won’t be without a roommate. Beyond that, Reath has five teammates from the Baton Rouge area. And in the spirit of giving, some of those guys invited Reath to spend the holiday with their families.
“I’ll see their families, be with their families,” Reath said. “I haven’t really met their families, but they invited me. They told me ‘You’re welcome to come to our family dinner.’ So I told them I appreciated that.”