Inspiring Big Dreams

Kueth Duany speaking

On campus to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his team’s historic NCAA championship win, Kueth Duany motivates OTHC students to stretch past obstacles to achieve success.

For the first time in 20 years, nearly all members of the 2002-03 Syracuse University men’s basketball team were back together on the Syracuse University campus to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the team’s historical 2003 NCAA championship.

The festivities began on Friday, March 3, when fans joined team members and coaching staff for a reception and a viewing of the championship game in its entirety, with commentary from the players and coaches.

Kueth Duany speaking

Even after two decades, the magic surrounding the championship win was palpable, given its unlikeliness at the start of the season and the mix of athletes who pulled together to make it happen. Unranked in the preseason, the team went 30-5, with an 81-78 victory in the title matchup against Kansas. The starting lineup included senior captain Kueth Duany ’03, sophomore frontcourt standouts Craig Forth ’05 and Hakim Warrick ’05, and freshman sensations Carmelo Anthony, who would go on to be the No. 3 overall NBA Draft pick that year, and Gerry McNamara ’06, now associate head coach of the Orange.

“Seeing these highlights of us as young men, it just gives me chills every moment. We’re happy to be here, happy to see all of these brothers of ours. We were in the trenches together,” said Duany at the event.

The following day, the team was honored at a halftime ceremony during the men’s basketball game versus Wake Forest. Following the Orange victory, another ceremony was held to retire McNamara and Warrick’s jerseys.

Warrick had not been on campus since his own senior night. “To have my name up there with some of the Syracuse greats, it’s definitely an honor,” he said.

On Saturday morning, in between those events, Duany took time out to speak with students at an Our Time Has Come Leadership Development Seminar.

Last year, Duany and his wife, Aprelle Duany ’03, made a major gift toward the OTHC Scholarship Fund. The Leadership Development Seminar provided an opportunity for them to interact with OTHC students on a personal level and to share their own experiences.

Modeled on a TEDTalk format, Duany shared his story with students: his family’s escape from Sudan during a civil war, his upbringing in Bloomington, Indiana, his experience as a scholar/athlete at Syracuse followed by his career as a professional athlete and entrepreneur, and life with Aprelle and their two young daughters.

A common theme was sacrifice, beginning with his family leaving their homeland, to his time as a D1 basketball player, which left time for little else. Duany challenged students to extend themselves in friendship to the University’s athletes, who often have little time to develop relationships outside of their team bubble.

After his professional basketball career ended, Duany aspired to a career in investment banking or consulting but found companies didn’t value his basketball experience and he received no offers. Ultimately, he joined family members back in South Sudan, where his parents had returned, and forged a career in real estate development, aiding in the economic recovery of his home country.

Duany splits his time between South Sudan and Boca Raton, Florida, where Aprelle and the girls are based, a sacrifice for all of them.

Fascinated by Duany’s journey, students were also just as interested in hearing Aprelle’s perspective—her own sacrifice in putting her career on hold to follow Kueth to Africa, and now serving as a part-time single parent when he is abroad.

“I really enjoyed seeing how they engaged with and supported each other,” says Hennecys Perez-Castro ’25. “They spoke about how sacrifices must always be made when deciding the future of your children or what’s best for the family. That’s both scary and beautiful to imagine.”

Duany also touched on feelings of “otherness” and experiencing imposter syndrome. “He told us how it is important to ground yourself in who you are and not forget your roots, because in the presence of various spaces, it can be easy to assimilate or lose yourself,” says Ryan Nkongnyu ‘25.

“Don’t be scared to be different and discover new places,” Duany told students, urging them to work through such feelings to achieve their dreams. “You are limiting yourself if you sell yourself short,” he told them.

“This really hit me because I was contemplating if I should study abroad in Italy this summer,” says Nurielle Auguste ’26. Duany’s message gave her the courage to follow through and work to secure funding to make it happen.

Growing up, Duany said it was dreaming big that kept him hopeful for a better life, fully believing he could achieve those dreams. “If your dreams don’t scare you, is it really a dream?” he challenged them.

Sport management major Nick Nizza ’23 says that message left him motivated to strive higher. “Kueth wanted to be more than basketball and that made me realize I want to be more than what I am now,” says Nizza. “I know I can achieve greater heights and am willing to put the work in to show it.”

Perez-Castro, an environmental engineering major, says the talk inspired her to begin listening to other motivational speakers. “Instead of comparing myself to those who have a better academic standing—a bad habit of mine—I’m telling myself, ‘I can do it,’” she says.

Acknowledging that many of the those present were first-generation college students, Duany urged them not burden themselves by feeling obligated to succeed for their families, telling them to succeed for themselves, as well as to help those who come after them.

“They impressed that our seats at the table are not just for us as individuals. We are meant to be a voice for others and to bring more people to the table,” says Nkongnyu. “I aspire to not just make something great for myself but hope to help uplift other people.”