Edward Little High School basketball player Wol Maiwen dunks in the EL gym during a recent practice. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — Anyone who thinks they can help Edward Little’s Wol Maiwen with creative ideas for dunks this season can jam it. 

We already have a winner — his younger brother, Diing.

“My brother in fifth grade, he’s been trying to get me to try one between the legs,” Maiwen said.

Maiwen, who went viral last year with a sensational,  though illegal, dunk in a game against Noble, may or may not have something special planned for this season. But he’s more focused on becoming a complete player and helping the Red Eddies take the next step.

“No one’s going to be scared of you just because you went viral,” said Maiwen, who was the sixth man on a team that reached the AA North final last year.

Off the court, it’s impossible to be scared of Maiwen, even after he’s added 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame during the offseason.

Young children approach him for an autograph. Strangers ask him if he’s the guy who had that dunk. It isn’t very long into the conversation before both parties, Maiwen and the stranger, are smiling. 

“He’s a really grounded kid,” Edward Little coach Mike Adams said. “He’s a family kid. They have a big family, and that’s what’s important to him, his friends and his family.”

On the court, Maiwen’s size (enhanced by his 6-foot-8 wingspan), athleticism and energy make him one of the most intimidating players in the state.

And he’s only a junior — one who loves playing defense and may be a little too unselfish at the other end.

“I think I can lead with defensive intensity. I feel if I can dominate on defense, it will lead to our offense,” Maiwen said.

“I like playing defense more than playing offense, to be honest,” he added. “I feel like on defense, it just makes the game easier. Points come, off steals or whatever, we’ll get out on the fast break and points will come. We start it all off on defense. Defense wins championships. I’ve always taken that to heart.”

Adams wants him to take looking for his own offense to heart this season, too. With the graduation of last year’s leading scorers, Jarod Norcross Plourde and Samatar Iman, the Eddies are going to need him to score.

“He could score two points and it wouldn’t matter to him if we won and played well,” Adams said. “That’s one of our struggles, getting him to be more greedy, because he is one of the best athletes in the state and we need to have the ball go through him even more.”

To get more point production from Maiwen, Adams will have him set up on the low block more to take advantage of his size and skill and get more offensive rebounds.

Maiwen has also worked on his outside shooting to make defenders respect his jump shot. If and when they do, he can use his explosiveness to drive past them.

“I’m shooting the ball a lot better now,” he said. “I’m getting a lot more touches and getting more involved this year, so it’s something I needed to work on.”

Defensive stopper

Despite already earning the reputation as EL’s defensive stopper, Maiwen has worked on improving his game there, too. He’s shown he can shut down point guards and wings, and the added muscle will help him battle with big men underneath the basket. 

The Eddies’ motto is “Paint Wins.” A more physical Maiwen combined with his shot-blocking ability can make venturing into the paint a losing proposition for opponents.

With his wingspan, he can be even more intimidating at the front of the Eddies’ press. But too often, his aggressiveness and all of the opportunities he gets to make a difference on defense lead to foul trouble. So Adams is stressing using his mind as much as his physical talents to affect a game.  

“He’s understanding now that defense isn’t just about blocking shots and getting steals by reaching. Defense is being in the right position,” Adams said. “He’s a unique player in that, for years, he was able to do things by being unfundamental because he was so athletic. He was successful, so he thinks that’s the right way to play. So now, he’s really working on playing the right way.”

“When we’re pressing, I know my teammates have my back,” he said. “I try to create turnovers, hopefully not by reaching. I can’t afford to get a lot of fouls, so if I can press and force them to make a bad pass, I know my teammates are right behind me to make that steal.”

An Eddies’ steal, particularly one on their home court, sparks a sudden aura of anticipation. If Maiwen is in the open floor, ahead of the defense, another highlight dunk could be imminent.

Maiwen hopes to reward the fans with something new this year, “like tomahawk, off the backboard, windmill, cradle, stuff like that,” he said matter-of-factly.

He doesn’t just use his aerial acrobatics to show off, though. Adams, who brought Maiwen off the bench last year instead of having him start so he could provide the Eddies a spark, likes how they can change the momentum in a game.

“Last year, coming off the bench, if I got a dunk it just boosted the energy in the gym and helped my team perform a little bit better and intimidated the other team,” Maiwen said.

Breaking away

It will be tough for him to top the dunk that went viral last year. Running the court on a breakaway, Maiwen tried to dunk an alley-oop pass from Iman, but met the rim with too much force. The ball bounced high off the back of the rim, so Maiwen, still hanging from rim, reached back with his right hand, snared the ball and sent it in on his second try.

Since it was offensive goaltending, the dunk didn’t count. 

That didn’t stop a video of the feat that was posted on YouTube from being picked up by popular sports web sites such as Bleacher Report and being viewed worldwide.

“We gave him a hard time last year about how out of the 100,000 hits, probably about 20,000 of them were his,” Adams said.

“It was kind of unbelievable at first. I didn’t think it was real, to be honest,” Maiwen said. “It’s just one of those things. It could happen to anyone.”

Maiwen already knew a more than most about traveling the globe before his dunk did.

Born in South Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War, he was 2 years old when he fled with his family to  Egypt. About a year later, they emigrated to Connecticut. They then moved to Lewiston, where he enrolled in kindergarten, then across the river before he entered the fourth grade.

Now the oldest of six siblings (all but an infant sister play basketball), he is all about being a Red Eddie.

“It’s an honor to play here,” Maiwen said. “The alumni we have here have been great. They’ve helped us as a program. They’ve helped us raise money to play out of state. This summer, we went to North Carolina State. Playing the competition out of state helped us improve our game and we’ve brought it back here.”

The summer session in North Carolina drew college coaches to watch potential recruits. Adams said those who didn’t know Maiwen’s name before know it now.

Maiwen wants to continue playing basketball in college and perhaps professionally. He said some Division II coaches have told him they plan on watching him play this season. 

Adams believes Division I coaches could start calling soon, too. He welcomes the attention to his budding star and all of his other players, but he also wants Maiwen to understand his opportunities go beyond Division I, and his future doesn’t have to be determined by basketball.

To drive the point home, he’s taken Maiwen, an honor roll student, to games at Bates College. Specifically, the coach wanted him to see the Bobcats’ dynamic Delpeche twins, Marcus and Malcolm, who graduated last spring and are playing professionally in Germany.

“They were Division I athletes and they went to Bates,” Adams said. “We’ve had a number of our kids go to Bates. That opens up doors for you after college that other schools don’t. You can play for four years. If you want to play overseas, who knows? That could still be a possibility. But primarily, it has to happen academically, and Wol knows that.”

“The best trait of Wol is his character,” Adams said. “He is a great person, somebody that you want babysitting your kids. He’s around my son as much as possible because I want Marshall to grow up and be like Wol. He might not be elbow above the rim, but if he can be like him in terms of the person that he is, I’m a happy dad.”

Edward Little High School basketball player Wol Maiwen dunks in the EL gym during a recent practice. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Edward Little High School basketball player Wol Maiwen dunks in the EL gym during a recent practice. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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