WHENEVER you encounter Dau Jok, you can be absolutely certain he will be smiling. It is just his way.
And we should smile when we think of the Penn senior now and far into the future. If he is the future, we are all in good hands.
Jok, a senior reserve for Jerome Allen's Quakers, was surrounded by violence and war growing up in Sudan. His father, a Sudanese army general, was slain when Dau was 6.
Three years ago as a freshman at Penn, Jok established a foundation in his father's honor to educate Sudanese youth through sports. Since then, Jok has been able to provide soccer balls and basketballs for kids in Sudan.
"I am optimistic because I think I am blessed with some of the resources at my disposal, whether it be human connection, people willing to help or having the solid foundation of people supporting me," Dau said in an interview with the Penn Courant in 2011. "I think motivation, passion, contagious . . . have 1,000 reasons to smile rather than 100 reasons to be angry, so I have to keep that in perspective."
For those reasons and so many more, Jok will be honored as one of three recipients for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's Most Courageous Award. He will receive his award at this year's Final Four in Dallas.
This is the third major award Jok has received in the last month. He also was named one of five college finalists for the Wooden Citizenship Cup given by the Athletes For a Better World Foundation, and he is one of five Division I players named to the Allstate National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works Team.
Jok desperately wants peace for his homeland, South Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011. And he is more than doing his part while a college student. He was given the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace award and received a $10,000 grant to help fight poverty and violence in the region.
Dan Peters (director of basketball operations at Akron) will get his award at an Akron home game in March. Kirsten Moore (Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif.) will receive the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award at the women's Final Four in Nashville.
Peters recently was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a 5 percent chance to live. Just about everybody in college basketball has rallied to his cause.
Moore was 8 months' pregnant in 2013 when her husband Alex, 31, died of a pulmonary embolism following colon surgery. Their daughter was born 7 weeks later. She was named Alexis.