“Feeling Like a Number One” – The Awak Kuier Story

There are many places one could begin when discussing Awak Kuier, the prodigious 19-year-old hooper from Finland. 

She enjoys drawing in her time off the court, or dancing with friends and teammates to the latest TikTok bop. She dreams of one day traveling to south Sudan, where her family is from. She loves playing volleyball when the weather is warm, an endeavor she surely would’ve excelled in had basketball not been in the cards. Her long-term goals aren’t just centered around sport—they involve helping people in the real world. 

Yet there may be no better way to encapsulate Kuier’s generous, thoughtful personality than by recounting her response to a question regarding the buzz and attention she has received on an international stage. 

“It’s been great,” Kuier told Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan and Aryeh Schwartz, “because even though people are there to look at me, in a way I’m giving a chance to my teammates, too, who might have a good performance and they can be seen also.” 

It’s all about spreading the love, but don’t mistake a kind soul for someone lacking in confidence. 

Another gem from Kuier’s appearance on the Winsidr Show, this time regarding Thursday’s 2021 WNBA Draft: 

“It’s better to be number one,” Kuier said, “but if I get picked two or three, I’ll still feel like a number one.” 

There’s a balance to Kuier’s demeanor on and off the court that portends big things. Confident, but not cocky. Caring about others while believing wholly in herself. Placing an equal amount of focus on improving her defense as well as her offense. Kuier has put in years of hard work to become the WNBA-ready prospect she is today.

 

 

Kuier’s family moved to Egypt in 2001 as civil war engulfed their home of south Sudan. On August 19th, 2001, in Cairo, Kuier was born. Two years later, the Kuier’s made another move, this time to Finland, where Kuier would eventually develop a passion for the game of basketball. 

Though she didn’t participate in organized hoops until age 11, Kuier—who has four older brothers—began playing with family and friends before ever donning a uniform. 

“It was a sport that was always with me since I was younger,” said Kuier. 

Yet it was the camaraderie of a team and the elation of a win that piqued Kuier’s interest, making her fall in love with the game. Her extreme talent may have helped, too. 

The first thing people tend to mention about Kuier’s game is her length. She is currently listed at 6’5”, and her wingspan appears even greater. The word on the street is that Kuier began dunking at age 15. The physical gifts are rather evident. 

Here’s the thing: a good basketball body only gets you so far. Smarts, skills, and work ethic unlock new grounds, helping round out a fuller package. There’s a reason Kuier is projected as either the first or second overall pick (Dallas owns both) in the upcoming draft despite being younger than all the other projected first-round picks. She’s the complete package. 

“I’m very versatile,” said Kuier. “I do a lot of things. I can shoot the ball, dribble the ball, and play [in the]low-post, too. I feel like I could be used for many things. I’m a very good defensive player. I like to play defense. I’m very competitive and always playing hard.”

That’s what the Wings want to hear. 

Dazzling offense may sell tickets, and Kuier provides that in bundles. But we’ll start on the defensive end as Kuier often mentions how much she prides herself on her guarding abilities.

This is really exciting stuff to watch. Kuier identifies the dribble hand-off as it’s happening, deciding to show as hard as possible. When the recipient of the hand-off continues to dribble and seeks a driving lane, Kuier sticks with her, stride-for-stride. Eventually, the offensive player cracks under Kuier’s uncompromising interrogation and turns the ball over. 

Here’s another strong show, this time with a timely recovery to boot. 

Kuier clearly boasts the length of an elite shot blocker, but her ability to move fluidly on the perimeter is just as essential to succeeding in today’s WNBA. Physicality is one area Kuier has identified as needing to improve in, and you could see her struggling as a rookie in the paint guarding stronger players. No one is expecting her to be perfect out of the gate. But the foundation of a two-way superstar has been built. 

Watching Kuier maneuver with the ball in her hands will take you from excited about her WNBA potential to downright giddy. 

First, the obvious stuff.

Kuier can shoot over and around just about anyone. She’s proficient as a spot-up threat, but that’s fairly common. High difficulty step-back triples? Not common. Extremely special. 

Kuier understands the advantage given to her because of her height and uses it in canny ways. She’ll post up on the baseline and hit a turnaround mid-ranger in your helpless face. She’ll slide into open areas of the court where folks may not expect her to go. She’ll face you up and make you perform the waltz. 

To me, one aspect of Kuier’s game rises above the others as an indication that we may be witnessing a transcendent player in the making: her handles. You just don’t see players with Kuier’s frame display her dazzling ball control. It makes complete sense that she named Candace Parker as an inspiration. 

“I’ve known [Parker] since I was really young and I looked up to her a lot,” said Kuier. “I feel like she resembles my game. That’s always been a person that I love to look at.”

Much like Parker, Kuier is thrilled when called upon to perform point-forward duties. Her combination of long strides and hawk-eye, see-the-game-before-it-unfolds type vision make her a nightmare for opposing transition defenses.

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Stop it! Excellence personified. 

Kuier has a speedy first step and gets her shot off in creative ways when driving to the hoop. She is ferocious on the glass. She has exhibited signs of developing into a lethal pick-and-roll player, both as the screener and the ball-handler. 

There’s not much else to say. Every clip I’ve included in this piece (major shout-out to the great Ben Dull) was taken from the same game. This is just another day in the life of Awak Kuier, basketball phenom. 

Had Kuier decided to play collegiately in America, the hype surrounding her game would be stratospheric. We’d have way more film to dissect, and perhaps a different outlook on this so-called “weak” draft class. 

But Kuier discussed the decision with her agents and coach, eventually deciding that she could learn more in a shorter period of time playing professionally in Europe. The decision wasn’t easy. Most Finnish players make the opposite choice. 

Lacing up her kicks in Italy, Kuier has already battled WNBA players such as Natasha Howard. While she feels that playing professionally in Europe has helped her hone the team-centric elements of her game, she says her tote bag of one-on-one moves is lacking. 

“In Finland we didn’t really work on moves,” she said. “It was more about the team.”

That’s not a bad thing. You can learn new moves. You can’t learn unselfishness.

 

 

Kuier says she’s more excited than nervous regarding Thursday night’s proceedings, although her teammates are even more excited than she is. 

“As soon as I knew that I wanted to play professionally, it’s been my dream,” Kuier said of playing in the WNBA. “For me to be in this position is really crazy to me. Especially to be one of the first Finnish players to be drafted so high is really crazy to me. I feel like I won’t really believe it until it happens.”

Soon, Kuier will be rocking a WNBA jersey, playing in front of throngs of kids who will idolize her just like she idolized Parker. To the youngsters, Kuier offered a succinct yet powerful message that has informed her own journey—from Egypt to Finland and soon to the States. 

“Keep going,” said Kuier. “Keep going and don’t stop. Be brave. Try to do your best always and dream big.” 

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