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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

High School Basketball Star Says He Didn't Know He Was 29 Years Old

Last week it was revealed that Jonathan Nicola, a 6-foot-9 junior tearing it up for Catholic Central High School in Windsor, Ontario, was not indeed a 17-year-old kid dunking on a bunch of fellow teens, but instead a 29-year-old man dunking on a bunch of unsuspecting teens. Nicola told authorities it was an honest mistake.


Nicola is accused of lying about his age to obtain a student visa. The South Sudanese man has been held since April 15 by Canada’s immigration services, and in a hearing last week, testified that he truly did not know his real age, and even his mother wasn’t able to tell him. The transcript of the hearing was obtained by the Toronto Star:

“I aways keep asking what is the specific age that I was born, and she has told me that she could not remember,” he told the April 19 hearing.

“Over (in South Sudan) . . . not every year we study . . . we always keep moving to different schools, and over there, they do not ask your age. They do not ask you nothing,” Nicola said.

Nicola said he had been approached by a “coach Steyn” who promised to get him a student visa to play basketball in Canada, and that Steyn handled all the allegedly fraudulent paperwork.

“I told him, no, I was not born in 1998. I told him that I am too young for 1998. I’m not in 1998. Then he told me, ‘No, you go back ask my mother, ask my mother how old am I.’ And my mother she do not even remember. She told me 1993, 1990,” Nicola said at the earlier hearing.

“So I went back and this guy he just do me the paper . . . he did the whole papers. He did everything.”

It wasn’t until Nicola applied for a travel visa to the United States, a month after he arrived in Canada, that border authorities started to connect the dots. The fingerprints for that application matched those of a man who had unsuccessfully applied to enter the U.S. as a student on a full scholarship in April 2015. In that rejected application, Nicola’s birthdate was listed as 1986, instead of the 1998 listed on his Canadian visa application.

Nicola’s plea for release was denied by his hearing adjudicator, who said she believes he lied about his age to come to Canada to study and find work to support his mother and siblings back in South Sudan. “I understand your desire to do that,” the adjudicator told Nicola, “but the way you have gone about doing that is frankly, quite illegal.”


Deputy editor | Deadspin