New York Liberty’s Adut Bulgak achieves despite hardships

Dark times do not last. Adut Bulgak believes that.

“Keep pushing,” the 23-year-old rookie center for the New York Liberty told amNewYork. “Things may always look dark. … You’ll get what you want, as hard as you work, as much as you want it, if you’re having fun. If your heart is truly in it, you’re going to get what you want.”

The 6-foot-4 Bulgak experienced her more than fair share of tribulations along her journey to the WNBA, which began in war-torn Sudan before winding up in Manhattan.

Born Dec. 20, 1992, during the Second Sudanese Civil War, her family fled to country in search of a better life. They emigrated as refugees from Kenya to Alberta, Canada in 1998, settling in Edmonton when she was 10.

While father Atem and mother Ayen worked long hours to make ends meet, older brothers Deng Atem and Bul Atem stepped up at home. The brothers encouraged her to pursue her goals on the court as she found a talent for basketball.

“In a lot of ways, growing up, not having all the luxuries that other people may have, you appreciate little things more,” said Bulgak. “Nothing’s really given to you.”

But tragedy struck the family again during her formative years. Deng was killed in a double homicide on May 15, 2007. Two years later on Sept. 14, 2009, Bul’s vehicle flipped over on the highway and claimed his life, too. To honor their memory, Bulgak writes both names on her sneakers to this day.

Bulgak persevered, earning a scholarship to Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, where she guided the Lady Cardinals to a pair of national titles in 2013 and ‘14. Her accomplishments garnered notice from Florida State University, where she accepted a scholarship and went on to earn first-team All-ACC honors as a junior and second-team as a senior this year.

Her standout career at Florida State was enough for the Liberty to make her the No. 12 overall pick in the draft this spring. Although her on-court impact with the team has been limited to 22 minutes over six games on a veteran squad, Bulgak credits the wisdom of her coaches and teammates with helping her adapt to the WNBA and is grateful for the opportunities she has earned along the way.

“All my life, I’ve had to work for what I want,” Bulgak said, “And that just makes it more satisfying to be where I am now because I earned it, and it wasn’t given to me.”