Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Deng Gak was stunned when the voice on the other end of the phone belonged to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“It’s pretty surreal when Coach K calls you,” the 6-foot-10, 205-pound Gak said.
Coach K called Gak on Thursday to extend a scholarship offer to the forward from Blair (N.J.) Academy and the PSA Cardinals.
“Obviously he is excited about Duke’s offer but it only means that they believe in his potential,” Blair coach Joe Mantegna said. “Deng needs to still be about the process of daily improvement regardless of who offers.”
The Duke head man had called PSA Cardinals director Terrance “Munch” Williams earlier this week to check on Gak, big man Mohamed Bamba and point guard Quade Green. Bamba holds a Duke offer, while Green does not.
“He said he thinks I have a huge upside and that he thinks I fit their system greatly,” Gak said of Coach K.
Duke’s Jeff Capel, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith all saw the Cardinals at the recent Nike stop in Brooklyn.
Scheyer also stopped in to Blair last fall to see Gak, who was born in Egypt but lived almost his entire life in Australia.
“Deng is a very skilled and versatile big who proceses the game at a high level and has already at age 17 played on the global stage,” Mantegnasaid this fall. “He is one of the highest-upside guys we have ever had at Blair. As importantly, he is a high-character, good teammate who comes from an academically-oriented family as well. The sky is the limit as he gets stronger, more assertive, and adjusts to the different way the game is played in the U.S.”
Mantegna previously coached current Miami Heat and former Duke wing Luol Deng at Blair, and both Deng and Gak are of Dinka descent.
“A contact in Australia brought him to my attention,” Mantegna said of Gak. “We connected this summer when Luol and I were in Australia running clinics.”
Gak chose Blair in part because of the Deng connection.
“I’ve spoken to [Luol Deng] heaps about his time at Blair,” Gak told Australian writer Olgun Uluc. “It’s huge because he’s also Sudanese, so he’s pretty much been through the same stuff I’ve been through, and am currently going through. He’s definitely somebody I look up to.”
Gak played on the Australian U19 team last summer, averaging 4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks as a starter when the team finished seventh at the FIBA U19 World Championship.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.