When Scout extends its 2019 rankings in the coming weeks, on the list will be Majok Deng, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound wing from Tucson (Ariz.) Salpointe.
While it will be a list filled with talented prospects, it very likely won’t include a kid who has overcome more adversity to make it than Deng.
The sophomore grew up in war-torn South Sudan and playing basketball wasn’t much of an option.
“There was no basketball,” Deng said. “There’s hunger and nothing to do. The best thing we did was play soccer but it was always interrupted by guns. We couldn’t be outside for too long.”
One day, Deng, his mother and two brothers marched from South Sudan to a refugee camp in Kenya where they lived for years until they were approved by the United States to move to America and receive asylum in Tucson.
Deng’s father stayed behind, as did an older brother and grandmother.
“My grandma said no, she said she would rather die where she was born,” Deng said.
After arriving in Tucson in January of 2011, Deng lost track of his father and eventually received the news he was dreading about his grandmother.
“I went about three years without knowing where my dad was,” he said. “We finally found him and we’re trying to get him a visa to come here. I found out my grandma died; she was burned in the war three years ago.”
Deng’s mother now works in Tucson at a grocery store while Majok spends his life trying to use basketball to make his family’s future a little different than its past.
“I’m trying to be the first person in my family to make it through college and then ultimately take care of my family,” Deng said.
The good news for Deng is that as a prospect, he’s well on his way. He’s got good size at 6-foot-5, very long arms, is an explosive athlete, has a level 10 motor, can defend multiple positions, rebounds outside his area, has a nice feel as a passer and has a smooth stroke.
What separates Deng above everything else is how hard he plays every second he’s on the court.
“I approach every play like it’s my last play,” he said. “Every second I’m on the court I’m going to approach it like it’s my last.”
As of now, Deng is an easy high major prospect and colleges are taking notice.
It’s been a long time since the city of Tucson has had a prospect as good as Deng and the sophomore is hoping for the opportunity to stay home for college.
“Arizona is my dream school and hopefully they will come by,” he said. “I talked to one of their coaches last week. I know it’s still early and I would love to stay home but at this point I want to go out there and explore.
“Best case I want to stay home but if it’s not the best fit for me then I’ll leave. Arizona is home. I know Sean Miller is a great coach. If I go there, God willing, I’ll be home.”
But Deng isn’t waiting for Arizona and already has several other opportunities. During a trip to Tempe for the Sun Devils Elite Camp in August, he picked up a scholarship offer from Arizona State.
“I know a lot about them,” Deng said. “Coach Bobby Hurley is a great energy coach and I would love to play for an energy team. What I’m known for is energy and I’d like to go somewhere that plays the same way. They have great, outgoing coaches. Coach Hurley wants a kid from Arizona and that could be me.”
Saben Lee, an AAU teammate of Deng’s with Arizona Powerhouse, is committed to Vanderbilt. That connection brought the Commodores - as well as Pepperdine - to Tucson on Tuesday to watch Deng and pick up their recruitment of him.
“A school like Vanderbilt is a great school and I’m sure if I step in there, I can bring energy to them,” Deng said. “I know it’s a really good academic school. Saben Lee told me it’s a great place. I look up to him and him being at Vanderbilt is big. Right now I love Vanderbilt.”
Deng’s list of options is only going to grow before it gets smaller. His recruitment will eventually become more serious, but until then he’s going to focus on his goals of helping his family though an education.
“It’s very early for me,” he said. “I’m just worried about classwork and improving. (Salpointe) Coach (Brian) Holstrom keeps telling me don’t worry about anything but my grades right now and that’s what I’m doing.”