Let’s start with your background Deng, what brought you to the US?
Deng Gak: I was born in Egypt and then moved to Australia. I pretty much grew up there. Luol Deng came over to Australia somewhere around 2013, and there was a tournament going on. He saw me then. We kept in touch and he got me in contact with Coach Mantegna because he had been to Blair Academy before. Then we pretty much spoke until I felt like I was ready to come.
I was always really tall so I played basketball and my Uncle, he played at Oklahoma, told me that me and my brother should play and that would be good. Luol and I have spoke a little bit about going to Blair years ago, probably three years ago. Every now and then we talk, he knew my Uncle a little bit and he had played with them so they kinda knew each other and were friends. He thought it would be great for me to come here and play for Blair. He lately just asks me how I’m doing and he tells me to keep working and to listen to Coach Mantegna since he’s one of the best high school coaches in the country. I’ve really learned a lot from Coach.
Have you always been a guy who played down around the block in a power forward/center role?
I really like playing anywhere. I like doing everything on the court pretty much. I’m good at a lot of different things. I’m not a great post player, I’m not a great player on the wing, I’m just good at everything which I think makes me a good player.
So this past season at Blair Academy, how did the coaching staff utilize you?
I did a lot of posting up for my team because it was easier for me to do that in some games. Then when we were playing in ranked games like against St Benedict’s and Montverde and stuff, that’s when I would use different aspects of my game like my shooting ability and I would post up if I had smaller guys on me. On defense, he didn’t mind if I switched onto guards, but he wanted me also being around the paint and getting rebounds and stuff like that.
How about with the PSA Cardinals this spring, what kind of role you are playing alongside Mohamed Bamba?
I’m still kinda figuring it with playing with Mohamed but man, playing with Mohamed is really cool. He’s the best player in the country, but Coach Munch from PSA is really just telling me to get comfortable in playing AAU with them, so my first session wasn’t the best but we knew it wouldn’t be that good and we knew we’d be waiting for me to get comfortable and find my rhythm. I think next week I’ll be more aggressive and will hopefully play more minutes and rebound more and get up and down. This is the first time I’ve been able to get to know Mohamed which is cool, we really respect each other and I’ve learned a lot from him and he learns from me. He’s always giving me tips in the game and he’s always real helpful with other guys. He’s learning from me too so I feel like we really complement each other well.
We’re really good passers and we find each other inside and we both can shoot, so we don’t mind who goes in the high post and who goes down low. Even though like on defense we’re learning each other, we have the same mindset and it works in the team, which is why I think PSA brought us together to play.
When you think about your projected role in college, do you think you want to play more of a power forward type role or more of a center type role?
I think I would like to play that power forward role because while I’m naturally skinny and am working on that, I’m very quick on my feet, I have nice footwork, so I think I’ll be playing more of a power forward role in college.
With your footwork on the court, has that always come naturally to you as a player, or has that been something you have worked on a lot in your skill development process?
Man, me and my brother played soccer all the time when we grew up, like we would literally play all day, every day when we were growing up. So I think it just translated into our basketball games because we were light on our feet and we could do quick spins and other stuff that I’ve never really worked on but I can do because I think it came naturally from playing soccer for so long.
This past high school season what were your averages for scoring and rebounding and blocked shots?
I was averaging 17 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks a game I think it was. It was a good season, obviously I want to get better next season though.
Who is helping you with your recruiting process at this point?
Coach Mantegna definitely, my older brother, my Uncle and my parents. Even though they aren’t in the states, they communicate with me. My uncle is really helping me a lot. I haven’t gone on any visits yet and my brother hasn’t committed yet either, so he just tells us to enjoy the process, play hard in AAU and really enjoy it, just don’t think about it that much. When the time comes he tells me I’ll be there to help you, but right now just focus on getting better.
So which college programs are you currently speaking with?
I’m speaking with Indiana, Miami, Florida, Alabama, Kansas, and Connecticut. Louisville recently showed interest, and Duke is still showing interest. That’s about it.
How far back does the Duke interest go with you?
Around October/November last year. Coach Scheyer is good friends with Coach Mantegna, so he came down and watched one of my games, then he started speaking to me and then he came down for one of my practices. He was at some of my AAU games this past weekend. He tells me to keep working hard and keep listening and keep trying to learn as a player and work on things you aren’t good at.
Has Coach Scheyer discussed with you whether they are thinking about you for a potential scholarship offer in the future?
Yeah, he says they are evaluating. He was saying that he wants Coach K to come down to try and see me in a game and then see what happens from there.
What are your thoughts on the Duke program now that they are showing some interest in you?
They are obviously great. Coach K is one of the best of all time, and it’s a great program for sure.
So if Duke offers in the future, how do you think you would feel about that?
Yeah I definitely would be considering that as one of the top schools in my mind f they offered. Look at the coaching staff there, it’s amazing and you look at Cameron Indoor Stadium like when you are young, it’s just somewhere where you would like to be.
What are your thoughts on Duke recruiting you and Mohamed and Quade Green?
It’s really great, it just shows that we’re one of the best teams in the country because we just have fun.
You mentioned your Uncle is looking at doing visits in the future, are there any that are in active planning at this point?
Not right now, probably halfway through the AAU season or something. I don’t have any visits planned right now.