TAVARES – Comparatively speaking, adjusting to basketball in the United States was a breeze compared to close encounters with mathematics. Given the choice, Deng Adel (6-7, 197, Melbourne, Australia/Bradenton, FL Victory Rock Christian) would rather take his chances with anyone on the basketball court or biology rather than endure one more math test.
"Biology and I are friends," Adel said Saturday evening after helping to lead Florida Elite past Texas D1 Ambassadors at the adidas Gauntlet Orlando event, held at The Big House facility in Tavares. "Math and I … not so good friends."
But he is very good friends with basketball. A 2015 senior at Victory Rock Christian School in Bradenton who has become a top recruiting target for Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators, Adel's journey to America began in Sudan. His family immigrated to Australia and that's where he began playing basketball and became good friends with fellow Sudanese Mangok Mathiang, who will be a redshirt sophomore at Louisville next season.When Mathiang came to the US, his first high school stop was Brehm Prep in Carbondale, Illinois (finished at IMG Academy). He played AAU ball for Chicago-based Mean Streets and Loren Jackson, now the head coach at Victory Rock Christian in Bradenton.
The Mathiang-Jackson connection was so strong that when Adel elected to follow Mathiang to the US to further his basketball career, he chose Victory Rock Christian where Jackson has been the head coach for the last year.
The cultural adjustment to Bradenton was relatively easy. He already knew English so that wasn't a problem and while the food in the US is different it's not a wholesale departure from what he finds back home in Melbourne, Australia where his parents, three sisters and older brother live.
The biggest adjustment was the speed and physicality of basketball in the United States.
"The game is so much faster," Adel said. "Lots more athletes here. In Australia it's a lot easier to score than it is here. Over here they don't let you shoot and score easily. The game is much more physical, too."
The physical aspects of the game continue to be the biggest challenge. He's a sinewy 187 pounds stretched over a very long 6-7 frame that threatens to grow even longer – "I think he's got two more inches in him," Jackson said Saturday while watching his protégé lead Florida Elite to victory.
Typically he eats five times a day and nearly every day he's in the weight room. That should add weight and strength that will help with some of the physical aspects, but there is one more thing he needs according to Jackson. "Toughness," Jackson said. "He's got the skill level it's going to take but he's got to get a lot tougher."
The toughness will come. He's not getting any free passes, at least at this AAU tournament where there is far more contact than there are whistles.
Meanwhile, he's putting together a complete game. Saturday night, he showed he is capable of getting his own shot from the wing, once with a nice crossover move, a second with a step back behind the 3-point line after setting up the defender with a jab step and a head fake. Both times he buried the 3-pointer with a nice looking jump shot that still needs some work to put a little more arc under the ball.
On the defensive end, he showed nice anticipation as he used his long arms to get into the passing lane and good footwork as he handled the rotations fairly well. It's obvious that moving his feet on defense isn't quite at the instinctive level just yet, but there was no lack of effort or hustle.
His overall assessment of his game: "My ball handling has to improve. My shot keeps improving but I have to learn to be more patient. I have to get a lot stronger."
Jackson's assessment: "He's going to play on the wing either as a two or a three at the next level. He's very coachable and he's got a nice skill level but he's got to become a better ball handler. He's getting better every day but that's the one thing that needs the most work. He's got a good basketball IQ. He's got good range at both ends of the court but he's got to get better at moving his feet on defense and dealing with the physicality of the game.
Relatively unknown until the last three or four months, now Adel is hearing from nearly every Division I school out there but three really stand out – Louisville, Florida and Connecticut.
Asked about recruiting, Adel shrugged and said, "I really haven't thought enough about it. My coach and I are still researching schools. Nothing has been decided yet."
He did comment about Louisville, Florida and UConn, though.
LOUISVILLE: "They have a good coach and a good style of play. I like they way they run up and down all the time."
FLORIDA: "It is an excellent school. Their coach is also very good. They always have a very good team."
UCONN: "They won the national championship. I like the way they play, too."