Mystery man Mathiang ready to help Cards

The mystery man for the University of Louisville basketball team next season will be freshman big man Mangok Mathiang. The 6-foot-10 center sat out this season but was able to practice with the Cardinals. He's expected to be a major role player during the 2013-14 season for Louisville.

University of Louisville freshman center Mangok Mathiang attended the recent Kentucky Derby Festival Classic basketball game with several teammates.

Mathiang sat on press row and when he stood up to leave at the end of the game, several fans just behind him started chanting, "One more year."

He just laughed it off as the fans thought he was Gorgui Dieng.

"It happens all the time," Mathiang said.

Every since Mathiang, who was able to practice but not play this past season, stepped on campus he's been confused for Dieng, who is leaving U of L after his junior season to put his name in the NBA Draft.

"Everywhere we went they called him Gorgui," the real Dieng said. "I just told him not to do anything stupid."

The 6-foot-10, 200-pound native of Sudan won't be confused for Dieng next season, Mathiang will be one of the guys in the middle for the Cardinals.

Coming off a third national title in school history, Mathiang will have to play a key role for Louisville during the 2013-14 season. He'll be one of several players, including Stephan Van Treese and Zach Price that will be counted on man the middle and help offset the loss of Dieng.

"Mangok had a chance to sit out and practice with us for the whole season," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "We couldn't have recruited a 6-10 or 6-11 as good as Mangok after a year of practice. He's improved a lot."

A late signee last summer, Mathiang came from IMG Academy in Florida and was a virtual unknown in recruiting circles.

Mathiang picked U of L over Kansas State, Georgia, Mississippi State, Auburn and Central Michigan but wasn't eligible to play this season at U of L.

"I've improved a lot," Mathiang said after the NCAA title game. "Practice really helped me, playing against Gorgui all the time. I'm excited for next season."

Van Treese, who will be a senior next season for the Cardinals, said Mathiang has "come a long way" since arriving on campus last summer.

"I think he surprised even coach at how good he was," Van Treese said. "He's real athletic, long and blocks shots really well. He's so quick off the bounce. He just has to gain a little more weight."

Pitino said he came in raw but after two months had "already put on so much weight and strength," that he was "looking like he's chiseled out of stone."

"He's nothing like he was when he first got here," Pitino said. "He's a great runner and a very quick jumper. When we run sprints, Peyton (Siva) and Mangok win them. He has a great future because of the way he moves."

Mathiang is a long way from war-torn Sudan where he was born. He was five when his family – four sisters and one brother – moved to Egypt. His father, Alfret, stayed behind but his mother, Grace, moved the family.

"I'm a momma's boy," Mathiang said. "She raised me on her own and has been there for me through a lot of tough times. When I need anyone to talk too, she is always there for me. We are very close."

But the family soon moved to Australia, landing in Sydney before moving to Melbourne. He said he didn't like basketball until he was about 16 years old when he was encouraged to give it a try because of his height.

"I loved playing football," he said.

But it was basketball that brought him to the states. Mathiang had several folks help him come to the U.S. where he initially landed at Brehm Prep School in Illinois before ending up at IMG Academy for a season.

Now, Mathiang is on the verge of being a major player for the defending national champions Cardinals.

"I love it here," he said. "When I first saw Louisville play (when he was at IMG), my friends said, ‘You look like Gorgui' and I was like, ‘Who is Gorgui?' After they went to the Final Four (in 2012), I was home in Australia watching and my brother said, ‘That dude plays just like you'. "

Not long after that Mathiang picked up an offer from Louisville and now instead of being confused for Dieng, he's going to replace him.

"I'm excited," Mathiang said. "Very excited."

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