U of L hoops feature: Mangok Mathiang

The first in a series of stories published by Cardinal Authority on individual members of the University of Louisville basketball team. The first feature looks at redshirt freshman Mangok Mathiang.

His name is pronounced "Mango." Not "MAN-go," or "Man-GOK," or "MON-go."

It's just "Mango," like the fruit.

People have always had a hard time pronouncing the name of University of Louisville redshirt freshman Mangok Mathiang. In fact, the African-born, Australian-raised center accepted the pronunciation to make it easier on others.

"I'm from Africa," Mathiang said before he laughs. "Everybody knows that African's have hard names (to pronounce).

"My parents, everyone who speaks my tribal language, they called me ‘MON-gock,' which is my tribal name. But then when I moved from Africa to Australia, it just became so hard for people to pronounce my name, so ‘Mango' just kind of stuck on me."

"Even my mom, she calls me ‘Mango' now."

While there may be debates over how to pronounce his name, there's never been any question about Mathiang's skills on the basketball court. As a high school senior in 2010-2011, Mathiang moved from Australia to the United Sates to play one season at Carbondale, Ill., Brehm Prep, where he earned a reputation as a stellar shot-blocker.

Following his senior season, Mathiang played an extra year of prep ball at Florida's IMG Academy. He averaged 12 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks at IMG while helping his team to a 28-2 record. His performance was outstanding enough to draw him scholarship offers from not only Louisville, but the likes of Kansas State, Auburn, Mississippi State and others.

Mathiang redshirted his first season as a Cardinal, but was able to practice with the team for the entire year. Watching from the sidelines as his teammates won a national title made him hungry.

"There were times (last season) when I would work my butt off in practice, and then I'd go back to the room and be like ‘Wow, I'm working this hard and I'm not even playing, I don't get to do anything in the games,'" Mathiang admitted.

"But then there were times when I'd be like ‘You know what, this is for a good cause. I'm sitting out, I'm learning a lot and my time will come.'"

"And this year, my time is here and I'm excited. I'm ready to give the team all I've got."

Although Mathiang is willing to admit that sitting out wasn't always fun, he does say that the redshirt year was helpful in preparing him to contribute.

"(The redshirt year) gave me time to actually pick up Coach (Rick Pitino's) system," Mathiang said, "And to get used to the speed of the game. Where I'm from in Australia, we play basketball very fundamentally. Everything is very slow. Over here, everything is so fast."

The year off also gave Mathiang the opportunity to learn from upperclassmen- especially center Gorgui Dieng, a first-round pick in the June NBA Draft.

Dieng, like Mathiang, was born and raised abroad before coming to America to play prep school basketball and ultimately become a Cardinal.

Mathiang says the he has learned a lot from Dieng, and that making friends with the 2013 Big East Defensive Player of the Year has helped him on a regular basis.

"If I'm having a hard time, I always call Gorgui," Mathiang said. "He's always there, because he's been through this road before.

"I talk to him about his workouts (with the Minnesota Timberwolves), I talk to him about my workouts. He's like my older brother. He's had me under his wing since I got here. He's looked after me a lot. I appreciate everything he's done for me."

On the court, fans are hoping that the 6-foot-10, 200-pound Mathiang will be able to fill the big shoes left by Dieng's early exit to the professional ranks.

His teammates are confident that, in time, Mathiang will be able to do just that and possibly even more- raving of the big man's athleticism and work ethic.

"Mangok is going to be very good," said junior forward Wayne Blackshear. "He knows the system enough to fill that void that Gorgui left, and he's been doing well so far.

"He's more athletic than Gorgui, maybe a little quicker than him, too."

"(Mathiang) has the ability to bring what Gorgui (brought to the team)," said sophomore power forward Montrezl Harrell. "With the way he works, he could be (the caliber player that) Gorgui was."

After sitting out all of last year, Mathiang still has four years of eligibility with the Cardinals. The time for Mathiang to step up and offer the team big minutes may not be this season, but the big man understands what he has to do to eventually play a key role.

"All coach P told me was that if you come out and play hard, and give me all you've got, then there's going to be no problem," Mathiang said.

"Everyday we come out and play, and if all you've got in your mind is to get the W and play for your team, then there won't be any problems at all."

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