CHICAGO — Deng Adel has only been in the United States for a year or so, but the 6-foot-7 Class of 2015 wing is already acclimating well to the American style of play and lifestyle.
Basketball wasn’t even Adel’s first sport — that would be soccer — but now through hard work and skill development, basketball has given the native of South Sudan — by way of Australia — a chance to play at Louisville.
“I was born in South Sudan and then I moved to Australia in 2004 and lived there for about 10 years then came here. I used to play soccer though, I wasn’t really into basketball,” Adel told NBCSports.com. “But I moved locations and the only people I would hang around with played basketball, so I just kind of changed sports.”
Basketball now takes up so much of Adel’s time that he could barely watch the World Cup, as he instead travels the country playing in basketball camps and tournaments. Instead of soccer highlights, he watches YouTube videos of NBA greats to study new moves.
Deng admitted the transition to the United States hasn’t been easy, but he’s making it happen through hard work.
“It’s been good. The speed is a lot different over here and there’s a lot more athletes. So I have to adjust to that,” Adel said. “I always wanted to play college basketball and I felt that coming here earlier would get me the exposure I needed to really land at a good school.”
Leaving Australia meant Adel going without his family and friends — the friends that introduced him to his new love of basketball — but it also meant that he’s now in position to play for a national championship-winning coach in Rick Pitino at Louisville. That kind of opportunity drives Deng to be at his best on a day-to-day basis.
“It was hard. Right now, I miss my family, but I know that it’s better for me to be here and get this exposure and have the opportunity for me to go to college,” Adel said. They understand what I’m trying to do, but at the same time, it was really hard.
“Just the guys that played basketball with me led to me watching college basketball, and from there, that’s what I wanted to do: go to college and get an education. Getting an education is the most important thing to me and my family. But basketball gives me the chance to go to college.”
The transition will be a bit easier for Adel because he is cousins with current Louisville center Mangok Mathiang. Mathiang, like Adel, is another Sudo-Aussie and transitioned from playing under high school coach Loren Jackson to Louisville.
Jackson has coached a couple of Sudanese transplants into college basketball, including Mathiang and former DePaul forward Mac Koshwal, but Adel is more of a wing player.
“I think he’s a Luol Deng that can really put the ball on the floor a little bit better. That’s kind of who I compare him to,” Jackson told NBCSports.com. “Maybe at the next level he can play two-guard. I play him at the two-guard so he can handle and read ball screens and show a lot of versatility. He posts up, he fills the lanes, he shows coming off of ball screens. We’re just trying to make him a complete player.”
Now that Adel is in America, it’s basketball all the time. In Australia, Adel didn’t get basketball on television as much as he would have liked, but it’s different now that’s he’s here. His basketball dreams are coming true very, very quickly.
“You don’t really get a chance to watch it over there; they don’t show basketball on TV as much,” Adel said. “Guys that played basketball, I just kind of did what they did. And then March Madness started…”
Adel smiles as his past thoughts of the NCAA Tournament trail off. College basketball wasn’t prevalent in Australia, but soon Adel will have the chance to make his own NCAA Tournament at Louisville.