Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike
While he wanted to shine personally on the NBA stage to show that’s where he belongs, Majok Deng’s focus was on the bigger picture, wanting to represent the NBL and Adelaide 36ers proudly with the ultimate goal of finishing his third season with a championship. Mission accomplished.
Deng’s ultimate goal is to reach the NBA and he has all the tools to be able to do that moving forward, but for Majok Deng he is focused on helping the 36ers cover the absence of Mitch Creek and to get over the hump and win a title.
Deng is preparing for his third season in the NBL coming out of Louisiana-Monroe and it’s hard to deny that the 25-year-old has all the tools to join Australia’s growing contingent of players in the NBA.
With his height, length, wingspan, athleticism, shooting ability, rebounding prowess and a knack of blocking big shots and getting in the passing lanes, there’s little Deng can’t do and all he needs is to continue to grow and develop.
From where he was at the start of his first NBL season in Adelaide to the end of last season where he took on a significant role come Grand Final time once Josh Childress went down injured, he has developed greatly and that NBA dream is getting closer and closer.
Now with Mitch Creek moving on from the 36ers to chase his own NBA dream, Deng is looking to build further on the way he finished the last NBL season and by improving his own production, he will in turn hope it leads the Sixers to earning another shot at the title.
“I was pretty happy that I got the chance late last season and the coach always says to stay ready and wait for your number to be called. He always believed that I could play at a high level and I have all the self-belief in myself and I was ready when my number was called,” Deng said.
“I was happy to be able to play well and provide what the team needed, and everything was working out pretty well. I was pretty happy for myself with my performance towards the end of the season.
“This is my third year and I should be expecting to be even better. I’ve got my goals and with the amount of work that I put in I am getting better as a player all the time.
“I should be expecting a couple of things to keep improving and with Mitch going it increases a lot of other chances too. Things I wasn’t going to get, I might be able to get now too which is good and I’m all looking forward to doing whatever it takes to help my team win.”
This past off-season didn’t quite work out for him due to an ankle injury but Deng was looking forward to showing what he’s capable of when the 36ers join in the NBLxNBA action by playing the Utah Jazz.
While he saw it as a chance to impress personally, Deng also has an eye on the bigger picture knowing that when the Sixers hit the floor in Salt Lake City that they were representing the NBL and Australian basketball in general.
“It was another chance to just go in there and do what I do best and hope to wait and see what happens, but I hope I show something of what I can do and hopefully some people take notice,” Deng said.
“It’s pretty exciting to be part of something like that and it’s something we have been wanting to do and it was a good chance to see where we are really at.
“The first thing was that we were just there to represent our organisation and our club, and then the whole NBL and to show that the NBL is a legit league and we can play with anybody, and all of Australian basketball.
“All the teams went over with a purpose and that’s to prove that Australian basketball is up there with all the best leagues in the world.”
With the momentum he finished the last NBL season with as the Sixers went heartbreakingly close to breaking through for a championship losing to Melbourne United in five games of the Grand Final Series, Deng was looking forward to shining at the NBA Summer League.
But ultimately an ankle injury suffered in the SEABL for Mount Gambier denied him the chance to show what he was capable of.
While that was frustrating and it delayed his NBA dream at least another 12 months, he knows that if he focuses on improving further this NBL season in Adelaide, he’ll be even more ready for the 2019 Summer League.
“I was excited after the season about the whole thing and my body was pretty healthy, but it then took kind of a wrong turn in the SEABL when I did my ankle and it kind of never went away,” Deng said.
“I was doing a lot of things that I really wasn’t supposed to be doing so I could keep pushing myself to get to where I want to get to.
“But that’s not an excuse or anything like that, I just realised that it wasn’t the right time and that everything happens for a reason. I’m just waiting for that chance and hopefully next year it will be the time for me.
“It’s very frustrating knowing that’s what we are all working towards and if you are playing basketball for your career, then it should be your dream to get into the NBA. It definitely is my goal and when you have those goals and your body doesn’t let you achieve that it’s frustrating.
“But I do believe that everything happens for a reason and even though it’s annoying your body doesn’t let you do what you are supposed to at that time of the year so you can show yourself to the world what you can do. But I hope I get to do that next year now.”
While there has been some changes with the Sixers over the off-season with the departures of Creek, Childress, Matt Hodgson and Shannon Shorter, and arrivals of Adris Deleon, Jacob Wylie, Harry Froling and Jack McVeigh.
That has led to an impressive pre-season campaign for the 36ers who went through the NBL Blitz undefeated and now head to Utah with confidence, but Deng knows improving at this time of the year is more important than results.
“It does give us confidence just within ourselves because we believe in our group and we know we were one game short last season, and we want to take that one step forward,” he said.
“That’s our goal in the long run but we just have to take it day by day for now, and improve on all the little things that we need to so we have a chance to do that.
“It’s always good to win some games and we all look like we’ve been together for a while, including the two new Australians and two new imports in the team. They have blended in pretty quick and have adapted to the system already.
“That’s a credit to our coaches for putting us in a position to win and they trust us in our roles, and for us to do our part. The wins are only pre-season and at the end of the day we haven’t got any wins this season so we don’t want to get too high on that.
“We just want to stay focused on keeping on moving forward to keep getting better. We still have a long way to go but so far we look like we’re ahead of time so that’s good to know.”
In Deng’s first two NBL seasons he has been part of an Adelaide team that claimed the 2016/17 regular season championship before losing in three games of the semi finals to the Illawarra Hawks before losing to Melbourne in five games of the Grand Final Series last season.
While Deng has been bemused that the Sixers don’t seem to be getting rated too highly coming into #NBL19, he doesn’t believe the team needs any more motivation than what naturally exists to get that elusive championship after being so close the last two years.
“Either way you should be motivated to try to beat anybody and win the championship so we’re all motivated to do that,” Deng said.
“Winning the championship is everybody’s goal and it shouldn’t really matter what anybody else thinks. It’s just up to us individually to put it together and we should be able to accomplish that, and what motivates us is trying to win championships.
“We all want to get back to where we were last year and then try to take things up a notch further. As of right now, a lot of people don’t believe that we can be that same team because we’ve lost Mitch Creek, Childress and Hodgson.
“Everything is thinking we’re not capable of making the playoffs or back to the finals so there’s a little room right there where we feel we can prove to everybody that we can still play at the high level and get back to where we were.
“I still believe we are a great team and that we can play with anybody in the league, and I’m confident we can beat anybody in the league.”