As Louisville heads into the 2022-2023 basketball season, let’s take a travel back in time to when former legendary Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino landed two special young talents, who did not have the typical upbringing of the average recruit. These two were forced to be international nomads looking for stability, and ultimately found rest in the game of basketball. The very game that would change their lives forever and unite them as brothers.
If you haven’t figured out who these two players are by now, they are none other than Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang. Mathiang was the first of the two to come to the University of Louisville, debuting for the Cardinals in the 2012-2013 season. He was a part of the magical season that the Cardinals made it to the NCAA Championship game and won the tournament defeating the Michigan Wolverines.
However the most magic is found in the stories of these two men who found a path to success exchanging poverty and isolation for community and praise. This is the story of how Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang became Louisville Cardinals.
The Story of Mangok Mathiang
Originally, Mangok (pronounced MANGO, like the fruit) was born in what is now southern Sudan but was forced to flee the country amidst the Second Sudanese Civil War. Mathiang and his family found their way to Egypt where they stayed for two years. But unfortunately, his father did not make the trip with them.
After two years, Mangok and his family fled to Melbourne, Australia where there was a large community of Sudanese refugees through which he found the game of basketball. Not only did he find the game of basketball but he found a fellow friend and someone who became his “family” in fellow athlete Deng Adel. This community is where he developed his love for basketball, which ultimately led him to Bradenton, Florida to attend IMG Academy where he lived in Coach Loren Jackson’s basement.
Coach Jackson, the Head Coach at IMG Academies from 2010-2013, has a reputation for recruiting players from overseas and turning them into players worthy of a Division I scholarship. This is exactly what happened with Mangok. He developed into a quality player and committed to the University of Louisville in 2012.
The commitment to Louisville was largely due to the great relationship that Coach Jackson had with Coach Pitino. The two had known each other for over 30 years since he attended the Five Star Basketball Camps where Pitino had been a counselor.
The Story of Deng Adel
Like his teammate Mangok, Deng was originally born in Sudan and fled the country due to war. He was forced to leave the country fatherless, just like Mathiang, and he and his family fled to a refugee camp in Uganda. After a short stint there, him and his family made their way to Melbourne, Australia where he found the same community of Sudanese refugees.
This is where Adel was introduced to the game of basketball and unbeknownst to him at the time, the game that would change the course of his life. This game also introduced him to Mangok Mathiang and a relationship between the two that was akin to brothers because they are five years apart.
Much like Mangok, Deng made his way to Bradenton, Florida and lodged in Coach Jackson’s basement. However, Adel went to Victory Rock Prep, which Jackson founded in 2013. Adel was a member of the 2015 class and would ultimately commit to Louisville due to the relationship that Jackson had with the Louisville staff and the presence of Mathiang.
These two had almost identical paths to Louisville but yet are so unique. In his bio on the University of Louisville website, Mathiang stated that the person he would like to meet the most is his father. That’s a heartbreaking statement when you sit and think about that. In Adel’s bio, he says the person he is most proud of is his little brother.
From those two answers, you can discern that these two answers are not the average answers to those questions. They are both family oriented and having been through poverty, persecution, and multiple re-locations at such a young age shows that their maturity level matches their athletic abilities if not exceeds it.
What a pleasure it was to have these two men don a Louisville Cardinals jersey.