Louisville is looking to put their scandal related, self-imposed sanctions behind them as they eye a return to the NCAA Tournament. Two Australian’s will be at the forefront of their charge, with 6’10 senior center and team captain Mangok Mathiang, and 6’7 sophomore forward Deng Adel set to play key roles in head coach Rick Pitino’s plans.
“Mangok has not practiced, but he is working out doing agility,” Pitino outlined to the media ahead of their first intra-team scrimmage.
“We’ve gone very slow with him to make sure he is totally confident and feels totally good about playing again mentally, especially after coming off an injury like that. But sometime next week we are probably anticipating he will practice, and it will take him 2 or 3 weeks to get into the groove and will be at full strength.”
However nobody, even Pitino is quite sure as to when Mathiang, who is expected to be the Cardinals starting center, being at 100%.
“I’d be guessing,” explained Pitino. “He has not played any basketball since last December. That being said, we don’t need Mangok right now; we’re really deep.”
While Pitino has a number of options to cover Mathiang, his Australian big man is the heart and soul of the team as their leader.
“He is an emotional leader, but he is going to be ready in 2 or 3 weeks, playing again,” added Pitino. “He won’t be 100%, but by the time we go to Atlantis he will be,”
The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament commences on 23 November, and features two other sides boasting Australians, Baylor (Jo Acuil) and Louisiana State (Duop Reath).
Mathiang also spoke to the media, explaining his return from injury could be best be described as a theme park ride.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” outlined Mathiang.
“Doctors are very confident in what I’ve got to do to stay healthy, eating-wise, to stay well-rested and just take my time with it this time and just seeing how it actually feels. Right now it feels great. I feel like right now I could go out there and participate and help out my teammates, so Coach is just ready to put me out there whenever possible.
Mathiang’s injury was to the fifth metatarsal on his left foot; the same injury suffered recently by compatriot Ben Simmons, except on the other foot.
“I guess it’s an Aussie thing,” Mathiang laughed.
Pitino continued to share his high-expectations of Adel who is entering his second season with the Cardinals.
“I think Deng is going to score a lot of points,” advised Pitino. “The last 6 years have seen us go on a great run.We don’t want to take a backward step from that.
“The number one thing we have worked on with Deng and Donovan [Mitchell] is their arc. We call it ‘Steph Curry arc’. If we get anything close to that then we’re be excited. Their arc has improved so much, their confidence has improved so much. They have shot the ball thousands and thousands of times working on this arc. They’re very dedicated basketball players, they’re gym rats. They love the game and they love the gym.”
Adel was excited about his side’s chances following the intra-team scrimmage after going head-to-head with exciting freshman VJ King.
“We have a very deep team, it’s just a matter of ‘routining’ [sic] it at practice,” shared Adel enthusiastically.
The talented swingman started for the ‘White’ team and delivered 14 points (5/11 FG) with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in a narrow 3 point loss to the ‘Red’ team. Expect Adel to be starting when their non-conference scheduled commences at home against Kentucky Wesleyan on 3 November (US time). Mathiang will surely join him in the starting lineup once he has some game time under his belt later in the year.