Disappointment. Worry. Those are just a couple of adjectives to describe the state of the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball program upon finding out that they would be without yet another frontcourt player in each of the past two seasons.
He had already redshirted his freshman year in the 2017-2018 season, as he watched coach Jim Larrañaga and his team tie for third place in the ACC standings from the sidelines of the Watsco Center. Part of that journey involved a 91-88 upset celebration over No. 9 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Having not even played 30 percent of the Canes’ scheduled games over the past two seasons, redshirt junior forward Deng Gak looks to have his first, and perhaps most important winter of his UM career. Redshirt senior forward Sam Waardenburg will be sidelined for the season with a foot injury suffered in practice back at the end of October.
Last season, the 6-foot-11 forward originally from Sydney, Australia had his second-consecutive season cut short due to a right knee injury. The year before, it was his left knee that kept him out of the rotation.
Gak, a former four-star recruit that also visited Kansas and Florida on his recruiting road, only played in the team’s first competitions last winter.
He, along with sophomore forward Anthony Walker and freshman forward Matt Cross, will be relied upon to fill in for in for one of Miami’s most experienced defenders. Unlike Cross and Walker, however, Larrañaga will have the option to utilize Gak at the four or five slots on the floor.
“It was really a battle between Sam, Anthony Walker, Matt Cross, and Deng Gak for the starting power forward position,” said Larrañaga on the team’s power forward position availability prior to Waardenburg’s injury. “It’s very nice having Deng Gak back, because Deng can play both the four the four and the five.”
After over a year since he last suited up against the University of Connecticut in the Charleston Classic, Gak will at last do just that against the North Florida Ospreys tonight at the Watsco Center. He only averaged 1.7 points and two rebounds per game, as he will look to have an increased role for Larrañaga and the Canes.
Gak will likely start off the team’s non-conference schedule coming off of the bench, with plenty of time to prove that he can provide physicality and much needed rebounding this season.