Editor’s note: As the season approaches, our Silver Screen and Roll staff is about to take a closer look at all the players on the Lakers for an update on things we may have forgotten during the quarantine. Think of this as the 30-second clip that reminds you of what happened during the current season of your favorite TV show that arrives right before the start of the last episode. Today, let’s remember what was going on Devontae Cacok.
When he was about to enter high school, if I told Devontae Cacok that one day he would play for the Los Angeles Lakers, he would have thought I was crazy.
Raised in Riverdale, Georgia, Cacok’s first love was football. He wanted to play this sport in middle school, but after he seriously injured his wrist, basketball entered the scene.
“The middle school basketball coach came up to me and asked me if I had never played before, I told him I had never played,” Cacok told Silver Screen and Roll during a recent appearance on our podcast. . “The coach said ‘you should try.'”
Cacok didn’t know it at the moment, but fate had intervened to give him a gift. Despite struggling on the pitch during his freshman season, Cacok’s appreciation for the game has grown. During the summer, his coach spent time working with Cacok, developing his skills and all around IQ on basketball to get back stronger than ever.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” said Cacok. “It strengthened me and helped me get the dog out. I started enjoying the game and taking it more seriously. “
The timing was perfect. Cacok grew seven inches as a second, giving him the physical tools he needed to match the experience he was gaining, allowing him to excel. With recruiting options limited in Riverdale, Cacok’s mother, Rose, helped him decide which was best for his future.
The family packed up and moved just over 40 miles north of Alpharetta, Georgia, prior to his junior season, something Cacok believes is essential for his success.
After the family moved, Cacok’s mother began to notice that the scouts were going out to see her son play.
“He had the talent, but being in the right place at the right time and seeing the right people to see, this made a big difference,” said Rose. “When we moved to Alpharetta, it was then that I realized that he was getting the right opportunity to expand his talent.”
The move paid dividends. Cacok started writing monstrous numbers while he was in Alpharetta high school. He racked up 22 points and 12 rebounds per game in his final year, taking the Raiders to a regional title.
Rose looks back to appreciate what basketball has given her son.
“It kept him rooted and made him very responsible,” he said. “He was very busy, being an athlete and a full-time student, while getting good grades. It takes a lot of commitment and leadership. “
Cacok’s efforts were rewarded with multiple offers from the NCAA schools, and he eventually decided to attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington, about 16 hours’ drive from Alpharetta, forcing Rose to be without her son for the first time.
“It was very difficult when he left, it was very difficult,” he said. “His room was on the other side of the house, so once he was gone, I tried very hard not to go that part of our place. But I knew he had to spread his wings, it was an excellent opportunity. “
During his freshman at UNC Wilmington, Cacok had to start over. Under then-coach Kevin Keatts, he played just over 9 minutes per game, averaging 3.3 points.
Keatts saw the potential in Cacok and took the time to help grow his game. When CB McGrath took over as Seahawks manager, Cacok made sure to give him a great first impression by entering his second season. He worked all summer with the strength and conditioning coach to gain 30 kilos before his second season.
He was rewarded with a huge increase in minutes in 2016-17. Cacok played 25.9 minutes per game, racking up 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds. His mother used to make the trip to see him play whenever he could.
“Seeing him play on every level was just amazing,” said Rose. “I did my best to make any game I could be in.”
Cacok continued to improve. He averaged 17.7 points, shooting 58.5% off the field during his junior season, and led the NCAA to rebound with 13.5 rebounds per game. He followed with an important year, but was not too high for his chances of being chosen at the 2019 NBA Draft.
“I was hoping it could happen, but my agent kept my sincerity with me,” said Cacok. “I asked him, ‘Do you think it’s a possibility?’ He said straight away that he didn’t think it was a possibility. “
Even so, on the night of the 2019 draft, Cacok joined his mother, girlfriend and stepfather for a dinner. He knew that being selected with one of the 60 choices was a long hit, but his agent said NBA teams were interested in signing him as an unwritten free agent.
“At the end of the night, my agent called me to tell me that the Lakers want to offer me Annex 10 (contract),” said Cacok. “After that, I called my trainer and went straight to the gym. I finally had an opportunity, and it was all I needed. “
Cacok played for the Lakers in the NBA Summer League, and was assigned to the South Bay Lakers of the G League in October last year, where he put up some monstrous numbers en route to the Lakers by converting his 10 performance contract into a of their pairs of two-way contracts, which allow Cacok to spend time with the NBA team and in the G League.
But while Cacok has yet to play a single minute for the home team during a regular season game (partly due to their crowded big man rotation), he averaged 19.4 points and 11.9 rebounds out of 33 games with South Bay, good enough to be nominated for the All-NBA G League First Team and finish as one of the runners-up for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Not bad for a boy who hasn’t picked up a basketball until his eighth year.
Cacok will be part of the Lakers team that is expected to restart the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando. He thinks he understood the formula to help him sustain a career in the best basketball league in the world.
“I understand that not everyone will be the scorers (in the NBA), it’s about being a role player,” said Cacok. “In the NBA, you have two or three boys and you surround them with actors who are good at what they do. When I go out, I will make a lot of good screens, I will spin fast, I will get a lot of rebounds and I will play in defense. This is my role. “
Cacok will be one of two players (along with teammate Kostas Antetokounmpo) who have two-way contracts when he is with the Lakers in Orlando. But even though his trip to Disney World was unlikely, this isn’t a sports movie. Barring an unexpected absence, injury, or illness, Cacok is unlikely to see much time in Orlando. But just as he has done throughout his career, Cacok will remain ready to try and make an impact if he gets the chance and, regardless of that, being with superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis will give him an invaluable experience.
As her mother looks back on everything her son has accomplished, she can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride.
“I’m extremely proud, elated, I’m just happy to be here to be part of it,” said Rose. “I had a scary experience, and I wasn’t sure I would be around to see him play at this level years later. So, I am very excited and elated to see that he has come this far and will go further with his work ethic. “
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google podcast. You can listen to Jas’ whole interview with Cacok hereand follow Jas on Twitter at @ jaskang21.