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Majok Majok: Melbourne's magic man

For Melbourne United's Majok Majok, Thursday night's win earned him a spot next to head coach Dean Demopoulos and in front of the cameras, in his first NBL post-game press conference. In America they call it a ‘podium game’. When a player’s influence on a ball game is so great that a place at the presser awaits. Due recognition for a job well done. “You’re king for the day, Majok” Demopoulos joked as his shy, young centre took to the NBL podium. At just 22 years old, in only his second professional season, Majok is having a massive impact on this year’s NBL. His relentless play – a style perfectly epitomising the new ‘HardBall’ slogan – has been a key element of Melbourne’s impressive 6-0 start. Amazingly, despite playing only 20 mins per game, Majok is leading the NBL in rebounds, averaging 11.3 boards per game.  He’s also starting ahead of a player, Hakim Warrick, who has played over 500 NBA games. “He’s come such a long way in a short time,” Demopoulos said after Thursday night’s win. “He’s still really young and he’s starting on a high level team in the highest level basketball league in this country. “For a young guy to just come in and hold down that position and do it with the grace and strength that this kid does it with, it’s really eye-opening and I couldn't be happier for him.” Majok, who was born in South Sudan, came to Australia as a refugee when he was nine.  He spent much of his childhood playing soccer, before picking up a basketball as a teen.  Since then, after four years in the U.S. collegiate system, the 206cm big man has developed into a valuable pro with a game based around strength, power, an incredible knack for grabbing rebounds and a high basketball IQ. The battle between Majok and Australian Boomer Nathan Jawai on Thursday night was a fascinating one. Like two rhinos locking horns, theirs was a brutal fight for territory – one that Majok arguably got the better of in the end. “[Jawai] has a really big body and we just did our best to try and keep him out of the paint,” Majok explained post-game. With import Hakim Warrick sitting out due to injury, Majok was asked to carry more offensive responsibility against the Wildcats.  He responded, scoring six of United’s first eight points, including this thunderous throw-down: Later, Majok played through foul trouble to deliver some key production down the stretch, including a crucial block on Jermaine’s Beal’s attempted game-winning drive.  He finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds, his fifth game for the season with 10+ boards but his first double-double. Majok’s agent, Sammy Wloszczowski from SIG, said that while some other NBL clubs and a couple of European teams showed some interest earlier this year, the decision to sign with Melbourne primarily came down to fit. “I had a lot of faith that he would mesh very well with what United were putting together,” Wloszcowski said. “But to be leading the league in rebounding so early in his NBL career and to be having the impact that he’s having, I’m very proud of him.” Team-mate Daniel Kickert attributes Majok’s success to his ability to listen, learn and take on new things. “He just soaks everything in, learns really well and executes,” Kickert said. “That's probably been the most impressive thing, for a guy his age to just soak up all the information and transfer it out there for us.” Demopoulos agrees. He is one of the most intelligent young players I've coached in 35 years,” said Demopoulos, who has previously worked with NBA stars LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. “With his intelligence he's got a great future.” For now, Majok is focused on doing what he can to help Melbourne United win ball games.  His role is clear: rebound, defend, rebound, finish at the rim and grab some boards. If that results in more trips to the podium along the way, he’ll take it.
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