PRO TEAM: Gold Coast Blaze
VITALS: 6'11", 233 lbs.
YEAR DRAFTED: 2011 by LA Lakers (Round 2, Pick 58)
RIGHTS HELD BY: Los Angeles Lakers
Now that I am done picking on the team at number one in the 2015, Minnesota, it is time to move on to number two. And as Kobe Bryant so eloquently put it, the Lakers deserve to be picking two because they played like crap this past season. The Lakers are in territory they haven't been in for decades. Showtime is used to picking at the bottom of the first round, picking up that role player to push them over the top in the cutthroat Western Conference. Now they are deciding whether or not they can get one final surge out of the twilight of Kobe's career with either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor. One thing is for certain, they aren't going to pass on either of those fine prospects for the man being profiled today: Ater Majok.
Is has been quite the magical mystery tour of a career for Ater Majok. Born in what is now known as South Sudan, Majok was in a hostile environment from the get go. The second Sudanese Civil War raged on around him forcing many families, including Majok's and that of the Deng brothers, to flee to refugee camps in Egypt. Majok would eventually make his way all the way down under to Sydney, Australia. That is where Ater became enamored with the game of basketball as he became a part of the South Stars basketball club. The South Stars, like Majok, had all fled the horrors going on in their homeland and eventually emigrated to Sydney.
After finishing high school and prep school in Sydney, Ater decided to take his game to the USA by committing to then two-time NCAA Champions UCONN. It didn't start off well as eligibility issues forced Majok to sit out his entire freshman year on campus. He was able to practice with the team following partial reinstatement halfway through the season, but had to watch from Storrs as the Huskies made it all the way to the Final Four where they would lose to eventual runners-up Michigan State. After this disappointing experience, Majok declared for the NBA Draft. He did the smart thing though in not hiring an agent. As projections and advice from scouts made it clear he was more than likely to go undrafted, Majok withdrew a week before the 2009 Draft and returned to UCONN.
He played his first, and only, season at UCONN during the 2009-10 campaign. It was a team in transition following the departures of Hasheem Thabeet, AJ Price, and Jeff Adrien. Majok got lost in the shuffle and posted final averages of only 2.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. The Huskies missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in ten years and were unceremoniously ousted in the second round of the NIT. That fall Majok made the decision to leave UCONN, and the American collegiate game, behind for still murky reasons. Was the recruitment of the lanky Sudanese Australian on the level? Did Majok say the wrong things to Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun? It didn't seem as if Majok wanted to leave Storrs, but his hand was forced and professional ball overseas was his only play.
He began his professional career with a short stint in the Turkish second division with FMV Isikspor Istanbul. He put up fairly decent numbers (13.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.1 BPG) against much lower competition than he was facing in the Big East. Upon expiration of the short team deal, he finally returned home to Australia to regroup.
On Christmas Eve 2010, Majok signed on as an injury replacement for the Perth Wildcats. Perth were the defending NBL champions, but had been absolutely ravaged by injuries on their front line. Majok did his best to be a force in the interim and quickly became a fan favorite with his flair for the emphatic swat. He pushed his games played total for the season to 15 (7 in Turkey, 8 in Australia) while averaging 7.5 points and 2 blocks a game for the Wildcats. When the Perth bigs started to return from the injured list, Majok's six week deal was allowed to expire.
He was able to latch on with another NBL team, again as an injury replacement, for the remainder of the 2010-11 season. He was used sparingly in six games for the fledgling club as they fell just out of the playoff picture. The team was kind enough though to grant Majok an early release so that he could participate in pre-draft workouts as he stated his intention to declare for the 2011 NBA Draft.
Majok wasn't entirely impressive in the lead up to the NBA Draft. Many scouts believed he was too skinny to be a legitimate rim protector while also not possessing enough of an offensive repertoire to use his speed against heftier bigs. That didn't stop the Lakers from using the 58th overall pick in the draft on Majok. Hindsight is 20/20 but it is probably safe to assume the majority of the teams picking at the end of that draft wish they went with Isaiah Thomas (the final pick in the 2011 Draft) instead of their guy. Of the four guys who went directly before Thomas, three (including Majok today) will get profiles right here on DRR. The fourth, Qatari international Tanguy Ngombo, had his rights renounced two years after an age dispute on draft night.
Majok rejected the Lakers initial qualifying offer and continued his nomadic basketball adventure in Slovakia for BK SPU Nitra. He played in 41 games for Nitra in the Slovakian top tier, averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per. The experience was an eye opener for Majok as he dealt with the hostility that comes with eastern European sports on a nightly basis. The call from America asking him to play for the Lakers in the summer league must've been one of pure relief.
As I've said in previous profiles, an invitation to play in the Summer League doesn't always translate to an NBA contract. Most times it gives the coach and assistants a chance to see if a guy they've stashed overseas is keeping himself in shape, has any trade value, or has to have his rights renounced. Sometimes he is just roster filler. Majok fell more into the latter category as he averaged just under two points in three mid-summer games before being allowed to return to Europe.
The next two seasons for Majok were an absolute whirlwind throughout eastern Europe and Asia. The first year he strung together short term deals in Israel for Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv, where he didn't appear once, and in Belarus for BC Tsmoki-Minsk where he would win a Belarusian title as a bench contributor. The second season saw him take the Majok Express to Asia where he started off in South Korea with perennial contender KCC Egis. Again, his time there was short getting his pink slip after just 12 games. The ink barely even dried on his next contract with the Taiwan Beer (sweet team name eh?) before they released him sans a single played game.
After finishing up his 2013-14 in Germany where he won his second title in four months, Majok looked finally ready to return to the United States. Though his play didn't exactly fill up the stat sheet, the Lakers were in desperation mode and saw that their investment made the roster of the Los Angeles D-Fenders in the NBDL. They looked to have chose wisely as Majok became a starter and led the team in blocks, even with veteran swatters Jarvis Varnado and Jamario Moon in tow. We may have to wait just a bit longer to see him get called up though as an MCL sprain in February led to his release, a common occurrence in the NBA's minor league. He may be off to another hole in the wall type of league this summer, but even if Towns or Okafor are wearing purple and gold, the Lakers may still have a place for Ater Majok.
Thanks for reading the twenty-fourth installment of Draft Rights Retained right here on Bleeding Your Colors! I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to bringing you more wacky stories of players who the NBA has long since forgotten, but not their draft rights. Stay locked for a new profile until the list is exhausted. For more of me, check out my Twitter @TREVORutley and the official Bleeding Your Colors Twitter @B3WHYC3. For less of me, stuff your computer into a dead body and head to Brick Top's pig farm.
Image Credits: Majok at UCONN (zimbio.com), Majok Lakers (dailytelegraph.com.au)