The Perth Wildcats have signed Australian Boomer and former University of Connecticut big man Ater Majok to a six-week contract to help offset the loss of Jesse Wagstaff and Matt Knight, with the Sudanese-born Australian citizen to suit up next week.
Majok's story is a remarkable one after growing up in Sudan before fleeing with his family firstly to Egypt and then to Australia.
While in Sydney, Majok grew into the 6'10 athletic big man that he is today with a wingspan of well in excess of seven-foot and now will make his NBL debut as a Perth Wildcat next Wednesday night in Sydney against the Kings and then on the Gold Coast against the Blaze on New Year's Eve.
The arrival of the athletic and big 23-year-old comes as a boost to the Wildcats, who still hold an 8-4 win-loss record on the 2010/11 iiNet NBL Championship season, after starting centre Knight went down with a serious calf tear and then on Sunday Wagstaff joined him with an injured ankle.
Wagstaff is expected to be out for up to six weeks and as a result Majok has been signed to fill in for that period before he will look to return to Europe.
Majok impressed so much in his time in Sydney where he trained with the West Sydney Razorbacks, also under current Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge, that he committed to the University of Connecticut where he played with the Huskies in 2009 and again this year.
He left in September this year to take up playing in Turkey with FMV Isikspor Istanbul and now arrives in Perth on Sunday and will suit up for practice on Monday before flying out with the Wildcats on Tuesday for Sydney.
Beveridge has been on the search for an import to replace Knight since he went down almost a fortnight ago, but now is delighted that Majok has become available to step in to help the 'Cats with that expected import now not likely to arrive until the next home game on January 7.
"Obviously I've been hounded by agents for the last couple of weeks since Matty went out and then with Wagstaff going out it's just out of control. I got a message on Facebook from his agent saying that he heard what was going on with us and that Ater told them that I had coached him back in Sydney with the West Sydney Razorbacks," Beveridge said.
"Ater asked his agent to call me to see if there was a spot for him. It actually fits like a perfect jigsaw puzzle. He only wants a six or seven-week contract because he's got another contract that he's trying to negotiate in Europe.
"He did have a contract in Turkey but right now he's pretty much back in Washington DC working out and this fits well because he's an Australian citizen. I've had a chat to Ater and he felt that because I had coached him in the past this would be a good fit for him, and for us."
Beveridge knows well of Majok's background and was impressed with what he saw of him when in Sydney, and now has no doubt that he has only continued to improve since while being in the college system and over in Europe.
"He is a Sudanese refugee and he grew up in a war torn country, and left there and ended up in a refugee camp in Egypt. From there he ended up coming to Australia and he started playing basketball," he said.
"He was picked up by a coach called Ed Smith in Sydney who had a basketball academy and he helped out Ater and a whole heap of Sudanese kids. From that Ed Smith asked us at the Razorbacks if Ater could start training with us and it went from there into him going to college in the US."
One thing that the Wildcats need with Knight and Wagstaff out injured is someone who can play inside and provide a presence, and Beveridge is delighted that those things are exactly what Majok offers.
"There's no question his biggest strength is just his pure size, length and athleticism. His basketball IQ back then wasn’t very good because he just started playing the game, but I have seen him significantly improve because he toured with the Boomers and particularly in China I got to watch him play," Beveridge said.
"He had some games there where he showed he could legitimately play, but I'm not asking him to come in and be a major role player. We identified that we needed some size and there's no question he was the best available option who jumped out at us.
"He has something like a 7'6 wingspan, he is athletic and he will be somebody who Perth has never seen. He could be the most athletic player in the country and we have been exposed by losing our bigs, so right now this is a great short-term fix for us."
Majok will make his debut with the Wildcats on Wednesday against Sydney and its big man Julian Khazzouh, who was outstanding in Perth last Sunday with 23 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. Beveridge has no doubt he can go well up against him though.
"He will be able to come in straight away and at least disrupt the Khazzouh's, Luke Nevill's and Luke Schenscher's. I'm pretty confident he will match up with them a lot better than anybody else," he said.
"They (Majok and Khazzouh) know each other so he's familiar with him after they spent time together in Sydney. It's a great situation for Ater to play his first NBL game back in Sydney in front of his Sudanese group of people he grew up with as well as his family. It's going to be exciting for him to play that first game."