When you heard Ater Majok‘s name called on Draft Night, you probably wondered who he was and why the Lakers would take him at No. 58. With a basketball career that stretches from Australia to Turkey to UConn, it’s no surprise that you probably haven’t heard of him. Well Majok has arrived on the NBA scene and is ready to turn some heads. I caught up with the Lakers’ newest big man to talk about his hoops journey, balling at UConn and cartoons.
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Dime: What was it like getting drafted after your extensive journey to get here?
Ater Majok: It felt really good. I had a smile on my face, I couldn’t believe it. Everything that was going on and everything that I went through, it felt good to get there, to be there. And out of all teams, I got drafted by L.A. This is a franchise that has won multiple championships. It’s just a great place to start a career.
Dime: Where did you watch the draft?
AM: I had just landed back in D.C. and I went home. I actually had a workout that morning. Then I played pickup in Maryland. I got home at about 7 o’clock, took a shower, went out to eat…came back home, took a little nap. The draft was going on, so I was watching that…I was watching on my phone. I knew L.A. was interested, but I didn’t know if they were really gonna pick me, so I was just waiting for L.A. to pick. But when it came to the 58th pick, they called my name. All my friends were over at the house, and my agent tackled me to the floor.
Dime: What were the Lakers saying to you during pre-draft workouts?
AM: I mean, it started up at the Euro camp where I did really well. And then as soon as the game finished, they were like, ‘We want to bring you in for a workout.’ So they said, ‘When can you be ready to work out for us?’ So I was like, ‘If you fly me out to L.A. right now I’ll be ready to work out.’ So they brought me out the day before the draft. And I did really well in the workout, and then the interview I did pretty well. They liked what I had to offer.
Dime: What was the weirdest question the Lakers asked you?
AM: They asked me questions like, ‘If I had one question to ask somebody in the world, who would it be?’ I said Muhammad Ali. I don’t know, that was the first person that popped into my head. They were just trying to find out who I was, trying to find out as much as they can about me.
Dime: What kind of feedback did they give you on your game?
AM: They told me I need to get a lot stronger, just work on my game. They said that I’m on the right path. It was pretty cool.
Dime: What were you expecting to happen before the draft process got started?
AM: I was basically aiming high, trying to get drafted in the first round. I kinda knew it was never gonna happen, I was probably gonna go as a free agent. But I decided I was going to work as hard as I can. If I don’t get drafted, then hey, someone’s missing out because I work very hard.
Dime: You didn’t exactly follow a traditional American basketball path. How did you get into basketball originally?
AM: Yeah, you know I grew up in Sudan playing volleyball, being above average height-wise. Then I was in Australia…but there wasn’t really much emphasis on basketball. But then a person who was developing players…he was coaching one of the AAU teams in Australia. He’d seen me walking around town and stuff and he told me to come down to the gym. Basically just put some shots up with him and see what I got. I kept going to the gym and started shooting. Basically I learned when I get the ball, dunk it, and on the other end block shots. I was so athletic that it was easy for me. I started taking trips with the AAU team and I had offers right off the bat. I was 6-9 and I weighed 185, but I could run and jump and block shots. So I did work on the court and before I knew it I got a little bit of handles, a little bit of a shot. People thought I would develop really well, and it just took off from there.
We went to Vegas, and we played at Midnight Madness, you know where all the big time recruits play. We played against the French National Team, and one guy on our side got hurt. So basically I had to play the 1-4, play defense on their best player, and a lot of coaches were intrigued by that.
Dime: You were roommates with Kemba Walker at UConn and he was your closest friend on the team. How did that friendship start?
AM: When I first got to UConn, Kemba didn’t have a roommate and he was a freshman and I was a freshman. We were the only two freshmen on the team at the time, so they put us together. So we started to hang out a little more and more, and we became pretty good roommates and friends. He started to trust me, I started to trust him.
Dime: How did having to go up against Hasheem Thabeet every day in practice help you develop your game?
AM: When I played against Hasheem, I had to develop a hook shot, my speed going around people. He was stronger than me, but I’m very hard-headed when it comes to me being a basketball player. I always said that I’m gonna beat you down, I’m gonna beat you down. No matter how many times you block me, no matter how many times I got elbowed in the face.
Dime: What’s the first thing you plan on buying with your NBA money?
AM: You know what, you know what I might buy? A whole collection of Disney movies and comedies. That’s one thing…I mean I love watching cartoons and I love watching comedies, you know that’s me. I’m a big Disney and Nickelodeon fan. I don’t care what you say about me, I’m still gonna keep watching them.
Dime: So what’s your favorite show?
AM: Phineas and Ferb. You ain’t gotta continue with that. (laughs) I mean I’ll watch everything, but if I had to pick one, that would be my show right there.
Dime: How will the lockout change your summer workout plans?
AM: Well right now I’m just working as hard as I can ’cause the lockout might end tomorrow and they’ll be like, ‘Okay, you gotta go to camp in three days.’ So I’m working hard, getting stronger, getting bigger, faster. I’ve been trying to work on my defense a lot.
Dime: You’ll be going up against Pau Gasol in practice every day. What parts of his game do you think you can adapt to your own?
AM: His footwork. He has amazing footwork. I’m pretty impressed. I’m always going to try to steal a little bit from each player and try and make my own brand. His footwork is definitely very exquisite. I wouldn’t mind staying in the gym with him every day, trying to get that footwork.
Dime: If you could say anything to Lakers fans, what would it be?
AM: I mean, they’re the best fans in the world, but don’t fall asleep on me. There are a lot of people falling asleep on me, a lot of people not respecting my game, not respecting me. It’s gonna be surprising, it’s gonna be surprising what I can do.
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