UNCW product Cacok joins Lakers for NBA bubble restart, stretch run
Former UNC Wilmington men’s basketball standout Devontae Cacok has split time during his first professional basketball season with the Los Angeles Lakers and their NBA G League affiliate team in South Bay.
For the finishing stretch of the season that restarted Thursday night, he’ll be inside the NBA’s bubble environment at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., trying to help LeBron James and Co. claim a championship.
The abnormal circumstances are exciting for Cacok, UNCW’s all-time leading rebounder, who hasn’t taken the average path to an NBA roster spot.
“Going from UNCW to South Bay and now with the Lakers, they were all different transitions that just made me a better player,” Cacok said this week. “Who knows if I would have had this opportunity in a normal season, but now that I’m here I’m ready to focus on nothing but basketball and helping the guys win.”
He said he didn’t worry about receiving invitations to play with Los Angeles during the regular season, but Cacok admits he wanted to be part of the team’s Disney contingent. About a week before the team departed, he received that desired phone call from coach Frank Vogel and general manager Rob Pelinka.
The Lakers won their first game that counts toward playoff seeding, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101 on Thursday night in a thrilling finish. James converted the go-ahead put-back with 12.8 seconds remaining, then delivered on defense against Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the game’s final possession.
Cacok wasn’t in uniform Thursday night, but he was there in the socially distanced bench area with other Lakers team members and wearing a face mask. He played sparingly in the Lakers’ first two Disney scrimmages, before logging 13 minutes and contributing 11 points and nine rebounds in the final scrimmage against the Washington Wizards.
That kind of production wouldn’t surprise UNCW supporters who watched him snatch rebounds and block shots as a key piece of two Colonial Athletic Association title-winning teams with the Seahawks. But it’s still something Cacok feels he needs to prove at this stage of his young career.
“I think people still didn’t think I would be able to rebound at the same rate like I did in college once I got to the pros,” said the 6-foot-8 Cacok, who finished his first G League season with South Bay averaging 19.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.
“Finished the year third in rebounding and people thought I was undersized, but I knew what I was capable of doing.”
Playing time in the Orlando might be hard to come by behind star Anthony Davis and veterans Dwight Howard and Javale McGee on the Lakers’ front line. Cacok sees this as an opportunity to learn from them.
Meanwhile, Cacok has been learning to play golf, going fishing and making the most out of his free time. He’s been able to reunite with fellow CAA first-year pros Jarrell Brantley (College of Charleston) and Justin Wright-Foreman (Hofstra), who both made the Utah Jazz roster.
But he’s not taking this time for granted, either, and there’s one presence in the Lakers’ locker room he’s especially excited to learn from during the coming weeks and months.
“I always thought of myself as a hard worker and thought not many people matched me on that, but LeBron is out of this world with how hard he works,” Cacok said. “He knows what’s expected of him and goes beyond. It’s inspiring. And sometimes, man, he’ll do stuff in practice or in a game and all you can say is wow, I can’t believe he just did that.”