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Basketball

Mooseheart muscles past Harvest Christian

Mooseheart's Mangisto Deng goes up for a shot during the Ramblers' home game against Harvest Christian Academy on Tuesday night.
Mooseheart's Mangisto Deng goes up for a shot during the Ramblers' home game against Harvest Christian Academy on Tuesday night.

MOOSEHEART – Basketball players generally steer clear of weight training on game days to guard against soreness that could impede their shooting strokes.

Not Mooseheart’s Mangisto Deng. Deng tries to make lifting and pushups part of his pregame and even halftime routines. On Tuesday, the South Sudan native provided evidence that nontraditional methods can work for certain players, flashing a smooth jumper throughout Mooseheart’s 96-53 pummeling of Harvest Christian. 

“Before the game, I actually work out for a little bit,” Deng said. “When I play, I feel much better, I feel like I have a lot of energy. … If I didn’t work out for a little bit or do pushups, I feel like I’m not strong enough to shoot the ball.”

Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said Deng’s weight-training regimen is made easier before home games, such as the one Tuesday.

“It must loosen him up,” Ahrens said. “We’re doing some band work and he’s doing some lifting and, man alive, he’s come out and shot the ball really well, and he’s shot the ball really well here, which has been nice.”

The 6-foot-7 Deng counted numerous jumpers – including a trio of 3-pointers – as part of his 32-point outburst. He had 22 points at halftime, by which point the Ramblers (6-2) had doubled up Harvest Christian, 52-26.

Mooseheart power forward Makur Puou – who stands 6-10 – had 25 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots, including a signature sequence early in the fourth quarter when he swatted a shot before running the floor and finishing with a powerful dunk on the offensive end.

Ahrens also was high on the play of guards Hameed Odunewu (16 points, eight rebounds) and Freddy Okito (nine points), while 7-1 center Akim Nyang rejected five Lions shots.

“It’s not all the Manny and Mak show,” Ahrens said. “ … We have four guys playing at a high level, and then you put the 7-1 kid in the middle that just keeps his hands up, that’s tough.”

Brett Cramer and John Vislisel combined for 31 points for the Lions, who almost yielded 100 points despite forcing 19 Mooseheart turnovers in the fast-paced game.

Remarkably, the 7-1 Nyang isn’t the tallest kid in the Mooseheart locker room these days. A 7-3 freshman, Bol Riek, hangs with the team but does not project to play basketball at the school based on more stringent IHSA transfer protocols that went into effect in the aftermath of an investigation last year into the arrivals of Nyang, Puou and Deng at Mooseheart.

Ahrens said Riek’s arrival demonstrates Mooseheart is not interested in luring promising athletes for the sake of on-court success.

“Regardless of what the IHSA says, our mission is still our mission,” Ahrens said. “We’re going to bring in kids, we’re going to give them a good education, we’re going to give them a nice place to live, we’re going to get them outside of a dangerous country such as [South Sudan]. … We’re going to do what we do. I guess we’re proving our point.”

The Ramblers will take their customary extended holiday break before returning to action Jan. 7 at the United Center against Gage Park.

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