Editor’s Note: As the season gets closer, our Silver Screen and Roll staff is going to be taking a closer look back at every player on the Lakers for a refresher on stuff we may have forgotten during quarantine. Think of this as the 30-second clip reminding you of what happened during the current season of your favorite TV show that rolls right before the latest episode starts. Today, let’s recall what was up with Devontae Cacok.
When he was entering high school, if you would’ve told Devontae Cacok that someday he was going to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, he would’ve assumed you were crazy.
Growing up in Riverdale, GA, Cacok’s first love was football. He wanted to play the sport in middle school, but after seriously injuring his wrist, basketball came into the picture.
“The basketball coach at middle school came up to me and asked if I had ever played before, I told him that I never played,” Cacok told Silver Screen and Roll during a recent appearance on our podcast. “The coach said ‘you should give it a shot.’”
Cacok didn’t know it at the time, but fate had intervened to give him a gift. Despite struggling on the court during his freshman season, Cacok’s appreciation of the game grew. Over the summer, his coach put the time in to work with Cacok, developing his skills, and all around basketball IQ to come back stronger than ever.
“He put a lot of confidence in me,” Cacok said. “He toughened me up, and he helped me bring the dog out of me. I started enjoying the game, and taking it more seriously.”
The timing was perfect. Cacok grew by seven inches as a sophomore, giving him the physical tools he needed to pair with the experience he was gaining, allowing him to excel. With the recruiting options limited in Riverdale, Cacok’s mother, Rose, helped him to decide on what is best for his future.
The family packed up and relocated just over 40 miles north to Alpharetta, GA., prior to his junior season, something Cacok believes was imperative to his success.
After the family moved, Cacok’s mother started to notice that scouts were coming out to see her son play.
“He had the talent, but being at the right place at the right time, and having the right people seeing, that made a big difference,” Rose remembered. “When we relocated to Alpharetta, that’s when I realized he’s getting the right opportunity to expand on his talent.”
The move paid dividends. Cacok began putting up monster numbers while at Alpharetta high school. He put up 22 points and 12 rebounds per game in his senior year, leading the Raiders to a regional title.
Rose looks back in appreciation of what basketball gave her son.
“It kept him grounded, and made him very responsible,” she said. “He was very busy, being an athlete, and a full-time student, while getting good grades. It takes a lot of commitment, and leadership too.”
Cacok’s efforts were rewarded with multiple offers from NCAA schools, and he ultimately chose to attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington, a roughly 16-hour drive from Alpharetta, forcing Rose to be without her son for the first time.
“It was very hard when he left, it was very difficult,” she said. “His room was on the other side of the house, so once he was gone, I tried very hard not to go that side of our place. But, I knew he had to go spread his wings, it was a very good opportunity.”
During his freshman season at UNC Wilmington, Cacok had to start from scratch. Under then head coach Kevin Keatts, he played just over 9 minutes per game, averaging 3.3 points.
Keatts saw the potential in Cacok, and put in the time to help grow his game. When C.B. McGrath took over as the Seahawks’ head coach, Cacok made sure to give him a great first impression going into his second season. He worked all summer with the strength-and-conditioning coach to put on 30 pounds before his sophomore season.
He was rewarded with a huge minutes increase in 2016-17. Cacok played 25.9 minutes a game, putting up 12.3 points, and 9.8 rebounds. His mom used to make the drive to go see him play whenever she could.
“Seeing him play at any level was just awesome,” Rose said. “I tried to my best to make any game I could possibly be at.”
Cacok just continued to get better. He averaged 17.7 points, shooting 58.5% from the field during his junior season, and led the NCAA in rebounding with 13.5 rebounds per game. He followed that up with a strong senior year, but wasn’t too high on his chances of being picked at the 2019 NBA Draft.
“I was hoping that it would happen, but my agent kept it honest with me,” Cacok said. “I asked him, ‘do you think it’s a possibility?’ He straight up said he didn’t think it’s a possibility.”
Even so, on the night of the 2019 Draft, Cacok joined his mom, fiancee, and stepfather for a dinner celebration. He knew being selected with one of the 60 picks was a long shot, but his agent said NBA teams were interested in signing him as undrafted free agent.
“At the end of the night, my agent called to tell me the Lakers want to offer me the Exhibit 10 (contract),” Cacok said. “I called my trainer after that, and we went straight to the gym. I finally got an opportunity, and that was all I needed.”
Cacok played for the Lakers in the NBA Summer League, and was assigned to the G League’s South Bay Lakers in October of last year, where he put up some monster numbers en route to the Lakers converting his exhibit 10 deal into one of their pair of two-way contracts, allowing Cacok to spend time with the NBA team and in the G League.
But while Cacok has yet to play a single minute for the parent team during a regular season game (in part due to their crowded big man rotation), he did average 19.4 points, and 11.9 rebounds over 33 games with South Bay, good enough to be named to the All-NBA G League First Team and finish as one of the runners up for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Not bad for a guy who didn’t pick up a basketball until the eighth grade.
Cacok will be a part of the Lakers team that is scheduled to restart the 2019-20 NBA season in Orlando. He thinks he’s figured out the formula to help him sustain a career in the best basketball league in the world.
“I understand that everyone isn’t going to be that scorer (in the NBA), it’s about being a role player,” Cacok said. “In the NBA, you have two-to-three guys, and surround them with role players who are good at what they do. When I go out there, I’m going to set a lot of good screens, I’m going to roll hard, get a lot of rebounds, and play defense. That’s my role.”
Cacok will be one of two players (along with teammate Kostas Antetokounmpo) who are on two-way contracts when he’s with the Lakers in Orlando. But even as improbable as his journey to Disney World has been so far, this isn’t a sports movie. Barring an unexpected absence, injury or illness, Cacok likely won’t see much floor time in Orlando. But just like he has his whole career, Cacok will stay ready to try and make an impact if he does get an opportunity, and regardless, being around superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis will give him invaluable experience.
As his mom looks back at everything her son has accomplished, she can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride.
“I’m extremely proud, just elated, I’m just happy that I’m here to be a part of it,” Rose said. “I had a scary experience, and wasn’t sure if I would be around to see him play at this level years later. So, I’m very excited, and elated to see that he has made it this far, and he will go further with his work ethic.”
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can listen to Jas’ entire interview with Cacok here, and follow Jas on Twitter at @jaskang21.