WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Fans of the UNC Wilmington men’s basketball team may want to send a ‘thank you’ note to Chris Tucker. Tucker was the boys’ basketball coach at Sequoyah Middle School in Riverdale, Georgia, and he encouraged a young Devontae Cacok, who had suffered a broken wrist playing his favorite sport of football, to give another game a try.
“I didn’t know anything about basketball,” Devontae, now a senior standout for the Seahawks, says about the change in his athletic career. “I’d never played it. He said he wanted to teach me about things. From there, it kind of took off. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be playing basketball right now.”
Devontae is playing at a level that few reach in the world of college basketball. He recently etched his name in the UNCW record books by grabbing his 1,056th career rebound during a 97-83 victory over Drexel on January 12, 2019. He’s just the third player in program history to grab 1,000 rebounds and score 1,000 points in a career (Brian Rowsom and Keith Rendleman are the others). Two weeks after setting the rebounging record, Devontae eclipsed another UNCW career mark with his 51st double-double in points and rebounds. He led the nation in rebounding as a junior, and in field goal percentage as a sophomore with the Seahawks. The list of achievements seems to grow every time the 6’7” senior takes the floor. He shugs off the notoriety though, treating it like an opposing player going for his rebound.
“I try to not let the statistics and stuff like that get to my head because at the end of the day, they’re just numbers,” he says. “That’s all they really are. I try to have my head on my shoulders and stay focused on helping my team and helping other people. I get more enjoyment in doing that than just looking at stats and thinking that ‘yeah, I did that!’ or ‘I’m Devontae Cacok, I can do this!’. I’m not that type of person.”
Devontae’s drive to succeed off the court matches the intensity he carries on the basketball floor. He credits his Mom, Rose, with instilling the importance of academics in her son, saying she used to check his homework nightly, with consequences looming if he did not keep up his grades.
“Education is something nobody can take away from you,” he says. “For me, sooner or later basketball is going to stop. I’m going to graduate from UNCW with my degree, and that’s something that not a lot of people have. Doing your best in middle school, doing your best in high school, doing your best in college, it can go a long way.”
As his basketball talents began to develop in high school, Devontae started to see the benefits of his hard work. He was selected for all-star squads as a junior and senior years with the Alpharetta High School Warriors. But Devontae points to one game, in his junior season, as the turning point when people outside of his high school gymnasium learned who Devontae Cacok was. He talks about it at 14:30 of the podcast.
“People started contacting me,” he remembers. “AAU teams started contacting me, inviting me to camps, stuff like that. It was a whole new learning experience for me.”
His name was in headlines and in magazines. Coaches called. Reporters called. Devontae once again credits his Mom, and his coaches, for helping him make it through that unknown new level of attention. He committed to Coach Kevin Keatts and the UNC Wilmington program before his senior season. Devontae says Keatts, Charles Drew High School Head Coach Jarod Davis and Alpharetta Assistant Coach Ernest Brooks helped take his game to the next level. Brooks, a former walk-on at University of Alabama, helped train Devontae after his high school senior season ended, prepping him for what to expect in the game of college basketball. Devontae talks about those grueling sessions at the 19:30 mark of the podcast, including the one time he’d had enough.
“He told me if I ever quit on him again, he’d never work me out again,” Devontae remembers. “I still hear it to this day. ‘I can’t quit’. Not only in the workouts with him, in everything. Whether it be me doing my regular workouts here, whether it be me doing some of my school work. If I quit, I’m not going to have another chance.”
There are those who have doubted the young man’s size and abilities. Devontae says he heard those nay-sayers, the so-called “experts” who said he was undersized. Anyone who has watched him patrol the lane in Trask Coliseum, before exploding skyward to snare yet another rebound, knows the young man’s motor and desire more than make up the difference. He wears a band on his right wrist with the inscription ‘prove them wrong’. It’s the motto Devontae Cacok carries with him every day.
“I use that as my drive, I have to,” he says with smile. “That’s part of my ambition, why I work so hard to prove people wrong and show them that no matter what they say about you, no matter what people think about you, as long as you give it your all and give it everything you’ve got, you can accomplish anything.”
School visits, social media and NCAA rules are some of the other things Devontae and I talked about during the interview. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I did.
You can hear the full podcast conversation with UNCW basketball standout Devontae Cacok by clicking on any of the links below.
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