Cham Deng was thrilled to make the short drive from Storm Lake to Fort Dodge and join Chad Helle's Iowa Central basketball program.
As one of the first recruits for Helle, Deng has grown into a guiding light for the Tritons.
"It's meant a great deal to me," Deng said. "I find myself always in awe of what kind of opportunity this is. To be accepted and welcomed the way I was by the great support system of this city and this school means a great deal to me.
"I'm just a smiling kid from Storm Lake, and to see people look up to me the way they do and seek inspiration or motivation from our program is definitely humbling. There's no greater feeling in the world than inspiring someone so that they can be great in whatever they want to do in life."
As a freshman, Deng played in 22 games with five starts, scoring 91 points to go along with 45 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals and two blocks. This year, he has started all nine games with 31 points, 19 rebounds, six assists and a block.
Deng tries to model himself after two legends in the sport of basketball in LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. But it goes beyond just on the court.
"LeBron is someone I look up to, not only as a player but for who he is off the court and how he carries himself," Deng said. "Also the late, great Kobe Bean Bryant. I've followed Kobe's philosophies for quite some time.
"One that sticks from him to me was his quest to be the best version of himself every day, the 'Mamba Mentality.'"
As one of just a handful of sophomores in Helle's second season, Deng has become more of a leader for the program. That includes in practices, games and away from both.
"I definitely felt the need to take on the leadership role this year," Deng said. "To do whatever I can do to help the guys, to help the program and to help the fans enjoy our progress.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes."
The Tritons return to action on Saturday at Kirkwood with their next home game set for Tuesday vs. Iowa Lakes.
-By Dana Becker