Deng Geu first gave playing basketball a try a few years after his family moved to the United States back in 2003.
The native of Uganda never could have guessed back then just how far the sport would take him, beginning with his time at North Dakota State.
After coming to America, the 6-foot-8 forward hadn’t been on a plane until his first road trip with the Bison.
It’s been a wild ride in college basketball ever since for Geu. He’s played at two schools, helped guide one to the NCAA tournament and also spent time with the Ugandan National Team.
“It’s been great,” Geu said. “I’ve been able to travel and see the world.”
Geu is in the final stages of his college basketball journey at North Texas and is trying to write an epic closing chapter heading into the Mean Green’s key game at Florida International on Thursday.
UNT is alone atop the Conference USA standings with three games left in the regular season. The Mean Green have a terrific shot at claiming the C-USA regular season title and the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid when the conference tournament begins on March 11 in Frisco.
Geu has been a key component in UNT’s success as it has run out to a 12-3 record in conference play. He’s averaging 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while starting all 28 of the Mean Green’s games.
“Deng hasn’t missed a practice since he’s been here,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. “For a guy who is one of our best players at taking charges, that’s remarkable. He’s embraced our approach wholeheartedly.”
Geu came to UNT in the offseason largely because he wanted to take a risk and try something new in his final season playing college basketball after a solid stint at North Dakota State. He redshirted his first year and then came off the bench in all three of his seasons playing for the Bison.
Geu averaged 9.6 points and 4.9 rebounds while playing in all 35 games of his junior season.
“I had been there for four years and was stuck in the same role,” Geu said. “I wanted to see what was out there.”
It wasn’t the first time Geu and his family had decided to change things up.
A long journey to UNT
He grew up in Uganda, a country of 43 million people in East Africa, after his parents fled from Sudan.
Geu’s older brother came to the U.S. as part of a program for refugees and later joined the military. He helped bring several members of the family over from Africa.
Geu was 6 when he arrived in the U.S. and adjusted quickly.
“It was easier because I was young,” he said. “It would have been tougher if I came over when I was older. I started first grade with everyone else my age and learned the language.”
Moving to the United States helped Geu’s family find a more stable life near a few family members who lived in Fargo, North Dakota.
Geu quickly blossomed as a player. He was South Dakota’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014-15 when he led Sioux Falls Washington to a 22-3 record and the Class AA state title game.
That performance landed him on the radar of schools in the region. He signed with North Dakota State and redshirted his first season before developing into a key player off the bench.
He averaged 9.6 points and 4.9 rebounds as a junior but started just one game in his time with the Bison in his redshirt freshman season.
Geu put his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal in the hope that he would have some intriguing options for his final collegiate season.
The response was overwhelming.
“A lot of coaches started calling,” Geu said. “It was hard to filter them all. I had people I trust who knew and trusted the coaching staff here.”
McCasland was among those coaches. He thought Geu would be a great fit at UNT because of his versatility.
“In our league you are going to have to get out there and guard different positions,” McCasland said. “He guarded the other team’s big man in the Summit League. We knew he could guard that position and also felt like he could guard on the perimeter because of the way he moved his feet.”
In an ironic twist, McCasland’s first game as a Division I head coach came against Geu’s North Dakota State team in the 2016-17 season. McCasland was the head coach at Arkansas State that year.
What made the difference for Geu, though, was the connection he felt during his recruiting visit with UNT’s coaches and players, including junior forward Zachary Simmons.
“When I came here and spent time with players like Zach, it became clear that this is where I wanted to spend my last year,” Geu said.
Geu spent last summer playing for the Uganda “Silverbacks” National Team and didn’t arrive at UNT until just before the start of fall classes.
The rest of UNT’s players didn’t need long to see that Geu would be an impact player.
“Deng has a high motor and is really athletic,” UNT guard Roosevelt Smart said shortly after meeting him.
Finishing on a high note
Geu’s decision to transfer to UNT paid off right away. He made his first start since his sixth collegiate game at North Dakota State when the Mean Green opened the season at home with a win over Oklahoma Christian in November.
He’s started every game since and scored a season-high 18 points twice, the last time in a loss to Western Kentucky on Jan. 2.
Geu’s biggest contribution, though, has been the veteran presence he has provided. He was a member of North Dakota State’s 2018-19 NCAA tournament team.
He scored three points and grabbed three rebounds off the bench in the Bison’s 78-74 win over North Carolina Central in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA tournament.
“The most important aspect was that he played in the NCAA tournament,” McCasland said of why he was interested in Geu. “He knew how to win.”
Geu has put that knowledge to use in his one season with the Mean Green. UNT heads into its game against FIU on the verge of winning its first conference title since the 2009-10 season.
UNT won the Sun Belt Conference tournament that year and made the program’s last NCAA tournament appearance.
The Mean Green are hoping to make their return this year. Geu has been going places ever since he came to America and began playing basketball.
He couldn’t imagine a better finish to his college career after taking a risk by leaving North Dakota State and finding a new home at UNT.
“We are winning a lot of games and are making history,” Geu said. “I like the guys I’m around. It’s been a good experience.”