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Duop Reath Discusses Long Road from JUCO to the NBA

By Brad Winton, 03/20/24, 11:15AM EDT


Duop Reath, a skilled 6’9 forward, has had a long and winding road to the NBA, and his ascent is a testament to his work ethic on and off the court. His family left South Sudan when he was nine years old and moved to Australia, setting the stage for a journey marked by resilience and growth. In Australia, he began honing his skills and developing his game, which would later see him traverse the globe with stints in Texas, Louisiana, Serbia, Australia, China, Lebanon, and then back to the U.S. in Portland, OR. As a 27-year-old rookie, Reath recently signed a multi-year contract with the Portland Trail Blazers after proving himself on a two-way contract. This is a consistent theme in Reath’s journey, having to continuously prove himself in junior college, division one, overseas, and in the NBA. Reath and his former JUCO coach, Marcus King, discussed his path and how junior college basketball helped mold his game. 

In a basketball player’s journey, there are often chance encounters that can pave the way for unforeseen opportunities. For Duop Reath, that encounter transpired when he was playing high school basketball in Australia.  Marcus King, a former assistant coach at Lee College, flew to Australia in July of 2014 to watch a basketball tournament that featured numerous South Sudanese Australian prospects. King watched various players throughout the tournament, and Reath continued to stand out. King was informed of the level of talent at this tournament by Deng Deng, another high-level South Sudanese-Australian prospect who was already on his roster at Lee. The tournament, hosted by the South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association, featured a wide-ranging group of players as young as 12 years old to an open division for high school-aged prospects. Reath played for the Perth Rhinos and was playing in the second game King watched after arriving in Australia.

King reflected on his initial encounter with Reath, sharing, “My initial thoughts when I saw him were that he had a chance to be a high-major player with continued development. He had length, size, touch, and skill. After the game, we spoke and he wasn’t very trusting of anything dealing with coaches from the United States due to a lot of scams in prep schools.”

After watching Reath play again later that day, King had additional dialogue with him. Reath gradually warmed to the idea of relocating to the United States to play junior college basketball. He then had several conversations with Deng Deng about his experiences at the JUCO level and at Lee College, which significantly contributed to his comfort with the idea of moving to Baytown, Texas. Merely five weeks later, Reath arrived on campus at Lee College to play under head coach Roy Champagne and Marcus King. King immediately realized how serious Reath was about his newfound opportunity in the U.S. He explained Reath's commitment, stating, “After his first two weeks on campus, I knew he had the right mindset to be an NBA prospect with the right guidance and development. We focused on playing to his strengths and continuing to grow his knowledge of the game. Because of that, I was very hard on him and challenged him daily. He embraced it all and never barked back. He just worked and showed up every day to get better. He understood me and why I was pushing him. Because of this, he elevated his teammates, and they followed his work ethic on and off the court.” King further complimented Reath’s receptiveness, saying, “Duop was by far the best listener I’ve ever coached.”

Reath reflected on his initial meeting with King. “When we first spoke, he started pointing to my chest and told me I could be a pro. He told me I could get an excellent education, and I knew I wanted that education. He always believed in me, and it makes me really appreciate him. Not many people see that vision for a kid, especially at a JUCO. He’s more than a mentor, he’s a family member. He played a big impact on my growth as a man.”

Reath credits his foundational development in basketball to his time at Lee College, where he learned how to work on his craft to prepare for his long journey to the NBA. He said, “Lee College set the foundation and prepared me for the pros. Especially with Coach King and Coach Roy, who made me understand what it takes to be a professional. The way they challenged us to be pros, they ingrained it into our heads, all the challenges that Coach King presented to us, we never understood why he pushed us so hard, but we knew he understood what it took to get to the next level. It’s a business, and they treated it as such to prepare us for the next level. They tested us and pushed us every day, and we didn’t understand at the time why they were doing it, demanding so much of us, but I quickly realized it when I moved on to the next level. It’s a business, and they treated us like pros at that level which prepared us on and off the court for the future.”

He showed promise during his first season at Lee and there were glimpses of high-major talent. He averaged 7 PPG and 5.5 RPG as a freshman and was invited to the All-American JUCO Showcase in Las Vegas. When scouting Reath at the time and talking with Reath that summer at the JUCO Showcase, it became evident that his work ethic and maturity were on another level. Reath shared his thoughts on the showcase, “Those events were something I always looked forward to. I got to play against the best players in the country. It gives you a scale and tests you to see what level you’re at against the best in the country. Everyone in junior college has the same grind. It was fun but also very challenging. Going head-to-head with other top JUCO players at the All-American JUCO Showcase either makes you or breaks you. It challenges your basketball instincts and was a great tool to measure my game against the best. It lets you know where you stand.”

Reath also reflected on his broader experience at the JUCO level, drawing parallels to his professional journey overseas. “In JUCO, when things don’t go your way, many players feel sorry for themselves and want to blame others. I quickly learned that I couldn’t feel sorry for myself or blame anyone, and I learned to fight through it. In the pros, when things don’t go your way, they will send you home. It's very important to control how you react if things don’t go your way. You’re not going to shoot the ball every time, you have to find other ways to impact the game at the JUCO level and it’s very similar to the pro level. Everyone is looking to move up at the JUCO level just like the pro level. You’re not going to get all the touches and shot attempts. Everyone on the team at the JUCO level is looking to move on and just like the pro level, there aren’t enough touches for everyone, so you have to do other things and carve out a role.”

He further shared advice for current JUCO players. “At the JUCO level, you must know what your long-term plan is. If you want to be a pro, you must fully commit to it. You have to know what you want and be a pro at everything you do. You have to carry yourself like a pro, work out like a pro, take care of your body, eat a certain way, and believe in yourself. You must start acting like a pro now if you truly want to reach the highest levels like the EuroLeague or NBA. In class, in your workouts, your eating habits, and everything else you do must be done this way.”

Reath continued to improve and had an impressive sophomore campaign at Lee averaging 14.6 PPG and 8.4 RPG. He had numerous division one schools recruiting him but felt most comfortable at LSU. He was recruited to LSU by assistant coach David Patrick, who is now the head coach at Sacramento State. Reath played his first year at LSU under Johnny Jones and his senior season under Will Wade following a coaching change. His skills further developed at the high-major level, culminating in a senior year where he averaged 12.5 PPG and 5.3 RPG, with 54% shooting from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. Following his college career, Reath earned a spot in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, although he was not offered a contract after the Summer League.

From there, Reath began his journey in Europe. His first contract was with FMP in the Serbian League. The team also played in the competitive Adriatic League. Reath discussed how quickly you have to adjust overseas. “You have to learn fast over there, and that was the biggest challenge when I first arrived in Serbia. The game moves faster at the pro level, and there are only so many shots available. They can always replace you; every single player is replaceable over there. When I was a senior in college I had my routine, and you’re the guy, so you have a lot of room to make mistakes in college. Then you get thrown into a situation where you’re a rookie, and you’re no longer the man. You have to quickly adjust both physically and mentally if you want to survive.” Reath was able to make it through the grind of his first two seasons in Serbia with FMP from 2018-2020 and then remained in Serbia with EuroLeague club Crvena Zvezda Red Star for the 2020-21 season. From there, Reath made stops in the Australian NBL (2021-22), the CBA in China (2022-23), and a pit stop in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2023 upon completing the CBA season. He then received an opportunity to once again play in the NBA Summer League for the Portland Trail Blazers in the summer of 2023.

Reath impressed the Blazers’ front office staff and was given a non-guaranteed contract and a training camp invite. Reath was then waived by the Blazers but was quickly re-signed on a two-way contract by Portland. Reath’s long and winding journey prepared him for this moment with Portland, and he scored 11 points in his first NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Reath continued to stay ready and saw his minutes increase due to his play as well as injuries on Portland’s roster. Reath discussed the differences between the international game and the NBA. “There are so many games in the NBA, and you are playing multiple games per week. All of the players are also really good at what they do and are very skilled. You can’t get discouraged when you are playing at this level. Guys are going to score on you because they are so good at what they do. You have to keep your head up and move on to the next play. I’m still adjusting to the NBA game, but you have to be prepared and ready to quickly adapt.” In February of 2024, Reath signed a multi-year contract with Portland. 

While he has finally reached the pinnacle of basketball, he still maintains the same mentality that propelled him from Lee College to the NBA. Reath gave some advice to players at all levels who are navigating their own path to the highest levels of basketball. He said, “It all goes back to development, just focus on getting better. Coaches are all trying to win games, and they are selling tickets and making money. You must focus on yourself and get better, make the team better, and find ways to impact the game. It’s a business now, and you must show up every day and be ready to compete. Players should understand that it is a long process, and you might not make the money your friends are making or what you think you should make as a rookie, but it takes time, and it’s all about your continued development.” 

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