Facing two career-ending injuries, DWU's Diang Gatluak took an improbable road back to the court

Jan. 12—MITCHELL — On two separate occasions during the offseason, Dakota Wesleyan men's basketball forward Diang Gatluak suffered what were believed to be season-ending injuries that required surgery.

For a veteran player in his sixth season of college basketball, that could have ended his career, too.

In the summer, the Tiger senior tore his pectoral muscle, and in the fall, he tore a ligament in his foot. However, in both instances, when Gatluak went to the operation room to be treated, it was discovered that the injuries needed no surgical intervention.

Instead, Gatluak, who spoke openly about his injuries in an interview with the Mitchell Republic, was out for just three months as he recovered from his pectoral tear. After discovering the torn foot ligament two weeks into preseason training in October, he avoided surgery, started rehab and improbably returned to the court on Dec. 6 in a game against Northwestern College.

"Those are two different situations where it's like, 'Dang, I might not be able to play," Gatluak said. "But I was able to overcome that. ... They opened me up and everything. But when they went in, it wasn't as bad as they thought it was."

DWU coach Matt Wilber admitted the whole ordeal was wild, and was previously convinced Gatluak was not going to be able to suit up this season.

"If you talked to me in June, nope. Then you talk to me in October, nope. And now, he's back out there running around for us," Wilber said.

"The injuries he had, the diagnoses were, 'Hey, these are career ending or season-ending injuries.' When they went in to treat them surgically, and they didn't need the repair, it was like, 'Oh.' And so he's out there and on his foot," the coach added. "He's rehabbed it and he's done a great job of getting himself back out here."

Despite the injuries, Gatluak has made an immediate impact for the Tigers off the bench since his return. Through six games, he is averaging 6.3 points per game and 2.5 rebounds per game. He's given a lift to the team with his defensive ability and on-court intensity, and is also shooting 35.3 percent from 3-point range.

"In our rotation, he just adds a lot," Wilber added "He's been out there before. He's a tough, hard-nosed kid. He's bought into it. And he's had a rocky road with his college career to get to this point. I'm just glad he's doing something and being productive for us on any level because of (his injuries)."

It's also not lost on Gatluak how fortunate he is to be playing right now.

"Obviously, this is my last year and I wanted to play so bad," Gatluak said. "And those two injuries would have kept me out. But you know, I just prayed everyday, kept my faith up, and here we are playing."

Gatluak, a Sioux Falls native, has had an eventful college career — even prior to his hectic 2023. He made three separate stops at the junior college level, playing his first two seasons at the North Dakota School of Science in Wahpeton, then going to Triton College in River Grove, Illinois, where he played for the 2020-21 season. For the 2021-22 season, Gutluak was at Bay College in Escanaba, Michigan, where he averaged 11.7 points per game.

In his first 10 games of action of the 2022-23 seasons at DWU, Gatluak didn't see the court. But on Dec. 10, 2022, he came off the bench and scored 21-points and had 10 rebounds, a performance that cemented him a spot in the rotation for the remainder of the season.

Gutluak has enjoyed playing close to home, where his family can come watch him. And finally healthy, he's committed to maximizing his final season as a team leader.

"Being the older guy on the team, I'm just making sure everybody stays connected and does what we need to do to win."