(Editor's note: Montana State University media release)
BOZEMAN – The Montana State men's basketball program received national letters of intent from Mareng Gatkuoth and Isaac Spears this past Friday, announced head coach Danny Sprinkle. Gatkuoth is a native of Anchorage, Alaska, who spent last season at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. Spears most recently attended Bella Vista College Preparatory School in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Gatkuoth played two seasons of NJCAA Division I basketball prior to signing with Montana State. He played his first season of college eligibility at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, New Mexico. A member of a 23-9 Thunderbirds squad during the 2019-20 academic year, Gatkuoth played in 30 games and started in 19. He averaged 5.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game playing in 20.5 minutes per contest. Gatkuoth had seven double-digit scoring outputs, grabbed a season-high seven rebounds in a game and tallied a 10-assist outing during his freshman season.
A versatile guard/forward that stands at 6-foot-6, Gatkuoth transferred to South Plains College with NMJC's 2020-21 season being canceled. South Plains was among the top 10-nationally ranked teams during the entire season and Gatkuoth was an impact contributor off the bench. He played in 18 games and averaged 5.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists appearing in 14.6 minutes per game. Gatkuoth had three double-digit scoring contests and recorded a season-high 19 points on 5-for-9 shooting from long range in a win versus Clarendon College. He helped the Texans advance to the NJCAA Elite Eight as South Plains finished 19-3 overall.
Gatkuoth completed his prep career at Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina after originally hailing from Anchorage. He earned all-Cook Inlet Conference honors and claimed several different all-tournament honors while at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. During the summer of 2018, Gatkuoth competed in the DENG camp, a residential camp every summer focused on skill development for the most talented South Sudanese high school players in the United States and Canada. Gatkuoth was a member of the South Sudan Elite team. He was named the Deng Camp MVP as he averaged 15.2 points, 3.6 points and 3.0 assists during the tournament. He also shot 50% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.
"Mareng brings versatility at really every spot," Sprinkle said. "He can play 1-4, he's a 6-foot-6 skilled guard who can shoot it. He played point guard on the No. 1 junior college team in the country for the majority of the year and they got upset at the national tournament. He's playing with 9-10 high-level Division I players. His freshman year at New Mexico Junior College he played with some talented guys.
"What I like most about him is the level he's played at and that he's been coached. Luke Adams at New Mexico JC does a tremendous job and Steve Green at South Plains is one of the best juco coaches of all time. For Mareng to have that experience to play for those guys that will coach him hard, he's going to come prepared for the Division I level. He's super talented because he can do so many things on the court. He's really skilled, he can pass it and he can really shoot it for his size. That's where we needed help."
Isaac Spears is a native of Las Vegas who recently attended Bella Vista Prep in the Phoenix area. Spears was listed among the top 20 recruits coming out of Arizona as part of 247 Sports' recruiting rankings, as well as a top 40-ranked three-star combo guard in the nation.
The Bella Vista Prep squad Spears was part of plays on the Grind Session circuit which features elite prep basketball players. Spears served as a do-it-all guard for Bella Vista Prep as the team played programs from across the country. He recorded six steals, six rebounds, four assists and scored 26 points en route to an upset win this past season against then-sixth-ranked Wasatch Academy. In a contest versus then-ninth-ranked West Oaks Academy, Spears put together a near triple-double totaling 15 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and a steal. During his time with the Bears, Spears registered a 34-point effort versus Minnesota Prep and a 21-point outing versus a SPIRE Academy program that featured LaMelo Ball and Rocket Watts.
Spears has earned multiple Grind Session player of the game and MaxPreps player of the game accolades during his prep career. He claimed freshman of the year and newcomer of the year honors when he first joined Bella Vista and finished with four letters in basketball. On the academic side, Spears was honored as a scholar athlete of the year while earning a 3.5 grade-point average. He's been selected to all-academic teams and is a member of National Honor Society. Spears has spent time volunteering at several organizations. His father, Dallas, played basketball at Nevada and is a 1996 graduate who played two years of professional basketball overseas.
"Isaac is a 6-foot-4 combo guard who can play the 1 or 2 for us," Sprinkle said. "He's a tremendous athlete and scorer who's very crafty and creative with the ball. I love the type of kid he is. He's a high-character kid who wanted to be here. He and his family said they were waiting on Montana State and I think that's important that you have kids that want to come here.
"I think in a normal year we don't get Isaac. My plan coming into the year wasn't necessarily to sign six freshmen. I just love their talent and I think that if we can build and develop them, they can be a special group of players. I think Isaac is a huge part of that and I think he's got the potential to do big things in his career here."
2021-22 Roster Additions
RaeQuan Battle | SO | 6-5 | Guard | Marysville-Pilchuck HS | Tulalip, Wash. | Washington
Mareng Gatkuoth | SO | 6-6 | Guard | Mt. Zion Christian Academy | Anchorage, Alaska | South Plains College
Alex Germer | FR | 6-8 | Forward | Sentinel HS | Missoula, Mont.
Sam Lecholat | FR | 6-7 | Forward | Sheridan HS | Sheridan, Wyo.
Patrick McMahon | FR | 6-6 | Guard | Colony HS | Palmer, Alaska
Great Osobor | FR | 6-8 | Guard/Forward | Myerscough College | Tudela, Spain
Jasper Reinalda | FR | 7-3 | Center | Corvallis HS | Corvallis, Ore. | Donar Academy
Isaac Spears | FR | 6-4 | Guard | Bella Vista Prep | Scottsdale, Ariz.