Gophers runner at 40 pairs and counting

Goaner Deng has collected shoes since high school, and now he’s known for it.

Middle-distance track runner Goaner Deng has over 40 pairs of sneakers. Deng will run at the Big Ten Indoor Championships on Feb. 28.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Middle-distance track runner Goaner Deng has over 40 pairs of sneakers. Deng will run at the Big Ten Indoor Championships on Feb. 28.

Jack Satzinger

Goaner Deng listens to hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar before competition, his Beats by Dre headphones cradling his head.

“Take your J’s and tell you to kick it where a Foot Locker is,” from Lamar’s “Money Trees” echoes in Deng’s ears.

As his head bobs to the beat, the Gophers middle-distance runner looks down at his feet shrouded in Air Jordans.

They aren’t his only pair. Deng owns about 40 other pairs of basketball-inspired shoes.

His favorite sport is basketball, and his style shows it. He’s played the game most of his life but now runs track for Minnesota.

“I originally joined track and field to get in shape for basketball,” Deng said.

He stopped playing basketball after his sophomore year of high school, though, and opted to focus on track. Still, his passion for hoops lives on in his shoes — a hobby since his high school days.

His college teammates have taken notice, calling Deng the most fashionable member of the team.

“He always dresses to impress,” sophomore Christian Skaret said.

A passion for fashion

Deng started buying Air Jordans and Nikes in high school. He wore them everywhere.

As an adolescent, when his sneakers wore out, he simply got rid of them and bought a new pair.

“Then I started realizing I can’t get some of these again,” Deng said.

He started taking better care of his shoes and wore them more sparingly.

Deng’s longtime friend Sam Temple inspired him to begin collecting shoes. Temple has more than 100 pairs stacked up in boxes lining the walls of his room.

“For our friend group, it just kind of blew up,” Temple said.

Soon, Deng started bidding on rare shoes on eBay and went to shoe releases to get his hands on — and his feet in — some old-school Jordans.

“Everyone goes and gets them because you can’t just go get them at the store,” Deng said of the sneakerhead culture.

In his freshman year of college, Deng went to a release for the Air Jordan 12’s with Gophers basketball star Andre Hollins. Deng said that pair is one of his favorites — black on the top and white on the bottom.

The next summer, Deng got a job at the Nike Store at the Mall of America.

“I had a lot of fun there because a lot of stuff I was selling there revolved around athletics,” Deng said. “I loved that and working with other athletes.”

His job at the Nike Store intensified his love for shoes. Deng got a 40 percent employee discount on shoes and clothes, and he used it to his advantage.

“It wasn’t smart to work there and buy shoes,” Deng said. “You’re just working in the store helping people, and you see a new pair of shoes. You’re like, ‘Next time we get paid, I’ll get those.’”

Deng worked at the Nike Store the summer after his sophomore year, too, and continued to build his collection — much to the chagrin of his mother.

“She hated it,” Deng said with a laugh. “She thought I should be saving my money up for other stuff.”

Deng said he doesn’t keep track of how much his collection is worth, but he said the most he’s ever spent on one pair is about $220.

That money was used to buy his Nike Foamposites, which were originally released in 1997.

“It has some material in it that a car company uses on its cars,” Deng said.

While basketball spurred his passion for sneakers, Deng is now interested in fashion as a whole.

Skaret said that on a typical night out, Deng looks classy in cardigans or collared shirts.

“He’ll spend an hour, at least, deciding what shoes to go with the outfit,” Skaret said.

Track style

Unfortunately for Deng, the Jordan brand doesn’t make track spikes. So when he races, he wears Nikes.

He still finds a way to stand out.

“I’m running in these bright green shoes with a gold bottom right now,” Deng said. “I also have some white and orange ones.”

His appreciation for style has spread to the rest of the middle-distance runners. They often have contests to see who can wear the craziest socks to practices.

“Someone will come to practice with a new pair of socks and show them off,” Skaret said. “They’ll have designated days when they’re wearing nice socks to see who’s wearing the craziest ones.”

Deng said his go-to socks are maroon and gold with the block “M” lining the material. His shoes, however, are still his calling card on the track.

Even though the vast majority of his shoes are either Jordans or Nikes, Deng said, he’s open to other brands — as long as they’re stylish.

Still, in his eyes, nothing compares to a fresh pair of Jordans.

“I don’t think anyone will ever be able to resell the same shoes over and over again like Michael [Jordan] did,” Deng said.