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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Deng cleared to play for Britain
By Rob Dugdale

Luol Deng
Deng's parents still live in England
Great Britain have received a major boost with the news that Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng has finally been given a UK passport by the Home Office.

Deng, 21, was born in Sudan but lived in London from the ages of nine to 15.

The decision means that Deng will be eligible to play for Britain in next summer's vital European qualifiers.

Great Britain coach Chris Finch, who is seeking to steer the team to a place in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, described the news as "fantastic".

The decision to grant naturalisation came after intense lobbying by UK Sport, British basketball officials and London 2012 officials.

Although Deng had previously represented England at Under-19 level, he had done so under a special dispensation from Fiba, the world governing body, which recognised his refugee status.

Deng's family - his father was a former transport minister in Sudan - came to Britain to escape the civil war in the African state.

He has spent the last five years playing in the United States at Blair Academy, Duke University and the Chicago Bulls.

The fact that he has spent so little time in this country in recent years was the main barrier to his naturalisation and required "very hard work" behind the scenes to rectify, according to one source.

"Although I've been living in the US for a number of years, London will always be my home," said Deng. "It's the city I grew up in and where my family lives today."

But I don't think of him as a saviour - I don't think we need saving - but he's a heck of a piece of a puzzle to have

GB coach Chris Finch

Finch added: "With Luol, we get unbelievable talent and an athlete with size.

"What I've liked most of all when I've seen him is that he has the ability to make those around him better."

Although ineligible to play in any of this summer's games, Deng has been given credit by Great Britain officials for urging other players to get involved in the programme.

"This will bring others on board - his support has been fantastic," said Finch. "He's upped the ante in terms of commitment."

With Great Britain almost certainly needing to win all four qualifiers next season to make Europe's Division A, a lot will be expected of Deng.

"He plays in the NBA, so he's probably used to pressure," said Finch. "But I don't think of him as a saviour - I don't think we need saving - but he's a heck of a piece of a puzzle to have.

"Does the future look brighter with Luol Deng on board? Of course it does."

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