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Last Updated: Friday, 17 August 2007, 06:09 GMT 07:09 UK
NBA star gets GB ball rolling

By James Munro
BBC sports news correspondent

Luol Deng playing for Chicago
Deng made his home GB debut in the modest surroundings of Crawley
Playing in front of 450 spectators in Sussex is a long way from megastardom in the US with Chicago Bulls, but for Luol Deng, it is just as important.

On Thursday night the Chicago Bulls star made his home debut for Great Britain against Ireland in Crawley, in a warm-up match ahead of key Euro-basket games against Georgia and Croatia.

But the 22-year-old hopes it will be the first step on the road to the 2012 Olympic Games, and the start of a revolution in British basketball.

When the London Games come around, the Sudan-born player will be 27, and on the basis of his current form, would walk into any Olympic team in the world.

Last season he was the National Basketball Association's Sportsman of the Year, and is poised to sign a new four-year contract, which would put him above Premier League stars such as Wayne Rooney and John Terry in terms of earnings.

But for 70 a day, Deng has chosen to play for Britain, a country which, in its one previous Olympic basketball tournament - also in London, in 1948 - lost all three games.

The burning question is - why?

Partly as a way of saying "thank you" to a country which granted his family political asylum after his father, a government minister in Sudan, was jailed in a coup.

And partly because this is where he learnt to play the game, with the Brixton Topcats.

After that he won a basketball scholarship to the United States and never looked back - but as a result he never got a British passport either.

Luiol Deng plays during GB's victory over Ireland on Thursday
Deng was unsurprisingly the star as GB beat Ireland

This is where British Basketball comes in.

Their coach, an energetic American, Chris Finch, has very clear views on how Britain can build a world class team.

The only way to do it by 2012, he reckons, is to encourage NBA stars with British links to sign up.

And so with the help of a letter to the Home Office from Lord Coe, Deng's passport was granted last year.

Pops Mensah Bonsu of the Dallas Mavericks is also on board, and Kelenna Azubuike of the Golden State Warriors is waiting for his passport to go through.

Admittedly, the policy has raised a few eyebrows - after all, is not the point of the London Games to encourage a whole new generation of children to take up the sport, not import ready-made stars?

Sue Campbell, the chair of UK Sport, has made it clear she will not tolerate any sport chasing so-called "passports of convenience", but she is happy that basketball has so far stuck to the guidelines, only targeting players with legitimate British links.

And watching Luol Deng this week at a basketball camp for 290 children, I was left in no doubt that his presence has given the sport in this country a huge lift.

Basketball in Britain is crying out for role models to inspire young players, and keep them interested.

If Luol Deng can do that, then 70 a day may feel like the best wage he has ever earned.



SEE ALSO
Deng stars in Great Britain win
16 Aug 07 |  Basketball
Bulls star Deng set for GB debut
03 Aug 07 |  Basketball
Deng set for GB training link-up
18 Jul 07 |  Basketball
GB cleared for qualifying games
16 Jul 07 |  Basketball
Row threatens GB basketball hopes
22 May 07 |  Basketball
Deng aims to boost GB basketball
04 May 07 |  Basketball
Deng cleared to play for Britain
05 Oct 06 |  Basketball


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