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Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Tuesday, 31 August 2010 19:37 UK

Luol Deng backs improved GB basketball team

Luol Deng
Deng is Great Britain's star player

By Rob Dugdale

Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng says Great Britain will be better than ever when the European Championship finals start in Lithuania next year.

"We're a better team now than we were a few years ago," said Deng. "We're still dominating and winning our group, teams are having to prepare for us."

Deng played in all eight GB qualifiers this summer after missing last year's programme with a stress fracture.

The team won six of the eight, ending with a 75-66 loss to Ukraine on Sunday.

Deng, 25, expects GB's team to feature his former Chicago Bulls team-mate Ben Gordon for the first time when the tournament starts in September.

We're going to win a lot of games; teams are starting to realise that we're at their level

Luol Deng

Bulls small forward Deng has borne the brunt of GB's scoring this year, averaging 22.6 points per game despite opposing defences paying close, physical attention to him.

"We're OK with it - the way teams are playing us, they're shifting the whole defence on to me," he said. "We're going to win a lot of games. Teams are starting to realise that we're at their level.

"When we get Ben Gordon next year and Joel Freeland back, they're not going to be able to play me that way."

Freeland, 6ft 11in, was one of three GB inside players - the others were 6ft 11in forward Robert Archibald and 7ft 1in Andy Betts - to miss out on qualification this summer in order to rest injuries.

Gordon, now at the Detroit Pistons, was set to play for GB this summer but was ruled out with a slow recovery from ankle surgery.

"It's a been a long time coming but I'm looking forward to hopefully playing next summer," said shooting guard Gordon, who was there to see GB clinch qualification with the win over Bosnia in Liverpool.

"I was talking to Luol and it seems like he has to do a lot so I can come in and take some of the pressure off him.

"I don't feel it's like that much of an adjustment and the [International Basketball Federation] three-point line is awfully close!"

"If you go into that kind of tournament you need more depth," said GB coach Chris Finch after the team had clinched qualification with a win over Bosnia-Hercegovina in Liverpool.

"It's a meat grinder, basically, you're playing every day."

Team captain Andrew Sullivan, the only player to have been with the GB team since the first game in 2006, has found the winning experience satisfying.


"It's been fun every year seeing the programme getting bigger and bigger," he said. "You can see that the hard work that's been put into it has made it more professional. We've got guys who really want to be here."

By qualifying for a second successive EuroBasket finals, GB have almost certainly satisfied world governing body Fiba as to the competitiveness of the team on the court.

Still remaining is the question of basketball's legacy in Britain after the Olympics, something GB officials must prove to Fiba.

There is a long time before GB travel to Lithuania next summer and if their last European finals has anything to teach them, it is that a lot can go wrong in basketball.

But if the luck stays with them (a full squad to choose from, available insurance for players that need it and a tournament draw that does not drop three future semi-finalists in the same group like last time) GB believe they can fulfil the promise that many predicted for them in Poland two years ago.

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see also
GB 'edge closer' to Olympic spots
28 Aug 10 |  Basketball
Who to watch at basketball Worlds
29 Aug 10 |  Basketball
NBA superstar Deng returns to his Sudan roots
24 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
GB women seal historic Euro place
26 Aug 10 |  Basketball
British men slip to first defeat
23 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB men refuse to ease up
16 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB Basketball's new star
13 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB women clinch win over Ukraine
20 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB men fight back to beat Hungary
17 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB men stand out in double-header
14 Aug 10 |  Basketball

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