Two –time NBA All Star Luol Deng was back where he grew up in south east London this month for two initiatives to bring basketball – and opportunity – to youngsters.
The 6ft9 basketball star’s Deng Camp at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre helped the elite top 50 British basketballers while his newly launched Deng Academy is attached to the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton to help youngsters with the sport and education.
In a climate where TeamGB’s basketball funding was cut post-Olympics and its very existence hangs in the balance, Deng takes his commitment to helping the sport in this country seriously.
He said: “If it is all gone, it hurts, because it is something I believe in. For me, it won’t stop what I do.
“My basketball camp focuses on the young kids because I really believe we do have the talent but I also believe we could use basketball to help so many kids, especially where I’m from or with a similar background to me.”
The 29-year-old former St Mary's High School, Croydon, pupil earnestly believes that giving young people the chance to play basketball is about much more than championing the sport over others.
He said: “It just needs more attention. I believe there are so many kids out there for whom football may not be their thing, or rugby, cricket or whatever and now you introduce another sport that I really think this country is capable of supporting.
“I really think it will improve a lot of things, not just the sport but also a lot of these kids are spending a lot of time out there doing things that are not necessarily benefitting themselves.
“You put them in a club and there is so much to learn besides basketball.”
Born in Sudan, Deng moved to south east London as a child with his family. He excelled at basketball and, aged 14, moved to high school in the US on a scholarship.
He spent a decade at Chicago Bulls before a move to Cleveland last year and this close-season he was on the move again to Miami Heat, who won the league in 2012 and 2013 and have been finalists for the last four years with their triumvirate of superstars: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
LeBron has departed, but Deng is excited by the prospect of joining up with his new teammates.
He said: “I’m really excited. I played at one team for 10 years.
“I had a great time in Cleveland but committing to Miami, I’m really excited.
“I’m going to a team that have been to the final four years in a row.
“Obviously you lose a player like LeBron James and it is going to take a lot of effort to fill his shoes but at the same time I’m joining a team with players who are used to winning and a programme that has been winning, guys that are committed to winning and staff that have done it.
“I’m really excited. It’s a great city to be in. The fans are into it. It’s a season with a lot of unanswered questions and I have an opportunity to go out there and play hard and see what we can do as a team.
He added: “Whatever you do, there’s always pressure. The only way to eliminate that is to work hard. You can’t really go into it thinking about jumping into someone else’s shoes. I have got to bring what I can do and see how that can add to the mix.”