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Aug. 12, 2012
Compiled & Written by Charlie Sallwasser for theACC.com
It would have been easy for Luol Deng to take the summer off from basketball. No one would have faulted him for choosing rest and relaxation somewhere sunny over catching additional elbows from the likes of Luis Scola. After all, he had just finished leading the NBA in minutes played per game despite suffering a nagging wrist injury in January, the Chicago Bulls (his employers) were campaigning for him to spend the summer rehabbing his wrist and sipping drinks with umbrellas in them in preparation for 2012-2013, and finally Great Britain (his adopted homeland) hadn’t won an Olympic basketball game (or even fielded an Olympic team) since 1948 (the last London Olympics). I can say with some certainty that many players in his position would have skipped the Olympics. Why didn’t Deng?
The Deng family moved to Egypt from Sudan when Luol was young to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War. They spent five years in Egypt attempting to gain political asylum, and finally saw it granted by the English government – a decision that Deng credits with saving his family.
“When we were in Egypt, we were refugees. My family and I were homeless. For five years, out of all of the countries in the world that my father was contacting, the only one that took us in was England. So how do I not participate [in the Olympics]? If I don't play for them, knowing that I had the opportunity to, explain to me, how am I supposed to live with that for the rest of my life?" (ESPN)
Choosing to participate in the Olympics was more than a basketball decision for Luol Deng – it was an opportunity to give back to the country that gave his family a new lease on life and him the opportunity to make it to Duke and later the NBA. Deng has established himself as one of the NBA’s premier citizens (in 2007, he received the NBA’s J Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, part of a run that saw former Blue Devils win it five times in six years), and on top of his work with the Luol Deng Foundation (established in 2005 to provide essentials like clean water and mosquito nets to Sudan), he’s also been involved with children’s charity School Home Support in the UK and the NBA’s Basketball without Borders Tour. His coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, terms Deng “one of the great guys,” and means it. Deng is no stranger to giving back, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to suit up for Britain in the Olympics – an opportunity that has literally come around once in a lifetime for members of the British basketball program.
On top of all of the aforementioned reasons, the British team direly needed his game. Aside from Deng, the British team’s cumulative NBA experience is the 61 games with six teams over four seasons logged by journeyman forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu. The going has been predictably rough. The British won just twice in their five games, and Deng struggled against the double and occasionally triple teams (something that will likely be a nightly occurrence in Chicago in 2013 as he becomes the Bulls’ primary perimeter threat sans Derrick Rose), shooting just 31% (20% from the three-point line) but still leading the team in points, assists, and steals. With the tournament over for Great Britain and roughly six weeks until NBA training camps begin, Deng has no doubt that he made the right choice.
"Just playing in my hometown, playing with guys I grew up with, just competing with the best teams in the world, that's what I will remember most," said Deng. "I think being in the village with all those athletes, getting to know them, also. There are a lot of athletes I'm now friends with, who I'm going to be in touch with for a long time. It's one of those things that wouldn't happen if you weren't here, so I’m just glad I'm here." (ESPN)