Deng, GB Ready For Switzerland

10.09.2007

By Ian Parker, PA Sports

A team-mate now stands in the way of Luol Deng fulfilling his international ambitions this summer.

In the last two months, the Chicago Bulls star has led Great Britain to four straight wins, allowing the Brits to force their way into a two-game play-off for promotion into Europe's Division A of basketball nations.

That promotion is critical to their hopes of playing in the 2012 Olympics on home soil.

Robert Archibald (Great Britain)
Robert Archibald is another key piece of the puzzle of leading Great Britain to Division A.
But Deng and Great Britain have been drawn against Switzerland - and Deng's fellow Bull Thabo Sefalosha - for the play-off series which tips off in Sheffield on Tuesday.

"I'm real excited about it," Deng said of the match-up against his team-mate.

"With the way things work out, you know I'd rather play someone else and see (Switzerland) go through too, but I'm still excited. I play against him all year in practice so it's going to be really good. 

"You just have to accept the challenge and hopefully it will bring the best out of both of us."

Deng, who is Sudanese-born but grew up in London after his family sought political asylum, has spent the last two months with the Great Britain team, leading the scoring in three of the last four games as the British reeled off wins over Slovakia, the Netherlands, Albania and Belarus to snatch the final play-off berth.

It has been a major commitment for the only Bull to figure in all 92 regular-season and play-off games for Chicago last season to make.

It has not always been easy, but Deng has never wavered in his dedication to the cause.

"I'm not going to lie, it's had its ups and downs," Deng said of the last two months.

"The commitment has been tough. You don't get to spend as much time as you could with your family, but you have to understand the situation and my family understands the situation. That's the tough part. Basketball-wise, it's been great. It's been great being here and playing with these guys."

With two months of work behind them, success or failure now comes down to their ability to beat Switzerland and secure promotion.

"This is a big game. It feels like the (NBA) play-offs," Deng said.

"You've given your summer to try and do this so you want to try and get the best
result so you know its been a good decision. It's been a good decision so far, so you want to make sure you get the job done."

With Deng on board, Great Britain goes into the series as the clear favourite.

"I don't have a problem labelling us (as favourites) but the thing we have to guard against is complacency after such a good performance in the group," said coach Chris Finch, who saw his team rout Belarus 83-51 last week behind 27 points from Deng.

"We've talked about the fact we have no margin for error. To get to the play-off games we had to win all four and we can't take a break from that mentality."

The key to recent successes has been the way that Deng and other new arrivals in the squad - including former Memphis Grizzlies draft pick Robert Archibald - have been quickly integrated.

"I think the key has been how all the guys have got along," said team captain Andrew Sullivan.

"There's a lot of egos here, everyone wants to do their part, but a lot of guys have taken a bit of a backseat to try and fit in because everyone believes in what we're trying to do.

"You speak to people on other national teams who say it can be a bit of a nightmare when you get guys in from the NBA or the other big leagues around Europe and that you get a lot of personality clashes, but I think here our personalities seem to have complimented each other."

If Great Britain can clinch promotion with victory in this series - game two is in Switzerland on Saturday - they will be well on course for the 2012 Olympics.

While a place is generally reserved for the hosts, FIBA had warned GB Basketball it must prove itself capable of fielding a competitive team before its place would be secure.

That job seems to be well in hand, but the ambitions now stretch further. 

Finch is looking to integrate ex-Dallas Maverick Pops Mensah-Bonsu into the team along with Joel Freeland, a second-round draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers in 2006.

With five years left until the games take place, Finch sees all the building blocks of a competitive team.

"To think that GB Basketball could compete for a medal in 2012 is not beyond the realms of possibility at all given what is available to it," he said.

"You're going to have some players who will be in the absolute prime of their careers, you're playing at home, and you've had five years to build the program to a point where you can capitalise on the moment."

To do that, the hard work will go on.

"This squad can compete at the next level," Finch added, "but ideally we'd like to add a little depth to it. We think the talent is out there to do that. We have a guy like Roger Huggins who is at the end of his basketball road - he knows that, we know that - but then you have a guy like Mensah-Bonsu who is a perfect replacement waiting for us. It's just about maintaining continuity. You've got to find new talent all the time."

These are the dreams that rest on this week's series. Before anything else can follow, Great Britain must get past Switzerland or go back to square one in the long process of trying to qualify from FIBA Europe's Group B.

"For both teams, this game means a lot," said Deng.

"Neither team really wants to go through against what we went through to try to qualify so I know a lot of guys are motivated.

"They're going to come out strong and try to challenge us. Although on paper it might look like we have the better team I know they're going to come out and compete."

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