EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Luol Deng was not entirely surprised to be named to the Eastern Conference team: "This year, for some reason, I thought it was going to happen." |
The elite status of Luol Deng and Marc Gasol in the NBA was confirmed this week.
Chicago Bulls forward Deng will become the first player from Great Britain to play in the All-Star Game after being named to the Eastern Conference squad.
Meanwhile, Memphis Grizzlies center Gasol of Spain has been included in the Western Conference team, for the first time in his career.Germany's basketball icon Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and France's Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs will also play in the game for the West.
The 26-year-old Deng played in his first EuroBasket last summer for Great Britain and averaged 24.6 points and 9.4 rebounds.
After the end of the NBA lockout, Deng returned to the court and has been a major factor for Chicago winning an NBA-best 23 games with just seven defeats.
Deng has been hailed for his ability to pass, shoot and defend in his career.
He was averaging 15.8 points, 7.10 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks when he was named to the East team.
"The one thing about Lu, if you really look at his career each year he has been in the league he has gotten better and better," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said.
"That's a sign of how serious he is, how he approaches the game.
"He's obviously a very well-rounded player. There isn't anything he doesn't do well."
Deng was excited when he got the news.
"I had a feeling" Deng said.
"I don't know why. I was still surprised to see that [I] made it.
"This year kind of felt different going into it. There have been a few years where I thought I might make it.
"This year, for some reason, I thought it was going to happen."
|"Nobody wanted me at first," recalls Marc Gasol, who was drafted number 48 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft |
Gasol has been a key part of the Memphis Grizzlies' emergence.
He was named in the squad after averaging career highs in points (15), rebounds (10.2), assists (2.7) and blocks (2.23) while shooting 49.3% through 26 games.
Gasol's rise to prominence has been rapid.
After a disappointing season with Barcelona when he had received little playing time, an injury knocked Fran Vazquez out of Spain's World Championship squad and Gasol replaced him and then helped the Spaniards capture a gold medal.
He decided to play for Akasvayu Girona under Svetislav Pesic and after winning the EuroCup title in 2007, he was in the summer drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, albeit in the second round with the 48th pick overall.
"Nobody wanted me at first," Gasol said with a grin.
"The Lakers said you can show up for training camp (in 2007) and we'll give you a practice jersey.
"But they never told me to come here and be part of the team. They never offered me that."
Gasol stayed in Europe with Akasvayu and the Lakers traded his rights to Memphis to acquire his brother, Pau, who helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals three times and win two championships.
Marc Gasol went on to lead Akasvayu into the 2008 Eurocup Final and was also named ACB Player of the Year.
The next season, he crossed the Atlantic to launch his NBA career with Memphis and has moved from strength to strength ever since.
Pau Gasol, an All-Star player in the past, did not make the Western Conference squad for this year's game but was thrilled for his brother.
"I'm very happy for my brother Marc for being chosen an All-Star this season," Pau Gasol said.
"I'm not able to be any prouder of him!"
Nowitzki led the Mavericks to their first NBA title last year.
He is averaging 18.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists for the Mavs.
Parker has never played better for San Antonio.
Coming off an outstanding EuroBasket in Lithuania, where he led France into the final and was also named to the All-Tournament team, Parker has averaged 18.6 points and 7.6 assists for San Antonio to help them survive without injured guard Manu Ginobili.