British basketball moving in right direction, says Luol Deng


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The Independent Online

Luol Deng sees Great Britain's match-up against the United States on Thursday as a chance for the team to make their mark on the world stage before the Olympics.

Having the world and Olympic champions come to Manchester for a warm-up game is a measure of how far British Basketball has come in its short life as the MEN Arena prepares to host the biggest basketball crowd this country has ever seen.

A full 17,000 sell-out is expected, and regardless of the outcome, Chicago Bulls star Deng sees this as a coming-of-age moment for the sport in this country as the days count down to London.

"I'm excited and as a team we're excited because we get to play against the best, but this is what's needed for British Basketball," Deng said.

"This is the best in the world and they're coming here. If you go back a few years that would never happen, and that by itself is an accomplishment.

"It just shows you the direction we're moving in."

The British team, only formed in 2006 with the goal of reaching London, has started to make its mark in Europe over the past few years, running the likes of European champions Spain and France close, but their arrival in international basketball is yet to truly register across the Atlantic.

Having the Americans in their own backyard, and playing under the spotlight of the travelling American media, will give them a new platform.

"We've come a long way," said Deng, who began playing for Britain in 2007 when the team was competing in Europe's Division B, trying to get a foothold on the ladder so they could strive towards the Olympics.

"There's not a lot of recognition of what we've done or what coach (Chris) Finch has done, but we really came through fast.

"The way British Basketball has moved forward hasn't really been known, but we came from Division B with no one ever talking about basketball and now when we play teams like Spain and France, they really have to prepare for us if they want to beat us."

The British team had to earn their Olympic spot in a way most host nations do not, convincing world governing body FIBA they had developed on and off the court sufficiently to be able to compete.

The process has left a chip on the shoulder of many players, but also a sense of satisfaction now the goal is in sight.

"We've always been knocked down, whether by other coaches, teams or fans," Deng said.

"There's always been something put in front of us, so it's so sweet now to be heading to the Olympics.

"We felt a little bit disrespected not to get an automatic place, but we went in to those different groups and came out on top, so now there's pride that we did our job.

"Now we have an opportunity to do something and show a lot of people we can play with the best in the world."