Luol Deng, Britain’s NBA All Star, will fulfill a boyhood ambition when he faces the U.S. Olympic team in a Games warmup match on Thursday.
After a tortuous six-year journey to help convince the world governing body FIBA to grant Britain their place as hosts at London 2012, Deng believes that the fixture will prove a landmark in the sport’s history.
The team were formed in 2006 following London’s successful bid in the previous year and the Chicago Bulls forward spearheaded a team who were forced to lift themselves from the bottom of European basketball to qualify for successive Eurobaskets in 2009 and 2011.
“Since we got together in Group B of Eurobasket, we’ve always been knocked down, whether it’s by other team coaches or fans,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“We’ve always had something in front of us. It’s real sweet that we’re now here in the Olympics.
“We feel a little disrespected that we didn’t get the automatic home place but there’s a feel-good factor about the fact that we went out there and we had to play to get here.
“There’s a little pride in the fact that we did our job to be here. We can show a lot of people that we can play with the best in the world.
“Basketball’s not that big here in the UK and this is an opportunity to bring some attention towards it.
“I know my name is out there but a lot of these guys deserve to be known. Hopefully these Olympics will give a chance for these fans to know them.”
With the United States expected to win Group A at the Olympics, Britain would meet the defending champions in the quarter-finals were they to finish in fourth place in Group B, meaning this week’s friendly game is a potential preview of a last eight encounter.
The game in Manchester also gives Deng the opportunity to play against his former Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the U.S. national team.
“I’m excited to be playing against Coach K. but more than anything I’m excited for British basketball,” added Deng.
“Growing up in Brixton, I never saw anything like this happen.
“The other week we played France, who are number four in the world, we played Spain who are second, now we are playing the USA who are number one.
“As a kid, that was my dream, to play against the best. There are still a lot of people in the UK who don’t know much about the sport but our basketball programme is there. Now the USA are here, I’m excited about it.” (Editing by John Mehaffey)