Deng look­ing for­ward to Lak­ers re­nais­sance

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Whether flee­ing civil war in Su­dan with his fam­ily or mov­ing to the United States on a schol­ar­ship as a 14-year-old, Luol Deng is no stranger to new be­gin­nings. The 31-year-old Bri­tish for­ward’s no­madic ex­is­tence has now taken him to Hol­ly­wood, where he is ex­pected to be a key fig­ure as the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers at­tempt to re­build af­ter the worst sea­son in their his­tory. Deng joined the Lak­ers on a four-year $72 mil­lion deal in July, lured by the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing with new coach Luke Wal­ton at the start of a long-term project to re­vive the iconic fran­chise.

Deng’s ar­rival pro­vides a young Lak­ers squad with a pil­lar of ma­tu­rity, bring­ing grit and a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence gleaned from pre­vi­ous stints with the Chicago Bulls, Cleve­land Cava­liers and Miami Heat. “It’s a new chap­ter for me. This is my 13th year now. I’m look­ing for­ward to be­ing a part of it and lead­ing the young guys,” Deng told AFP at a Lak­ers me­dia ses­sion.

“I’m only 31, so I still have a lot of play­ing in me. I’m look­ing for­ward to be­ing a leader on and off the court through my work ethic.” If Deng’s past is any­thing to go by, the Lak­ers have made a shrewd in­vest­ment. Time and again, Deng has faced down all chal­lenges suc­cess­fully. A tu­mul­tuous early life saw him move to Egypt with his mother and eight broth­ers and sis­ters as Su­dan’s civil war raged.

His fa­ther, a govern­ment min­is­ter, was later ar­rested and im­pris­oned af­ter a mil­i­tary coup be­fore flee­ing to Bri­tain in 1993 and claim­ing po­lit­i­cal asy­lum. Re­united with his fam­ily in Lon­don, Deng quickly em­braced his new sur­round­ings. He be­came an avid Arse­nal fan, idol­iz­ing striker Ian Wright, be­fore his rapidly de­vel­op­ing frame per­suaded him to con­cen­trate on basketball.

While play­ing for his lo­cal club-the Brix­ton Top­cats-he was spot­ted by an Amer­i­can tal­ent scout, who swiftly of­fered him a schol­ar­ship to the pres­ti­gious Blair Acad­emy pri­vate school in New Jer­sey. Deng ar­rived as a wideeyed 14-year-old, alone and homesick, but de­ter­mined not to waste the op­por­tu­nity of a life­time.

By the time of his se­nior year, he was re­garded the sec­ond most valu­able high school prospect in the United States af­ter Le­Bron James. Af­ter one sea­son at Duke University-play­ing for leg­endary “Coach K” Mike Krzyzewski-Deng en­tered the NBA draft in 2004, and was cho­sen as the sev­enth pick over­all by the Phoenix Suns be­fore be­ing im­me­di­ately traded to Chicago. Twice named to the NBA All­Star team in 2012 and 2013, Deng has yet to land an NBA Fi­nals ring, with the clos­est he has come be­ing a de­feat in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals with Chicago in 2011. With the Lak­ers crash­ing to their worst-ever 17-65 sea­son last year, Deng is un­likely to be chal­leng­ing for cham­pi­onship hon­ors with his new em­ploy­ers any time soon. Nev­er­the­less, he re­mains en­thused by the chal­lenge of a daunt­ing re­build­ing project.

“At this point in my ca­reer, even though I’ve been in the league 13 years, I’ve still got a lot of basketball to play. There’s a lot I could do,” Deng said.

“From my per­spec­tive, what­ever hap­pened here last sea­son, that’s the past.

“For the group now, this is a new be­gin­ning and we’ve got a lot to prove. “We’ve got young guys who’ve got a lot to learn but also who are will­ing to work hard and im­prove. We’ve got a sys­tem that is really ex­cit­ing.” Deng is wise enough to avoid set­ting con­crete sea­son tar­gets for an in­ex­pe­ri­enced team still in tran­si­tion.

“Suc­cess for every­body’s go­ing to be some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said. “The im­por­tant thing for us is to fo­cus on the fun­da­men­tals-build the right at­mos­phere, play hard ev­ery game, play un­selfishly, play for each other. That’s what I’m here to try and do.” — AFP

SAN AN­TO­NIO: San An­to­nio Spurs guard De­jounte Mur­ray (5) shoots next to Hous­ton Rock­ets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) dur­ing the sec­ond half of a pre­sea­son NBA basketball game, Fri­day, in San An­to­nio. — AP

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