London

Luol Deng's basketball success 'a miracle', says former coach

  • 10 August 2012
  • From the section London
The prowess of captain Luol Deng was not enough to help Team GB progress to the quarter-finals of the Olympic tournament

He is the first British basketball player to have appeared in the NBA's annual All-Star Game.

He is one of Britain's highest paid international sportsmen.

He has been invited to the White House by Barack Obama, who called him "an inspiration".

An impressive list of achievements for a man who at the age of seven fled the country of his birth - Sudan - because of civil war.

Yet when 27-year-old Chicago Bulls star and Team GB player Luol Deng walks down his local high street in Brixton, south London, he is barely recognised - despite his 6ft 9ins frame.

However he still puts much of his success down to his early days with the Brixton Topcats, where coach Jimmy Rogers was a key influence.

Deng said: "I've never worked as hard as I did in Brixton. Jimmy really pushed us to the limit.

"There were times when I felt like it was a little too much but, as I got older, I realised that I am who I am because that was part of me.''

Mr Rogers said of his most famous protege: "We push all of our players to their limits, but Deng worked very hard."

However Mr Rogers pointed out that, as a boy from south London, Deng's international achievements were against the odds.

"Deng's success in the States has nothing to do with any sort of strategy here in the UK," he said.

"It's a miracle he made it."

Mr Rogers added: "There is talent all over England, and London is the envy of the rest of the world outside the US because of its large urban population. But kids are not given the opportunity.

Jimmy Rogers says the government needs to spend more money on basketball

"Basketball does not have the same profile in the UK as it does in the rest of the world.

"In France it's huge and in Spain and Italy. That's the frustration."

The basketball stadium at the Olympic Park is only a temporary venue, and Mr Rogers believes what London needs is a full-size, purpose-built basketball court.

"The only one they have built is being taken away - that's a scandal.

"In England, you don't have good weather so you need an indoor facility - just somewhere kids can go and shoot a ball.

'Enormous potential'

"You have purpose-built courts up north but not in London," he said.

"Why can't we have them? It wouldn't cost a lot of money.

"Funding needs to come from the government - Sport England," he said. "Sport England makes it really difficult."

Mr Rogers also believes basketball is a discipline that gives youngsters direction.

"In 31 years of existence we've never had a kid in trouble," he said.

"I find it very difficult to understand why the government doesn't invest more in this."

Sport England said: "We are keen for this sport to develop and see enormous potential for basketball in England, particularly for young people.

"Sport England is committed to basketball and will invest £7.8m into the sport in this funding cycle.

"Sport England has invested £6m in basketball in London and more money is available through our Olympic and Paralympic legacy programme, Places People Play."

British Performance Basketball chairman Roger Moreland said: "As a sport we have so many young people who want to play and collectively we need to do all we can to enable them to play the game to enable them to become the next Luol Deng or Jo Leedham.

"Investment is a major part of that formula."

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