Luol Deng looking forward to Lakers renaissance
LOS ANGELES, USA - 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 4-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. (READ: NBA: Walton aims to get Lakers back on song)
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 8 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 wide-eyed 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 All-Star 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." – Rappler.com