The Empire finally strikes back

The Empire finally strikes back

Posted by mikemcgraw on Thu, 09/18/2008 - 14:49
To tip off the Daily Herald's Bulls blog, we'll take a look at a great day for basketball in Great Britain. In fact, it's probably the first great day in the history of English basketball. For decades, England was the only major European country where basketball never seemed to catch on. The United States probably has a more illustrious history in team handball than Britain does in basketball. But that has changed, thanks to Bulls forward Luol Deng. He led Great Britain to a 67-63 victory over the Czech Republic on Wednesday in Pardubice, C.R., which earned the Brits a spot in next year's European championships for the first time ever. Great Britain clinched the Group D title with one game left to play. The other countries in the group are Israel and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here's a Deng quote from the Basketball 24/7 web site: “As a kid growing up in London, I would try and find the European championships on TV and wished we could have a team in it. It always hurt not seeing a GB team playing there. Now we are going to be there next summer." Deng averaged 24.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in five games for Great Britain this month. The team's only loss was in overtime against Israel in Tel Aviv. As most Bulls fans already know, Deng was born in Sudan, but left at a young age when his family fled to Egypt to escape a civil war. A few years later, they were able to move to London. Deng has often said he feels endebted to Great Britain for granting his family asylum and that's one reason he wanted to play for the national team. Qualifying for next year's European championships in Poland isn't the only reward on the table. FIBA has said Great Britain needs to demonstrate competitiveness in the sport before being granted an automatic berth as host nation for the 2012 London Olympics. England has not participated in Olympic basketball since the 1948 Games in London and went 0-7 that year. There has been speculation that qualifying for the European championships would be enough to earn the automatic Olympic berth, but there has yet to be any official word from FIBA. As it stands, Great Britain figures to be very competitive next summer, especially if Deng is joined by Bulls teammate Ben Gordon, who was born in London and expressed interest in playing for the British team. Gordon backed off this year because of his unresolved contract situation with the Bulls. The British team also featured former George Washington power forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, guard Nate Reinking, who played at Kent State, and 2006 Portland draft pick Joel Freeland. Former Illinois center Robert Archibald has also played, but was unavailable this summer. Deng's participation was in doubt a few weeks ago because of an insurance snag, but that was resolved a few days before Britain's first game against Israel on Sept. 3. Deng will have about a week to rest before Bulls training camp opens on Sept. 30.
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