Deng Expects to Be Ready for Training Camp
Luol Deng is logging some long hours at the Berto Center this summer as he returns from a wrist injury.
Bulls.com caught up with Deng, a member of the 2004.05 got milk? NBA All-Rookie First Team, on Wednesday to take in his workout and discuss his rehab, an upcoming trip home to London and preparing for his sophomore season.
First things first, how’s your wrist feeling?
Luol Deng: It’s getting better and better. It’s been a long time—since April—when I got hurt. I was in a cast for ten weeks, I got out of that and I’m rehabbing now. I’m waiting to get the green light and I’m almost there. I’ve been able to do quite a bit; I just have to stay off my right wrist for now.
How limited are you currently as to what you can do?
Deng: I can work out with my left hand, just not my right. More than anything, I’m just trying to take care of my body. I hope to be cleared in two to three weeks so I can start shooting. At first, I’ll start out slowly. I don’t think they’ll let me into contact right away—but not many people are around for contact basketball right now anyway. I’ll work on getting into a rhythm and skills stuff.
Talk about the rehabilitation process as a whole so far.
Deng: The rehab has been good. I’ve been going to AthletiCo in Arlington Heights for a lot of my rehab [in addition to regular workouts at the Berto Center]. It started out slowly but it has been going well and I’m making progress. That’s what it is all about, and I’m getting better every time I go there. Rehab can be challenging sometimes, and you tend to want to speed things up, but I really want to take care of this right so I’m taking my time.
It must be difficult having gone so long without shooting and working on your game.
Deng: It’s been really, really tough. I try to make the best out of it and work on other areas so I can improve at something else other than shooting. I’m strengthening up my left hand, dribbling with it, and working on my body. I try to do everything I can so I don’t miss playing basketball quite as much. It’s been hard doing all this without using my right hand, but hopefully at the end it will be a benefit.
Have you spoken to New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson, who suffered and returned from a similar injury?
Deng: I’ve wanted to, but I haven’t had the chance. I have his number and everything, but I have to admit, I almost didn’t want to know [how the process was for Jefferson]. I wanted to go through my own rehab and see how I was after it was done. I just want to do everything right—I know Richard Jefferson did because he made it back for the playoffs. With the way I feel right now, I think everything is going right. It was really tough not playing in the playoffs for me and missing all those games, but sometimes things happen for a reason. Hopefully there is a good reason behind this.
Do you have any summer camps or trips coming up?
Deng: I’m going back to London in about two weeks and I’ll be doing some basketball stuff there. I think if I had been healthy I would have done more things here and hopefully I will in the years coming up. I’m looking forward, though, to getting home and spending time with my family and visiting old friends. It will be my vacation and it’s a nice thing when you can spend it where your friends are.
Deng knew early on that he’d fit in well in Chicago along with fellow gym rat Kirk Hinrich.
Deng: When people ask me where I’m from, I say I’m from the Sudan. But when they ask what my hometown is, I say London. It’s where I lived and it’s where my whole family lived. London is where I grew up and I know it better than any other place. I’ve lived in Jersey, Carolina and now Chicago, which I am still getting to know. It’s my home now, but London was and always will be, too, because my family is there.
News of the recent bombings must have given you quite a scare.
Deng: We’re not too far from King’s Cross [site of one of the incidents]. Where I played basketball, with the Brixton Topcats, is only a stop away from King’s Cross. So it’s really a scary thing what happened and all the threats that are going on right now. London is such a small city… it’s pretty scary. But everyone from my family is safe.
Looking back, what was it like to be an observer for the last ten regular season games and the playoffs?
Deng: It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s funny because one of my weaknesses has always been patience. Even in high school, when I had injuries I tried to play with them. When I shouldn’t have worked out, I worked out. Patience has always been my biggest weakness but this year I’ve had to learn to be patient, adjusting to sitting out games for the first time ever. I’d never really had any injuries before I came to the NBA, so it was something new for me. But in a way, as much as I hate not playing, I appreciate that I had to learn how to be patient.
Does missing out on the end of the season make you that much hungrier for the coming campaign?
Deng: It definitely does. Guys who don’t play get hungrier because they’re not satisfied. I never like to tell people how hungry I am, I just like to say that I am hungry. It’s always been my goal to have a better season than the year before so I try to do whatever it takes in the summer to get prepared and be better than I was before.
Along with the three other rookies from last season—Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon and Andrés Nocioni—you were fortunate to be in a position to not only play, but succeed in the NBA as first year players. How important was that for you?
Deng: I think that it helped a lot, mostly with our confidence. There were a lot of rookies who got drafted and didn’t play much. Going in to next year, they may still be wondering what they have to do and how they can get better to get the kind of minutes we got last year. It helps our confidence—I see Ben, Noce, Chris, and Jared [Reiner]—all of us are maturing together and looking forward to next year because we know what’s coming. We know what we need to do to help our games.
Speaking of rookies, how exciting was it for you to see your former high school teammate, Charlie Villanueva, go as high as he did (seventh overall) in the NBA Draft?
Deng: It was amazing, and I am really, really happy for Charlie. He’s going to surprise a lot of people, even though a lot of people question his work ethic. The one thing about Charlie is that he’s very talented and in this league, being 6-11, he’s going to do a lot of great things. I was really happy for him but I think the happiest man was our high school coach.
Deng gets loose before the watchful eye of Bulls Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Jeff Macy.
Deng: I tend not to do that. To be honest, I could say that I could have been the third or second pick but I also could have gotten hurt. I could have gone somewhere else [in the draft] and not ended up in Chicago. What I try to do is to look ahead of me and not look back. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing, I’m just focused on trying to get better.
What do you expect the mindset of the team to be as training camp arrives this fall?
Deng: The number one thing is to always strive to do better than we did the year before. Last year when we came into camp the idea was to improve on the previous season and we want to keep moving up the slope. You always hope for bigger things, but if to keep going up the ladder is your goal, you’ll achieve great things.
Earlier this offseason the Bulls gave Scott Skiles a contract extension. What’s your experience been like playing for him?
Deng: Well, it’s different definitely than [playing for] Coach K. But I think it is really great for us as a team because we’re already used to his style, coming in as rookies. We know what he wants and how he coaches; so right now in the offseason we’re looking forward and thinking ahead and it’s easier to picture what we’ll do and what they’ll want us to work on. I think it’s going to be great, being a young team and having a coach like Coach Skiles. He’s a very good coach and he’ll help us take that next step together.
The “You Gotta Be There” billboards are all over the city and training camp is only a few months away—why do you think next season’s team will be worth watching?
Deng: I think the fans should be really excited and it's not just because we’re a young team. I think that with the team that we have, everybody is hungry and really determined. The character that we have, there are guys who want to go out there on the floor and give it their all every game and I think that shows in the way we play. I think that for fans to come and watch guys play their hearts out, it’s something excited and it’s something you want to be a part of.
—Interview and photos by Adam Fluck