April 15, 2014

We’re talking ‘bout practice …

After the final day of practice for the 2013-14 season – in which guys actually went through contact drills – it was only fitting that the media, the team and the league paused to honor a pair of good guys.

On a local level, the Cleveland chapter of the Pro Basketball Writers Association named guard Jarrett Jack this year’s recipient of the Austin Carr Good Guy Award – awarded the player who is cooperative and understanding of the media. Jack has certainly been that all season – sharing his sage veteran wisdom to reporters through good times and bad.

The eight-year veteran has been solid on the floor and off all year – playing in 79 games, starting 31, and averaging 9.6 points, 2.8 boards and 4.0 assists per contest.

Jack – who edged Tristan Thompson and C.J. Miles – is the ninth winner of the award, joining last year’s recipient, Luke Walton, as well as past winners: Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, Jamario Moon, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Damon Jones, Drew Gooden and the inaugural winner, Larry Hughes.

On a global level, Cavs forward Luol Deng became the third Cavalier in franchise history to win the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, presented annually by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to the player, coach or trainer who shows outstanding service and dedication to the community.

(Austin Carr won the award in 1979-80; Eric Snow, in 2004-05.)

Deng’s family, which included eight brothers and sisters, was forced to flee their homeland which was consumed by the Second Sudanese Civil War. His father, who was the country’s Minster of Transportation relocated the family to Egypt and then to England to escape the violence.

“I hope it brings more attention, more awareness to what I’m trying to do – people can read about the stuff that’s going on and learn more about it and, hopefully, at the end of the day, more things can be done,” said Deng. “There’s so much to be done and I’m glad that I won this award. And for everybody that voted for me, I appreciate it for them to recognize what I’m doing and give me this award.”

Deng is involved in several local and international causes, including The Luol Deng Foundation – a global non-profit organization which uses the game of basketball to provide hope to kids in Africa, the United Kingdom and the U.S. In Africa, the Foundation focuses on building outdoor basketball courts and delivering initiatives to bring local communities together. Two courts as well as 12 hoops, locker rooms and gear – funded by Luol – will open this summer in South Sudan.

“I don’t know what my goal is, but if I make one person happy or make their life better, I think that’s enough, but it just keeps going,” said the two-time All-Star. “It’s one of those things that you really can’t set a goal on. You can’t say: ‘I’m going to make 1,000 people’s lives better,’ and stop right there because there’s always the next person. It’s one of those things I enjoy doing.

“I wish I could wake up tomorrow and nobody needs help, but we all know that’s not going to happen, so I’m just happy to be in the position that I’m in to be able to do the things I’m able to do. Because there’s a lot of people out there that would love to have the opportunities to do some of the things that I do.”

Deng was acquired by the Cavaliers in the Andrew Bynum deal on January 6 and, like Jack, has been a steadying veteran presence for a team whose average age was 24.1 when the 2013-14 season began. He played in 40 games with the Wine and Gold, averaging 14.3 points, 5.1 boards and 2.5 assists per.

“(I was) always was a fan of his game and then, getting to know him, he’s an even better person than (he is) a basketball player – and we all know what kind of basketball player he is,” praised Jarrett Jack. “Just the things he does for his country, obviously, those things he doesn’t have to do. But he does it because he’s a powerful guy, he represents and respects where he comes from. (He’s) a very, very selfless individual and I just think that speaks volumes.”

In the United Kingdom, Deng’s foundation provides basketball camps, clinics and events for all branches of the community. The goals focus on grassroots development – providing advice and support for kids looking to pursue the sport and increase opportunities for young women.

In the States, the nine-year veteran has focused on the two communities where he’s played – Cleveland and Chicago, including holiday events providing meals and toys to the underserved. He’s also been a mentor to the “Lost Boys of Sudan” and is an enthusiastic supporter of the league’s “Basketball without Borders” program.

“(The award) is well-deserved, with what he’s come from – his life experience, it’s just off the charts,” lauded Coach Brown. “(Luol) told me about it and I was touched. To see where he is now and understand that he knows that, ‘Hey my job is not done. I was one of the fortunate ones now because of where I am, (and) I have a platform to be able to bring awareness to others.’”

Naturally, the modest, soft-spoken Deng deflected most of the praise that came his way – just one of the reasons that he (and Jarrett Jack) were honored for being two of the good guys at season’s end.

“At the end of the day it’s about helping other people and doing what makes you happy in life,” concluded Deng. “I’m glad to win this award, but I do it because it makes me happy. Sometimes helping others is a selfish move – it’s selfish because it makes me happy. I love the fact that I’m recognized for this, but at the end of the day, doing this stuff makes me happy.”