Postcards from Africa: Luol Deng in Ghana

Pawel Weszka, NBA AFRICA: Tell me about the end of your last NBA season. It ended prematurely for you back in May when you suffered side effects of the spinal tap procedure which effectively eliminated you from competing in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Heat. We all remember international media reporting on your condition regularly throughout that part of the playoffs, but how challenging those times truly were for you as a professional basketball player and as a person?

Luol Deng: The end of the season was disappointing. I worked hard all season, played in the All-Star, and wanted to take the team as far as possible in the playoffs. But then, when I got sick, I think that we could have handled the situation better. Obviously there are some things that you canít handle. You canít really handle getting sick, being taken to the ER or going to the hospital. I got the spinal tap and thatís where it went all wrong. My body didnít react well to the spinal tap, I had some serious side effects that not only didnít allow me to play basketball, but really put my life in danger.
Itís something that I wouldnít want anyone to go through, but when I went through it, I think that basketball became second Ė especially that because what I went through health wise, my family was very worried. I never want to experience something like that again.

Had you had an opportunity to play in the series against the Heat and had the Bulls been healthy, could the score have been different?

Luol Deng: I donít know. It is what it is. We always go by the mindset that whoever they would have played, thatís who weíre with. You canít really ask those Ďwhat ifsí or what could have happened. We will all try to learn from that, move forward and get better next year. Itís never going to come easy. I think you will always have to go through some challenges in order to get to the point where you want to get to, but the goal is always to keep getting better and keep pushing yourself.

How did this experience change your attitude towards the game and life in general?

Luol Deng: I always have that approach. You know, basketball is a sport and itís fun. Itís something that you do. You donít go out there and do it when you are ill. Thatís what we are trying to teach kids, to have fun and enjoy life. Work very hard and try to get successful, but life is about enjoying it. Try to ease, as much you know what you are doing and you want to get to a certain level, just make sure you that at certain point are having fun and youíre loving it. Make sure that you spend your time with those you love and those whoíll take care of you.

You have been fortunate to work with some of the most talented coaches, starting from Topcatsí Jimmy Rogers in the UK to Bullsí Tom Thibodeau. How important is the role of a coach at every step of your development as a basketball player?

Luol Deng: Itís very important. You know what happens with coaches and athletics in general? I think that as much as it is about the sport, you learn so many things that are equally important in regular life, such as doing things together, being organized, being on time, strategizing, having a plan, all of this plays a part in your life. You really take that in as a kid and it becomes a part of your life and you pass it on to your kids. So in coaching there is a lot of life teaching, thatís what it is.

Where do you see yourself next season?

Luol Deng: My goal is to be a better player every year. I think next year Iíll be challenging myself to become a better player. I always ask myself how I can achieve that Ė is it my leadership, is it my hard work, my jump shot, my ball handling? You look at all those little things and you know what, I realize that I still have things to improve and to change my attitude against them.

You have visited various countries in Africa attending basketball camps and clinics in the past. What would your focus be on this year?

Luol Deng: This year I want to pay more attention to the coaches. We teach the kids, but a lot of times itís not about what the kids do, itís about what the coaches do and what the country does after you leave. Itís very hard to keep up with everything throughout the year, but as busy as my basketball season is, it is my job to give my attention to what else I am doing. Itís very difficult to keep up with things in Africa during the season. This time of the year, these next four days (in Ghana) are very important for me to give my all. I hope the coaches will carry on and keep pushing the kids to work hard and get better.