Deng’s Journey Continues in Chicago

Deng in the Berto Center weightroom
Eager to get going, Luol Deng reported to the Berto Center earlier this week to start training.
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    Posted July 8, 2004

    Luol Deng is not your typical NBA lottery pick.

    He’s young—only 19 years old—and he left school early—just one season at Duke—and he has loads of talent. But that is about where the comparisons end. Selected with the seventh pick in NBA Draft 2004, Deng comes to the Bulls with more life experiences than most people will ever gather. caught up the team’s newest small forward after a recent workout at the Berto Center as he, along with fellow draftees Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon, prepares for the team’s mini-camp and the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah.
    Your journey to Chicago has been a long one. What comes to mind when you think about moving from Sudan to Egypt to London to the United States?

    Luol Deng:
    “It’s been a good journey. It’s been a tough journey, but that’s just helped me mature that much quicker. I’ve seen things that a lot of adults have never seen or will see. Not that I would want them to see, but for me, I tried to turn those things around into positives. Basketball and working hard at it became very easy for me and not a big deal after seeing the way kids struggled in Sudan with the civil war. I left Sudan when I was four, but it was still tough knowing that your country is in a civil war. If I was to go back to Sudan, I would not know my way around. It’s kind of like it is my country, but it is not my country. I don’t know much about it at all and I’d get lost over there. Every time I moved, I had to adjust to a new culture and that’s been the toughest part. Every time I moved on I had to leave friends behind and that is also difficult. I have had to make new friends and learn their language and adapt to them instead of them adapting to me. At times, when I moved to a new country, it was as if I was a stranger and a lot of the things I did were new to me. I think that the way I dealt with those things helped create the attitude that I have today. My culture has made me who I am and without it, I may have had an attitude more like everyone else’s. Those kinds of things defined my journey. I learned from it all.”
    How has basketball helped shape the form that your life has taken?

    “Basketball is something that I really love. It’s something that I could play all day. I never really get bored with basketball and I think it has shaped me because of all the attention that I pay to it. It helps me learn about myself and it helps other people see what kind of person I am. If it wasn’t for basketball, you might not know that someone with an attitude like mine exists. Someone who has gone through what I’ve gone through comes to their attention. That’s what basketball does for me.”
    Where does making it to the NBA rank among other events in your life?

    “It’s a big accomplishment, just like it is for anyone who is able to realize their dream. When you get that dream job you are kind of proud of yourself. For me, just like any other player in the NBA, making it is not enough. But I know that I’m on the right path of my dream and I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing in the past.”

    Deng with Chris Duhon
    Deng played with fellow draftee Chris Duhon at Duke last year. Their team lost to Ben Gordon's UConn squad in the Final Four.
    What’s your impression of Chicago and the Bulls organization so far?

    “I’ve actually been in Chicago a lot already and I really like it. I spent most of my six years in the States in New York, so I really see Chicago as being very similar to New York. I was amazed at how clean Chicago is, being a city with all the big buildings, traffic, and everything else. I didn’t think it would be as clean as it is. I think the people here in the Midwest are kind of like the people in the South. They are really nice and that is another thing that really stood out to me here. With the organization, I can already see that the coaches see a lot in me and want to help me improve. When you’re in college and you consider leaving early, a lot of people say that the coaches in the NBA are too busy [for individual attention]. But for me, they’ve already done a lot and I’m happy to be in this organization.”
    What kind of relationship do you have with Manute Bol? How has he helped you over the years? Editor's note: On June 30, the former NBA center, also from Sudan, was seriously injured in a car accident. According to the AP, Bol was riding in a cab when it hit a guardrail and swerved across both lanes before hitting a rock ledge and rolling over, killing the driver and throwing the 7-foot-7-inch Bol from the car. Bol sustained a head injury and was taken by helicopter to Hartford (Ct.) Hospital, a state police spokesman said.

    “Manute started me with this whole thing and basketball. Our relationship is one where he is like an older brother or a father to me. He gives me a lot of advice. A lot of people don’t know Manute so they assume things. What happened with the accident was unbelievable. I was babysitting his son when it happened so it hit me even harder when I heard because I had seen him right before it happened. Hopefully he’ll get through this and he’ll be fine. Sometimes things happen that you can’t help. He just happened to get into a cab where the cab driver got into the accident. It was bad luck and not something where he got into the car and started driving while he was drinking. It was just bad luck.”
    How would you describe your game to someone who has never seen you play?

    “I think that one thing that stands out about my game is that mentally, I have a strong IQ for the game. You aren’t going to see me and say, ‘Oh my God is he an unbelievable athlete,’ but you’ll see that I’m capable of outsmarting other players. I’ve always studied the game. That’s one thing I’ve always done.”

    Ben Gordon and Luol Deng at the Berto Center
    Ben Gordon and Luol Deng are expected to be major contributors to the Bulls' return to winning ways.
    What sort of personality do you have off the court?

    “Off the court I’m always trying to make others happy. I’m really close with Chris [Duhon] as we were teammates [at Duke]. I really think that how close you are with your teammates off the court helps you on the court. A lot of times when you have problems it will affect you on the court. So when I’m not playing, I’m just trying to make everyone laugh.”
    Is there something that most people about you don’t know?

    “Not really. I’m just like most people but I happen to be good at basketball. A lot of times when we see someone famous or something we get carried away like they are unbelievable or something. But we’re all humans, and as good as someone else may have done on their SATs, I’m just as good like that with basketball. It is just something that I’m good at.”
    How do you feel your freshman season at Duke prepared you for the NBA?

    “I think that it helped me a lot. In high school, you just showed up for practice and at times you didn’t even think that much about the games. You’d go to sleep and then come in for the game, put on your uniform, stretch and play. At Duke, one thing I learned a lot about was how to mentally prepare for every game, every practice, every video session and every notebook. Every time that we did something related to basketball or our opponent, our minds shifted over and we focused. I think that is what helped me, learning on how to focus on what I want to do.”
    What kind of impact do you hope to make your rookie season? Have you set goals for yourself yet?

    “I would never like to say just one thing, because for me as a competitor, I want to make a big impact. I want to come in right away and make a difference on this team. A lot of people might doubt that I can do that, but that is the beauty of it and what keeps me going. Not everybody believes what I believe, but I think that my impact will be where I come in and right away people will notice a difference in our team. I’m a person who sets goals, but I keep my goals to myself.”
    What should Bulls fans come to expect from you?

    “It’s going to be an exciting time while I’m here. No matter what, the one thing that I’m going to do is play basketball. That’s what I’m here for and that’s what I’m paid to do. I’m going to give 100 percent to basketball when I’m on the court in games and at practice. I think that is something the fans like to see. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I know I’ll always give 100 percent.”

    - Adam Fluck,