Deng: Future looks bleak
Luol Deng admits he does not know what the future holds for British basketball and thinks funding cuts have left the sport at the point of no return.
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The 29-year-old, who signed for the Miami Heat in July, has twice been named an NBA All-Star and turned out for Great Britain the 2012 Olympics.
It was following the Games that UK Sport announced basketball would no longer receive funding - with the belief that the team would struggle to win medals in the 2016 Olympics.
In response to the news, with British Basketball deciding against an appeal, Deng has set up his own academy in partnership with Nike, Evelyn Grace Academy and Reforming Black Britain with the aim to produce elite basketball players.
But, as defeat to Iceland last week meant Britain can no longer qualify for EuroBasket 2015, Deng admits the future appears bleak.
"We are very close," he said. "At this point I don't know what is next, we just have to wait and see what the plan is. I really don't know the reason for it.
"People are judging us by the Olympics but people are not judging it by what it took to get to the Olympics.
"Everyone just wanted to show up and watch but they didn't watch the growth of the game from the level we were in on day one to the point where we reached the Olympics.
"You then have six games where you are judged and all of a sudden everything you have done in five or six years is judged within those games.
"It is just bad timing. Funding has a lot to do with it - I think guys are now questioning if the team is not committed to us then why are we so committed.
"We have come a long way since day one and I think that has been taken away from us.
"No one has appreciated where we have to come to reach the level and compete with all of these teams. To go back to nothing is very disappointing and we have got to keep believing in ourselves."
Deng reckons basketball is a sport which can give youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds the chance to flourish and the progression made over a short period of time should count for something.
He said: "People should look back at how far we have come along and what we have done to be here.
"This is an opportunity to really get a lot of young kids off the street and have them focus on a sport - a sport that gives an opportunity to many, not just to a few.
"They could use this as a tool to become something and basketball also takes up a lot of your time so instead of wasting time they would be using their time valuably.
"I went to the US and had an opportunity to play basketball in school and it gave me a chance to divide my time right.
"The kids here (at the Deng Academy) can focus on their school but also have the opportunity to be coached by a great coach and put in the hours into basketball."
Next up for Deng is to start his career with the Heat and, although he is aware that he will be expected to replace the outgoing LeBron James, he wants to be his own man.
"That is what it is," he added.
"People are going to talk about LeBron and what he has done in the past. For myself, I have got to be able to understand that I have to be the best I can be.
"My whole thing is taking my own picture and putting out there what I can do and it is up to everyone else to mix and match.
"For me, it is all about the team I'm playing for and the guys I'm playing with the goals we are trying to accomplish."