Above The Rim

DENG DOWN UNDER – DOING IT FOR THE KIDS

Under 20s tournament winners, Melbourne’s Longhorns, with coach Manyang and Luol

05/07/2013 11:50 am - “Apparently Luol Deng is in Melbourne”Read the text message I received from a close friend of mine. The neurons started firing, and the relaxed “day off” state of mind my brain was in, was soon replaced with an overwhelming sense of urgency to find out why the Chicago Bull was in town and where I could find him?

I initially thought to myself that there had been nothing mentioned via his twitter pertaining to an Australian visit and I could be falling victim to social media scuttlebutt.I quickly returned home from the shopping center where I had just purchased a falafel burger for lunch and put my Jerry Krause sleuth like investigative techniques to good use and got to Googling. I soon discovered a website for the South Sudanese Australian National Classic basketball tournament that was being held at Knox Basketball Stadium, and in actual fact, South Sudanese born refugee, Olympian and two time All-Star, Luol Deng would be in attendance.  My mind started racing, I found the contact details of a gentleman named Manyang G. Berberi and called the number.

No answer…

Five minutes later my iphone rings “Hello this is Manny, you called my phone”, a distinct African voice could be heard on the other end. I introduced myself and expressed my interest in wishing to attend the event, see what it was all about, potentially interview some players and maybe Luol and cover it in a piece for the blog you’re reading right now.

Manny was more than obliging and told me to head on down and pay him a visit. My lunch a mere afterthought, I frantically got ready, my mind still racing with the thought I could potentially be in the presence of one of my beloved Chicago Bulls shortly and that I may have a chance to interview him. I gathered my things, jumped in my car and made the trek to the stadium from the Northern suburbs where I live, to the outer East of Melbourne. After a slight delay in arrival (Translation: I got slightly lost), I finally made it to Knox and ventured into the Stadium.

As far as my eye could see, were young Sudanese men and women either playing basketball or spectating…

Crowd Shot

It was not something you see every day in basketball stadiums here in Melbourne, but definitely something very cool to see. After meeting with a friend/cameraman (and fellow Bulls fan) I’d arranged to meet at the stadium, I made a beeline for the coaches box in search of organiser Manny. Which was fitting, as Manny wasn’t just the organiser of the event but also a coach of one the mens teams.

I asked him about the history of the tournament, he told me that it started in 2003 with only four teams playing on an outside court. Fast forward to today and the competition now has nation wide involvement with teams competing from every state. Manny went on to tell me about two of the standout players from the tournament. Kuany Kuany, a 6″6 Guard hailing from St.Kevins College in Melbourne who has had interest from Boston College and the University of Hawaii and 6’7′ swingman Deng Adel, who hails from Xavier College and is considered the best high school player in the country. Check out these two youtube vids if you want to see them in action…

 

After speaking with Manny, the next step was to take in some of the action and locate Luol. The second part of that plan, not being as easy a feat as one might think, as the stadium was near capacity and the crowd mainly consisted of tall Sudanese males.

After taking a courtside vantage point to watch one of the games (and so I could scan the bleachers for Luol), I was beyond impressed with the display of basketball these young men were putting on the court. Playing at a breakneck speed, both teams were going coast to coast on occasions. The run ‘n’ gun freneticness left me with the impression there was no shyness amongst either team when it came to shooting the basketball, especially from long range. There was also no shortage of hustle, players were hitting the boards with ferocity, scrapping for the ball whether they were a forward or guard. It was enjoyable to watch.

 

As the game continued on, I continued to try and spot Luol, and continually failed. I decided it was time to stretch the legs and expand my search. I eventually ended up back at the same spot I’d been sitting, my exploration netting me a bottle of water and some Skittles. No 6’9′ Bulls forward in sight. Whilst enjoying D.Rose’s preferred choice of candy, I resumed watching the game. It was then I turned my head to the right and caught a glimpse of the fitted cap I’d seen earlier on Deng’s head in a photo on twitter.

 

Could it be???

His face was obscured but it looked like him. Indeed it was the man of the hour, just casually sitting courtside with some kids,  with no air of NBA superstar about him, less than a stones throw from me. In actual fact, I’d walked right past him during my earlier search.

As to not to disturb him, I waited until games end before making my approach. I seized the moment introducing myself, shook hands, informed him of why I was there and requested an interview. He was obliging and summoned his agent Steve over to talk to me. Details were exchanged and an interview scheduled for the Sunday.I left the stadium a happy man, conjuring more questions in my head that I could pose later that weekend. 24 hours later filled with a mix of anxiety and excitement, I received possibly the worst email of my life. His agent explaining, that due to the short notice of the situation and Luol’s prior media commitments the interview wasn’t to go ahead.

I was crushed…

Regardless, I ventured back out to the stadium on the Sunday with the small glimmer of hope that he and his agent may have had a change of heart or freed up some time. At the very least, the fan in me wanted a photo with the All-Star Bull. Once again, the man was rather busy with his commitments and it took two attempts to garner his attention but as you can see I got the snap. I couldn’t be present for the entire tournament due to other commitments, but Deng was there all three days. Not only spending time mixing with the community, but also on hand to present the tournament trophies.

Luol draped in the South Sudanese flag

The Dinka tribesman addressed the crowd about the importance of maintaining and respecting a strong South Sudanese community to ensure a positive image was portrayed to the public.

A video of the inspirational speech can be viewed below:

Luol and tournament rganiser Manyang 'Manny' Berberi

Although my interview hopes were dashed, it was still a great experience on many levels. From the thrill of the hunt, to seeing the sport flourishing at the grassroots level within the Sudanese community, hearing Luol speak his native tongue and of course having the opportunity to meet Thibs’ ‘Glue Guy’.

Adam Howes- Above The Rim Author

Deng-Adam

Pictured: Adam Howes of Above the Rim & NBA Star Luol Deng

 

 

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