Luol Deng's delight at London Youth Games honour

Basketball hero Deng so proud of Croydon roots

Centre stage: Basketball hero Luol Deng (right) with Nick Mullins after being inducted into the London Youth Games hall of fame. Simon Wagner

Luol Deng with Anthony Kendall (chairman of LYG) AND Ian Tyler (CEO Of Balfour Beatty). Simon Wagner

First published in Sport by , Sports Reporter

He earns almost treble what David Beckham does and Barack Obama is his fan.

But despite learning his trade in Croydon, Luol Deng – hailed an inspiration to all Americans by their president – is anything but a household name on these shores.

Had I been conducting an interview with the Chicago Bulls basketball star on the other side of the Atlantic there would be a media scrum five rows deep.

His $71m contract is testament to his superstar status - Beckham's is a comparatively measly £27m.

But when Deng returned to the capital to be inducted into the London Youth Games hall of fame, the 24-year-old’s presence barely raised an eyebrow.

“It is good to walk around and do stuff where you don’t have people coming up to you all the time,” said Deng.

“That is changing a bit here and the last few years it has been different, but at the moment it’s such a good thing.”

Deng, a Sudanese refugee granted asylum in Britain when he was 10, settled in South Norwood with his family.

He showed his basketball talent playing for Croydon in the Youth Games and was snapped up by the Blair Academy in New Jersey as a 14-year-old.

“When I was young I played in the Games for three or four years,” recalls the 6ft 9in star.

“Although Croydon were pretty decent, we never got to win it.”

Success did come quickly in the States, however. He became the first first-year university student in history to lead all rookies in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage before going professional in 2004.

And superstar status has led to him getting involved in humanitarian work as well as setting up an annual basketball academy in the UK, which he hopes to expand across Europe, America and Africa.

“Basketball doesn't have a big profile in Britain but it is way better than when I was here,” Deng added.

“I just want the kids that play basketball to know there is interest in the sport.

“It is always a huge motivation for kids to know that people actually care about what they are doing.

“You have a lot of kids getting in trouble but the more things you have going on and the more facilities we have for basketball the longer kids will be off the streets and occupied with something.

“It is just they have so much time on their hands right now.”

Deng, who will be back in London on October 6 when the Bulls face Utah in a friendly at the O2 Arena, has never forgotten those who gave him his big break.

He was a patron of this year's Youth Games and was pleased about his hall of fame induction at last week's 2009 awards ceremony.

“A lot of people have been part of the London Youth Games so to be called into the first hall of fame is an unbelievable honour,” he said.

More big interviews: croydonguardian.co.uk

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