LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 21: Luol Deng of Briatain in action during the LOCOG Test Event for London 2012 London International Basketball Invitational match between Great Britain and Australia at Basketball Arena on August 21, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)
Luol Deng and Great Britain hope to avoid embarrassment as they enter the Olympics with an underwhelming record of performance.
On its own merits, Great Britain almost assuredly would not have made the 2012 Olympics. The nation finished 13th in EuroBasket 2011, a performance that marked Britain's greatest ever in international competition. That's right: being deemed the 13th best team in Europe is Great Britain's high-water mark in international basketball. And this team has one of the 12 precious Olympic tournament bids in London.
FIBA actually granted Britain that bid after the team showed it could be competitive against the rest of the world; a 2-3 performance at EuroBasket did just that. This writer doesn't actually begrudge Britain its bid, even though his favored Dominican Republic would have been next in line if there were one more spot.
Representation by the host nation is very important to the Olympics, and if seeing Luol Deng battle Juan Carlos Navarro and Andrei Kirilenko in London helps grow the sport in Britain, then the decision to add the nation will have been a good one.
Deng is the Alpha and Omega of Team Britain. He's by far the team's best scorer, rebounder, creator and defender. The team does have other NBA talent -- Joel Freeland, a center, will play for the Portland Trail Blazers next season, and Pops Mensah-Bonsu has bounced around the league -- but nothing close to Deng. There's a decent chance he'll be the tournament's leading scorer and possibly a top-five rebounder. (Luis Scola and Tony Parker are other popular choices for the scoring title. Spain and Team USA are likely too balanced to produce a scoring champ.)
Great Britain has appeared in the Olympic basketball tournament once before: in 1948, when (you guessed it) London hosted the Games. Britain went 0-5 in that bracket. Before the 2-3 performance last summer, Britain had only managed one win in history in top-level international competition (that coming in 2009 EuroBasket).
By the way, are you wondering where Ben Gordon is? Yep. So is British Basketball. He didn't report to camp in Houston on time and was cut. Ben Gordon playing for Britain in international competition has been a bigger tease than Dwight Howard to the Nets.
Here's a look at the team at large.
FIBA World Ranking: No. 43
Previous Olympic appearances: 1948
Place at 2010 FIBA World Championship: Did not qualify
How they got here: Host nation bid
Names you might recognize: Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Joel Freeland, Chris Finch (Rockets assistant coach and Britain head coach).
Biggest group games: vs. Australia (August 6), vs. China (August 8)
Medal hopes: Quite slim
Future outlook: Can we clone Deng?