Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng and Detroit Pistons guard Ben Gordon say they'll play for Great Britain's men's basketball team at the 2012 summer Olympics in London, raising hopes that the home country could emerge as a darkhorse medal contender.
The dual commitment comes in conjunction with news that fellow NBA player Byron Mullens has been named to Great Britain's preliminary Olympic squad.
All three are now among 21 players eligible for 12 spots on Britain's final Olympic roster.
That trio, along with former George Washington standout and current Turkish star Pops Mensah-Bonsu, give Britain its most talented team on paper since the national team first launched in 2005.
Other familiar names include former McDonald's All-American Eric Boateng and NBA journeyman Robert Archibald.
Great Britain will need all of the above performing at peak level to make any Olympic noise.
The British are 43rd in the FIBA world rankings—behind such powerhouses as Macedonia, Qatar and Cameroon—and have never made it to the knockout round of a major international tournament. Their 2-3 record in the group stage at Eurobasket 2011 marked the program's high point.
Of course the Brits have never had Gordon or Mullens in their arsenal before, and each could pay big dividends in an Olympic tournament
Gordon's quickness, even at 29, is elite by international standards. And although Mullens gets knocked in the NBA for his ineffectiveness inside, the world game favors bigs with a steady outside stroke.
Then there's Deng, who has been playing with the British team since 2007. His commitment gives Great Britain the best non-American wing defender in the tournament, bar none.
Against top small forwards like Spain's Rudy Fernandez, Argentina's Carlos Delfino and France's Nicolas Batum, Deng's length and athleticism should be a huge boon.
The Big Question
How quick can the Brits get this together?
As stated above, Gordon and Mullens have never played with this group.
From the time the NBA season ends—and remember, Deng could be playing with the Bulls well into June—coach Chris Finch will have about two months to get Gordon and Mullens involved in the offense before the Olympics start in late July.
The nature of international basketball—with no regular season and little prep time—puts similar constraints on all competitors, but Great Britain's adjustment grade will be particularly steep.
Where Does Britain Rank?
Even after all that bubbly optimism, I'd still slot Great Britain behind the United States, Spain, France, Argentina and Brazil among teams that have qualified for the 2012 Olympics.
All five of those teams are deeper and feature more NBA-caliber players, not to mention that they've played together before in some form or another.
And remember, there are still three slots up for grabs in early July's FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament, meaning that talent-rich teams like Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Russia and Greece can still play their way to London.
Great Britain doesn't have a true point guard, a dominant back-to-the-basket player or much depth behind the aforementioned quartet of Deng, Gordon, Mensah-Bonsu and Mullens. There are holes in this team—considerable ones—and the always-improving pool of international combatants won't be so forgiving.
But the Brits do have some elite talent, and with the home fans behind them, that could be good for an upset or two.
At the very least, the Brits are worth watching.
—Deng holds the British single-game scoring record with 38. He's averaging 15.6 points and 6.5 rebounds a game for the Bulls this season.
—Byron Mullens is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, minutes and true shooting percentage in his first season with the Charlotte Bobcats.
—Mullens—79-for-83 from the line—has the best free throw shooting percentage among centers with at least 20 attempts.
—Great Britain has competed in just one other Olympic games. It went 1-7 at the 1948 games, also held in London.
—Gordon and Deng each spent substantial portions of their youth outside Great Britain. Gordon was born in London, but moved to New York shortly after birth. Deng was born in the Sudan and emigrated to England as a youth before attending high school in New Jersey. He did not earn British citizenship until 2006.
—Mullens grew up in Ohio, but claims British nationality through his mother.
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