Thanks to a 97-92 victory over the New Jersey Nets last night, the Chicago Bulls finished an amazing regular season with the best record in the NBA, guaranteeing them home court advantage throughout the Playoffs. In addition to probable MVP Derrick Rose, a key driver of the Bulls’ success has been starting small forward Luol Deng, who averaged 17.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
The 6’9”, 220-pound big man found his way to the NBA through an unlikely odyssey. Born in Wau, Sudan, the son of a member of the Sudanese parliament, Deng moved to Egypt with his family during the Second Sudanese Civil War. There he met former NBA center Manute Bol, who served as a mentor to him.
After being granted political asylum, the family moved to England, where Deng officially began his basketball career as a member of the Brixton Basketball Club, which represented England in the European Junior Men’s Qualifying tournament when Deng was 13. Just one year later, he made the leap to the United States to play basketball at Blair Academy in New Jersey. Hype surrounded Deng, who many believed was the second best high school player at the time, after LeBron James, and he was named to a couple of First Team All-America lists.
After graduating from high school, Deng decided to attend Duke University. In just one season as a Blue Devil, he led Duke to a Final Four appearance, averaging 15.1 points per game. He then declared for the 2004 NBA Draft, becoming the seventh overall pick by the Phoenix Suns, who immediately traded him to the Bulls per the terms a prior agreement. Now in his seventh season, Deng finds himself starting for the number-one seeded Bulls heading into the NBA Playoffs.
As if his journey to the NBA wasn’t distinctive enough, Deng attributes his success on the court to training differently than most NBA players. He says, “A lot of basketball players get caught up on the upper body. You definitely [have to be] strong in your upper body, but basketball is, I would say, almost 80 percent in your lower body.”
Young athletes who view bulging upper body muscles as a sign of success too often neglect lower body exercises. “Your legs need to be strong enough to carry you throughout the whole game,” Deng says.
Deng’s training focuses on strength, range of motion and stabilization from the ankle up through the core. Trainer Elias Karras challenges Deng in all three areas to get the most out of each exercise. This allows Deng to respond athletically to almost any scenario on the court.
Watch Deng talk about his basketball training philosophy, and integrate his lower body exercises into your training. Strong legs for full-game support are essential in every sport.
Barefoot Dynamic Warm-Up
Karras says they warm up barefoot, because challenging proprioception [the foot’s sense of position] makes the foot stronger and react faster. The Dynamic Warm-Up also gets the heart rate up and loosens the hamstrings and glutes.
- Avoid rushing through the warm-up
- Perform three ground-based drills
- Use the warm-up consistently before workouts
Sets/Reps: 2×10-15 of each drill
Barefoot Leg Swings
This exercise challenges proprioception in the ankles, optimizing range of motion and preparing players for those awkward landings on the court.
- Avoid bending knee of swinging leg
- Maintain an upright body position
- Don’t rush
Single-Arm, Single-Leg Med Ball Taps
Athletes get plenty out of this full-body exercise, as it requires stabilizing on one ankle while tapping a med ball, further improving grip and reaction time. Also, having a partner push you around mimics bodies crashing into each other in the paint.
One-Legged Trampoline Jumps
This works on firing the muscles needed to jump off one leg in a game. It’s a great way to improve strength and stability in your non-dominant leg.
- Begin jumping on your non-dominant leg
- Mimic basketball-specific movements and jumps
- Use a basketball or med ball as a resistance challenge
Sets/Reps: 1-3×5-20 for each leg