But both Bulls teammates, named Eastern Conference All-Star reserves Thursday evening, were adamant in stating that their shared honor reflects upon the entire team, not just themselves individually.
Its great. Im happy for myself and the team. You really dont get to be an All-Star unless your team is doing great, Deng, the Bulls leading scorer and league leader in minutes per game, said after the teams shootaround Friday morning at the Berto Center. It says a lot about the team and my teammates. To be able to have the record we have has a lot to do with it.
Noah concurred: I wouldnt be here without my teammates, without my coaches and this organization. They believed in me. I came in as a young, loud rookie, probably a little immature and just with a big mouth, and they always believed in me through it all, through the good times and the hard times, and I just want to say I appreciate them.
The sixth-year center, who thanked many of his loved ones via Twitter throughout Thursday evening, admitted that hes still loud, but alluded to his maturity and finding his niche as a star role player whose statistics might not be eye-catching to fans, but whose game is appreciated by the leagues coaches.
Its different when you come in as a rookie, compared to when you have six, seven years, he explained. A lot of people helped me along the way, so theres definitely a lot of people to thank. Not only does it make me happy, but it makes a lot of people that were with me happy. A lot of people had to make sacrifices in order to get me where Im at today, so I just wanted to thank them.
It means a lot and I also want to thank everybody who appreciates my game. Its an unbelievable honor and its very humbling, so I just want to say thank you to all the people who showed me love and appreciate what I do, Noah continued. People were coming up to me and saying I had a shot to make it, so it was pretty nerve-wracking. Its just an unbelievable honor. I found out last night and still cant believe it."
Jo has worked so hard," Deng said. "I know there are a lot of people in the league who work hard. But Im happy Jo got the opportunity. From the start of the year, the way he has performed and his effort dealing with a lot of minutes, hes really been committed to this program and winning. Im glad hes getting the recognition."
As far as his vote in goes, Deng's happy to be called an All-Star once again.
Its exciting to do it again. Consistency is a big part of what I want to be and what I do. Im just glad Ive had the chance to do it again," Deng said.
"The way weve been playing and the coaching staff weve had the last three years, the teammates, it says a lot. I dont think I would get it if we dont have the record we have. It says a lot about our team. I didnt get it the first year with Coach Thibs but I felt I had a great year that year. The system is perfect. It allows me to show a lot more than scoring. I can show a lot of people what I can do. To do it again shows youre consistent. Thats over with and you go to the next challenge.
The mutual appreciation between the two teammates with international background goes both ways, as Noah expressed his admiration of Deng, both on and off the court.
Its huge. Im proud to be able to play with a guy like Luol Deng and Im proud also to be African. I try to go back once a year and just stay in tune with my roots, said Noah, whose mother is Swedish and father, the former French tennis superstar Yannick Noah, is originally from Cameroon. Deng's one of my best friends on the team and I think that hes somebody, for African players, hes kind of like an ambassador, somebody who does a lot for the kids out there... Theres more to playing basketball and if youre able to help others, thats just as big as anything.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was also pleased that both players were selected to play in the game, which takes place Feb. 17 in Houston.
As I told them today, first of all, I think its a great honor for both Jo and Lu. I also think its an honor for our team and our organization, and all their teammates. When you win, people recognize that, I think theres value in that. But Jo and Luol have worked so hard and theyve earned it, he said.
Theyre team-first guys. I see the work they put in each and every day, and I see the commitment that they made. To me, thats the best type of leadership you can have. Its more through their actions, what they do each and every day. A lot of people say all the right things and do none of them.
When it comes to Noah, Thibodeau recognizes the progress he's made each season.
I think hes made steady progress throughout his career. Youre talking about a guy who had a great college career, hes gotten better each year. I look at the stuff that these guys have been through throughout their careers. When Luol got here this team was struggling, so hes gone through all of that. Jo came in, it was a little bit better, but theyve been through a lot of adversity and persevered. Theyve shown a lot of resiliency, its great, and great for our organization.
Deng said that he and Noah making the team is also a tribute to the defensive-minded Thibodeau, as neither is a flashy player or a huge scorer and in a season without the sidelined Derrick Rose thus far. The duos hard-playing styles and teams record made an impact on other coaches.
It just shows how good Coach is. Even with the record we have now, there are a lot of games you can look back at and say we shouldve won. Every game we give ourselves a chance to win. No matter who is hurt or in the lineup, he finds a way to get guys going and the next guy stepping up. He puts guys in the perfect position to succeed, Deng explained.
You get voted in by coaches and coaches see what it takes to win. When it comes to voting, a lot of fans follow the stats and flashiness and what they see on TV. Thats part of it. But when it comes to coaches, they really credit teams for the effort and what they do. With the way we play here in Chicago, it fits in perfectly. All the fans that follow us see what we do.