NBA star Luol Deng treated Merseyside fans to a sporting masterclass as he helped Great Britain book their place at next summer’s European Championships on a dramatic night at the Echo Arena.
The Chicago Bulls forward showed why he commands a salary of $12million a year with a breathtaking haul of 38 points to end Bosnia’s stubborn resistance.
Britain trailed with just 18 seconds to play but in a thrilling finish the outstanding Pops Mensah-Bonsu forced over-time and in the extra period Deng’s class shone through.
Qualifying for the Europeans boosts Britain’s hopes of being handed a spot at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I just wanted to come out tonight and be aggressive,” Deng said.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting any calls and I wanted the ref to notice. In the end I managed to get into a rhythm.
“The support we got here was great and we really appreciate it. Now I’m excited about playing for Britain in the finals next year. I love playing for GB and it was tough watching the Europeans last year when I was injured.”
Deng combined to devastating effect with London-born former Toronto Raptors star Mensah-Bonsu, who finished with 32 points and 21 rebounds.
Mersey Tigers’ Andrew Sullivan also played his part with some crucial defensive work as the gutsy Bosnians refused to cave in.
GB coach Chris Finch said: “Every time we created a bit of a cushion we let it slip but there was a lot of pressure on our guys. They did a good job of hanging in there and making big plays at timely moments.
“There’s great character in this squad and we showed we’re mentally tough. In a big game you want your best players to play their best and they did.
“Qualifying for the finals this time is more satisfying than two years ago because nobody really expected us to make it. We wanted to prove getting there before was not a fluke. We believe we belong there.”
The lead changed hands throughout the opening quarter which was dominated by an intriguing clash between Deng and tattooed giant Ratko Varda.
The 6ft 10ins Bosnian looks like a Bond villain and caused plenty of problems in enemy territory as he sunk 10 quickfire points.
Varda did his best to unsettle Deng with some sneaky antics off the ball but the NBA star punished him in the best possible way. His biggest fan Barack Obama would have approved.