Manchester Magic teenager Michael Anumba was already marked out as an enormous talent with a very bright future.
His star is burning even brighter after finishing as the top-ranked player at the prestigious Deng Camp, a four-day gathering in London for the top 50 junior players in the country.
Michael was joined in the top 10 by Magic and Loreto College team-mate Arinze Emeka-Anyakwo, who left Crystal Palace as the seventh-best player, another stunning effort.
We spoke to both players about their experiences…
Wow, what an amazing four days at Deng Camp. How do you sum up the experience?
Michael: It was very tough, both physically and mentally. The best 50 players in the country were there. It was hard. After injuring my knee towards the end of last season, I went there thinking that I wanted to do my best and finish in the top 10. I never thought about being number one. But when I was ranked second after the first day, it pushed me to finish top. Then, when I got to number one, I wanted to stay there.
Arinze: I was just aiming to make the top 20. That was my goal. So to be ranked ninth after day one… I was not expecting that at all. It gave me a massive confidence boost.
Michael, was there a lot of pressure to remain number one?
Michael: Yeah. The other players wanted to guard me, to bring me down and improve their own ranking. I had so much pressure on me. I had lots of messages of support from my friends and family, too. That was extra pressure because I didn’t want to disappoint them.
So to finish number one…. how did that feel?
Michael: Amazing. I didn’t know how to react. For 10 minutes, I couldn’t believe it. To talk to Luol Deng and get respect from Luol Deng was just amazing.
Arinze, seventh spot must have given you a lot of satisfaction?
Arinze: It was a massive surprise. I thought I might have dropped down the rankings after the All Star game. When they got to eight and still hadn’t said by name, I didn’t know what to think. So seventh was amazing.
What’s the most important thing both of you will take from Deng Camp?
Michael: That it’s easy to let laziness take over when the going gets tough. You need to work hard all of the time. I want to thank Arinze for pushing me on. He is a very close friend of mine and he was my room-mate and my team-mate at Deng Camp. We talked a lot, pushing each other on. Arinze helped me a lot.
Arinze: We recognised when each other was a little flat, so we’d encourage each other, have each other’s back. Deng Camp also taught me that I am a different player when I play with confidence, that I need to be focused all the time and need to play to my strengths, like my athleticism, my defence and my ability to initiate the offence.
So is confidence an issue for you?
Arinze: Confidence can be a big issue for me. In practice, I feel very comfortable dribbling the ball, making plays, shooting the ball when I’m open, but I don’t always have that confidence in games. I need to remind myself that I can do this, to stay positive when I make mistakes and to stay focused even when the confidence is not there.
Finally, what has the Deng Camp experience meant to you both?
Michael: It’s made me want to work even harder. I am a target now and a lot more people know who I am. I’m going to have to work harder than I have ever done before.
Arinze: It’s made me want to be a big part of the Division One team, to help the U18s win Final Fours, to get in the top 10 for rebounds in the EABL, and to make a name for myself.
WATCH: Michael Anumba’s Deng Camp highlights here