While forward Luol Deng headed to Charlotte with the Bulls on Tuesday, his thoughts were also tuned to Sudan, his birthplace.
That African country is holding a referendum to determine if the South will separate and become its own country. Voting will continue for a few more days and a result should be announced in February. Deng is hoping for a split.
"Yeah, I'm real anxious," Deng said. "I know what we all want, so hopefully that will happen."
Deng left Sudan when he was 4 years old, so he had virtually no memories of living there. His family escaped to Egypt and eventually London to get away from a 20-year civil war that ended about five years ago.
Deng returned to Sudan for the first time last summer. He recently hosted his sixth annual celebration for local Sudanese refugees, commonly dubbed "The Lost Boys."
"This time, we just raised the money and hopefully will open up a learning center for the kids, which would be really good just to have a place for the kids to go after school, like a little community center," Deng said.
"Everyone is excited (about a potential Sudanese split). A lot of people are hoping to go back home once there's peace. Some people are probably going to wait a little bit, which I think is smart, just to see how it goes."
Change in fortune:
The last time the Bulls visited Charlotte, it was for the final game of the 2009-10 season, when they needed a win to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. They succeeded, beating the Bobcats 98-89, earning a first-round date with LeBron James and Cleveland.
That scenario is quite a change from this visit, when the Bulls are looking to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference.
"We don't want to be in that position again where we have to win a couple games," Derrick Rose said.
Former Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas is averaging 21.3 minutes in his first full season in Charlotte. That's less playing time than he saw in his last two years with the Bulls. Thomas is producing 11.2 points per game, a career high.
He's still inconsistent, though. Thomas had 4 blocked shots in Monday's win over Memphis but fouled out in just 17 minutes. Before that game, he hit just 2 of 13 shots from the field against Washington.
Two-time Bulls power forward Charles Oakley is a Bobcats assistant coach, joining the staff when Paul Silas replaced Larry Brown last month.