Manila, Philippines – South Sudan have shone on the 2023 FIBA World Cup and its basketball desires aren’t stopping there.
On Saturday, within the Philippine capital, Manila, the world’s youngest nation secured their first Olympic basketball berth after beating Angola 101-78 to clinch the lone FIBA Africa direct qualification spot at Paris 2024 .
“We earned it,” mentioned Royal Ivey, the Vivid Stars head coach at a press convention after defeating host nation Philippines within the classification spherical.
“We competed from zone 5 [in the Afrobasket qualifiers] to now, my guys are resilient, they know the right way to work, they push ahead, they fought day-in, day-out, and we received right here due to the exhausting work and the sweat that we put in every single day. Now we’re reaping the rewards, so it’s not over.”
South Sudan’s 2023 FIBA World Cup marketing campaign has been exceptional.
In its first participation within the Africa qualifiers, the nation of about 11 million folks – barely a decade previous at the moment – shocked the continent by topping the each first and second rounds to clinch a maiden World Cup berth.
Matched with Serbia, Puerto Rico and China in Group B, South Sudan travelled to Manila searching for to advance to the second spherical and make all of it the way in which to the ultimate section.
Ranked 62nd on the earth, South Sudan impressed with a robust begin to their marketing campaign in opposition to Puerto Rico earlier than the Caribbeans rallied to safe an extra time win, 101-96.
The workforce saved their hopes up and made historical past with a dominant 89-69 win over Twentieth-ranked China earlier than bowing out of rivalry for the second spherical with an 83-115 loss to sixth-ranked Serbia.
Regardless of falling quick and getting relegated to the classification spherical, the expertise has been constructive for South Sudan.
“It’s our first time taking part in [at a World Cup] and having the nationwide workforce come this far, it’s been nice for us and simply seeing the potential now we have, I feel sky’s the restrict for us,” Vivid Stars main scorer Carlik Jones of the Chicago Bulls informed Al Jazeera.
‘There are not any egos’
Even though South Sudanese stars similar to Luol Deng and Manute Bol had reached the NBA, changing into contenders in world basketball meant constructing from scratch.
In 2019, former Chicago Bulls star Deng turned the president of the South Sudan Basketball Federation. With no indoor basketball area within the nation, Deng had his work minimize out for him.
The 2-time NBA All-Star personally recruited South Sudanese gamers from the diaspora and briefly coached the workforce earlier than appointing Royal Ivey, presently an assistant coach within the Houston Rockets, to steer the workforce within the 2021 AfroBasket event and the World Cup.
“He’s such an excellent dude, so unselfish that there are occasions the place I really feel like he places everybody earlier than himself, and it’s unbelievable,” mentioned Jones of Deng.
“He’s giving again to the event of the sport, he helps with on-court stuff, off-the-court stuff, he’s a man who lets you come to him if you happen to want something, even when it’s small speak.”
It’s this basketball tradition that Deng got down to instil that allowed the nation’s greatest gamers to catch onto the dream.
Based on workforce captain Kuany Kuany, gamers like Sunday Dech, Majok Deng and Deng Acuoth, have been approached to play for world quantity three facet Australia, but they selected to affix the Vivid Stars.
Due to Deng’s sturdy foundations, new gamers like reigning NBA G-League MVP Jones and Los Angeles Lakers’ Wenyen Gabriel have been capable of simply develop chemistry with the squad, regardless of solely taking part in with the workforce for the primary time within the World Cup.
“The best factor I really like about this workforce is that everyone understands and all people buys in. There are not any egos that say ‘me, me, me’,” Kuany informed Al Jazeera.
“We’re taking part in for what’s on the entrance [of our jerseys] – South Sudan – and never for the identify on the again. That’s what makes it really easy to assist lead this workforce as a result of all people simply loves the thought of profitable. No one desires to make it about themselves.”
Within the World Cup, the Vivid Stars waved the South Sudan flag that includes the slogan “greater than basketball” as they referred to as for peace and unity of their conflict-ridden dwelling.
After declaring independence in 2011, South Sudan was plagued with civil warfare that displaced greater than 4 million folks due to violence and famine.
However the Vivid Stars have turn out to be a beacon of hope for the nation.
1000’s of followers met the workforce on the airport after they got here dwelling from Egypt after their historic World Cup qualification final February. Some even travelled to Manila to cheer for the workforce on the Araneta Coliseum within the quadrennial event.
Again at dwelling, photographs and movies of locals streaming the sport in colleges and out of doors stadiums circulated when South Sudan secured their first-ever victory within the World Cup.
Greater than Deng and the federation’s efforts to develop the game and the present pool of gamers inspiring one another, in addition to the youth to chase desires of taking part in within the NBA and the best stage of basketball, the Vivid Stars can assist construct the younger nation.
“This speaks of the potential that South Sudan has not simply in basketball, however actually in each sector,” mentioned captain Kuany.
“If we preserve trusting in ourselves, the plans and the event targets that now we have, we might actually construct South Sudan to be among the finest nations, not solely in Africa however on the earth.”