History beckons for South Sudan

South Sudan are only a win away from reaching the 2023 Fiba Basketball World Cup (COURTESY PICTURE)

BASKETBALL History beckons for South Sudan

Ndyamuhaki J Emanzi 10:42 - 23.02.2023

A win over the West Senegal will be enough to send South Sudan to the 2023 Fiba Basketball World Cup in Japan, Philippines and Indonesia.

When they take on Senegal Friday night inside Al Ittihad Stadium in Cairo, Egypt, South Sudan basketball players and coaches will be looking to make history.

A win over the West African nation will be enough to send South Sudan to the 2023 Fiba Basketball World Cup in Japan, Philippines and Indonesia.

The players, along with the coaches and the traveling South Sudanese supporters, will take a moment to appreciate the strides taken in the right direction by Africa’s youngest nation.

A country born in 2011 is on the verge of booking one of the five available African tickets to the world basketball extravaganza. Stuff of dreams for most of the players who grew up in places far away from home due to a cycle of war.

The team is on a good 8-1 record in the qualifiers with three games to play.

February 24, 2023 could become a historic day in the country’s history and that makes South Sudan vs. Senegal one of the highlights of the final window of the African Qualifiers.

Senegal is the only team to have won against the Bright Stars in the qualifiers and you can’t put it beyond South Sudan to want revenge when the two sides clash Friday night.

Steady progress

South Sudan men’s team put the continent on notice in 2021, at the Fiba AfroBasket in Kigali, Rwanda.

And they had not even qualified for the tournament initially. The team got in after Algeria pulling out due to Covid-19 effects. Talk about luck meeting the prepared!

In Kigali, the team eventually lost to Tunisia, eventual champions, at the quarterfinal stage but had big wins over neigbours Uganda in the group and Kenya at the Round of 16.

That was only the beginning. What followed was a complete take over in the World Cup Qualifiers.

The team eased through their qualifying group with a 6-0 record, twice beating Tunisia. They also beat Egypt 85-65 to stay on course in Group F.

That 69-66 loss to Senegal on August 26th 2022 remains the only slip up thus far. But that will not matter if the team wins one of their remaining three games.

Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt are the other opponents for the Bright Stars this weekend.

Deng inspiration

If you are a player from South Sudan and the person inviting you to play for your nation is Luol Deng, a two-time NBA All-Star in his playing career, you must listen.

And that is how these players from all over the world have come to appreciate representing their home country.

Deng’s successful career in the NBA opened the eyes of many kids who now dare to dream about a career in basketball.

Deng, who is now the South Sudan Basketball Federation president, shares a similar story like the players about to make history.

He was born in South Sudan but his family escaped to Alexandria, Egypt after his father was imprisoned during a coup.

He started playing the game and was lucky to be introduced to Manute Bol, another basketball icon from South Sudan, who passed away in 2010.

Deng and family were granted asylum in the U.K and he went on to play for Great Britain. He eventually moved to America and played in the NBA for teams like the ChicagoBulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves and the LA Lakers.

And by the time South Sudan gained her independence in 2012, Deng was one of the best players in the world.

In players like Australian based captain Kuany Kuany, Acuoth Deng and Nuni Omot, the East African nation has enough talent to worry the continent.

But eyes are on rubbing shoulders in the world right now, and that is only a win away.

The team has not even required the services of NBA talents, JT Thor, Wenyen Gabriel and Manute Bol’s son, Bol Bol to get here.

Qualifying for the World Cup might have been a mere dream a decade ago for South Sudan but it could turn into reality Friday night.