Photo by Wu Zhuang/Xinhua via Getty Images.
South Sudan's Historic Olympic Qualification
South Sudan qualifies for 2024 Olympics, realizing Luol Deng's vision as the underdog team triumphs in the FIBA World Cup.
South Sudan's men's basketball team achieved a historic milestone over the weekend, securing their spot in the 2024 Olympics. Concluding their 2023 FIBA World Cup campaign with a commendable 3-2 record, they clinched the Olympic berth awarded to the highest-finishing African nation at the tournament. This accomplishment comes just three years after former NBA star Luol Deng assumed leadership of the program, primarily funding it himself. South Sudan's path to Olympic glory included victories against China, Angola, and The Philippines.
In a touching moment, Luol Deng, a retired two-time NBA All-Star who took the helm of South Sudan's international basketball program three years ago had harbored this dream for years, stood beside the South Sudan locker room after their World Cup journey ended. He passionately chanted the same phrase repeatedly, emphasizing the extraordinary nature of their achievement. Deng spoke to reporters, his voice filled with emotion, "It's an unbelievable story, an underdog story not just for the South Sudanese, not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world. It's a feel-good story that the majority of people can relate to, and such a unique achievement because it's beyond basketball."
Head coach Royal Ivey echoed similar sentiments, reflecting on their humble beginnings, "It's been a humbling journey. I had heartaches, and experienced numerous ups and downs, and it's an incredible feeling right now. A year ago, we were practicing outside with eagles flying around, practicing on flooded courts. To go from there to play in front of these fans in the Philippines, I'm on cloud nine."
Luol Deng's vision, when he established the national team roughly a decade ago, was to use basketball as a beacon of hope for his homeland. That vision became profoundly real on Saturday.
South Sudan, a nation still grappling with challenges just 12 years after gaining its independence, making it the world's youngest nation, has earned an automatic qualification for the Paris Olympics as Africa's representative.
In their final World Cup game, South Sudan dominated Angola with a score of 101-78, led by Carlik Jones, who contributed 26 points, 15 assists, and seven rebounds.
The Olympic tournament for men is rapidly taking shape as the World Cup progresses to its knockout stages. The only remaining Olympic berths from the World Cup are reserved for the top two European teams. As of the latest update, six European nations remain in contention. Amidst numerous individual stories within the South Sudan roster, Carlik Jones of the Bulls has been their standout performer. Born in Cincinnati to Sudanese parents, Jones averaged an impressive 20.4 points and 10.4 assists throughout the team's five games.
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