2021 was a great year for sports in South Sudan as it saw the ground-breaking rise of South Sudanese athletes catapulting onto the international stage across different fields, with the determination to make sure that they bring that trophy home and raise the nation to its glory.
Many citizens had lost hope that South Sudan would ever make it into the international arena in the near future, due to the series of events that have negatively surrounded the nation over the past few years. Nevertheless, a new dawn is upon us with more than a promising future for the multi-talented nation.
September 2021 marked the end of the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 journey for the South Sudan senior men basketball team, but one thing for sure was that this engagement brought in more than the players- or the country- could ever ask for.
FIBA AfroBasket is a continental championship that compromises senior national men and women teams. The championship is hosted every 4 years in a different African country and the 2021 tournament was hosted by the Republic of Rwanda.
The 12-man squad was comprised of internationally accredited players who play across different leagues. The team united the country as people gathered in all their different corners to cheer on the team as they carried the South Sudanese flag in Kigali, Rwanda throughout the tournament.
First time at FIBA AfroBasket
South Sudan’s senior men’s basketball team qualified for the FIBA AfroBasket tournament after battling it out on the court against established and seasoned teams. The nation was participating for the very first time at the tournament so the stakes were very high and the expectations were even higher.
South Sudan Basketball team group photo. Source: FIBA
Prior to the games, players shared their different expectations for their overall performance, but one united message from the team was that South Sudan was leaving its mark on the court regardless of the outcome of the tournament. A given guarantee was that they would leave a permanent mark showcasing the true talent and potential of South Sudan being an international powerhouse in basketball.
In a recording prior to the tournament, Coach Royal Ivey had this to say about their participation.
“South Sudan is a hidden gem with a lot of talent. The connection is so amazing among the players and just like the Nile, we are moving fast” – Coach Royal Ivey.
Although the competition was aggressive as the team continued to advance to the next game, one of the greatest moments for the country was when the team won against Uganda and Kenya. The two had been very strong opponents from the get-go, so being able to win that game meant a lot to the citizens as they showed that it was possible to bounce back.
There was an instant celebration by South Sudanese fans across the world on these two extremely joyous occasions because as the saying goes “aim for the stars but if you don’t make it, you will land on the moon”. These two wins crowned the team as the new ‘champions’ of the East African region and this is only one milestone on the long list of goals, but also a journey closer to bridging all the gaps.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey but we are ready to be here to compete and come out victorious” – Assistant Coach Ajou Deng
South Sudanese fans celebrate during a game in a stadium in Rwanda. Source: South Sudan Basketball Federation
Overall, South Sudan had an amazing performance that blew minds everywhere and set a standard to what is possible with determination and hard-work. The country registered its debut on the AfroBasket stage in the 5th position, with top performances by Deng Acouth, Kuany Ngor Kuany and Mathiang Muo.
This has been one of the proudest moments that the country has ever shared together as we transition into a new dawn of excellence and professional performances. The journey forward is extremely bright and there is an unspoken agreement that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that we continue to raise our nation to its glory.
The pride of singing the national anthem at the tournament. Source: South Sudan Basketball Association
Several participants at the tournament could not hide their feelings about the good show that the team exhibited. Tunisian head coach, Dirk Bauermann whose team has so far been the champion of the AfroBasket three times was impressed by the style of play from a rather young team.
“I could not have been more impressed with the young team from South Sudan. They have done a tremendous job; they really embody the most modern version of basketball”- Dirk Bauermann, Tunisian Head Coach.
The team is revving up again as qualifiers are happening in August 2022 for the 2023 World Cup. South Sudan will play three games on 26-27-28 August against Senegal, Congo DR and Egypt. One thing for sure is the whole nation is gripped with excitement and hope for the team to continue its ascend in continental and international arenas. When it's not playing on international and continental courts, the team is holding youth camps in South Sudan to inspire more young people to join this game and follow in the foot steps of the legendary Manute Bol and many other South Sudanese players who dominated the courts from the 1960s.
Follow the South Sudan Basketball Federation for more information.