outh Sudan Basketball Federation (SSBF) President Luol Deng has taken matters into his own hands and will coach the senior men’s national team at the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 Qualifiers in the Rwandan capital from November 25-29.
The former Chicago Bulls forward has his work cut out as the world’s youngest sovereign state looks to find a place at the high table of African basketball.
Naturally, the tallest population on the continent, analysts are pitting them to dominate the hoops game in the next five years and their journey starts now. Whether they can fit the billing is a matter of time. The atmosphere in camp is that of a yearning for success.
“Sometimes, we forget that he is a global superstar. Today, we were reminded when after our friendly game against Kenya, two guys ran up to him to take a photo,” Kuany Kuany, one of South Sudan’s three co-captains.
“We are learning so much from him. He treats us very well and wants us to give our very best.”
South Sudan entered the Pre-Qualifiers in January in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and announced their arrival on the scene in style with four convincing wins registering centuries in all. However, a date with hosts Kenya ended their unbeaten run 74-68.
Another platform presented itself in the form of the Pre-Qualifiers in Yaounde, Cameroon last month. A 100-69 win over Chad and 91-85 loss to Cape Verde was not enough to earn them a place in Group E with Egypt, Morocco and Uganda.
However, another chance came when Algeria pulled out of the Qualifiers in Kigali and the rest is history.
Deng said that, “We take the opportunity that comes to us. We have been building and we knew about coming here about a week ago. We are looking forward to it and it is a great chance for us to qualify.”
One of South Sudan’s three captains Teny Puot said, “This is a blessing for us. Life does not give you this many opportunities so we are looking forward to utilizing this one as much as we can. The guys are ready. We have been training and we are excited as well. This is a great chance for our country. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we have to make it count.”
South Sudan find themselves in a tough group with former AfroBasket champions Nigeria, Mali and hosts Rwanda. To qualify for the final tournament, they must finish among the top three.
The weight of expectations from their fans back home is evident on social media and the players according to Kuany understand what is at stake.
“This is what our lives have been about. Whatever comes our way, we take it. Since we were young, we have grown knowing that we have to keep pushing no matter what. The fact that we are here, we have to be resilient. We need to take care of business,” Kuany further pointed out.
South Sudan will be treating every game like a final and indeed have their work cut out.