MONASTIR (Tunisia) – It has been a long journey for South Sudan involving many highs and lows but ultimately the Bright Stars are going to Rwanda for their inaugural FIBA AfroBasket appearance this summer.
The East Africans, who will be celebrating their 10th year of independence in July this year, have secured their ticket to the most prestigious basketball tournament in Africa and have done so with poise and authority that they have left absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are here to stay.
The overall message right from January 2020 was that they deserve to be at the high table of African basketball and they have since proved their worth.
It is a moment of celebration world over for South Sudanese who have taken the party to the social media streets in this forcefully virtual environment thanks to the ongoing global pandemic.
When FIBA announced the draws for the AfroBasket Pre-Qualifiers in December 2019, little was known of the South Sudan team.
However, when they showed up in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi the following month winning four of their five games, everyone started noticing them and even though they lost 74-68 to a more experienced Kenyan side playing at home, they looked the part and gave their fans something to write home about.
Kenya advanced to the Qualifiers as the best team from that Regional Qualifier but yet another opportunity presented itself for South Sudan when FIBA organized an Invitational Tournament involving Chad and Cape Verde in Yaounde, Cameroon in October.
Cape Verde emerged victorious and joined Group E along with Egypt, Morocco and Uganda. Just like a cat with nine lives, South Sudan adhered to a call to represent Algeria who could not compete in the November window of the Qualifiers because of a national policy surrounding the global pandemic.
South Sudan secured two surprise wins over Mali and Rwanda to put themselves in a position to make history and when they completed the double against the West Africans in Monastir on Thursday, they sealed their fate.
In an exclusive interview with FIBA.basketball, one of three captains Kuany Ngor Kuany said in an emotional speech that, “From where we started in Kenya last year to where we are now, we have continued to build and get better each round and if we keep this same hunger, hard work and determination, we shall keep on excelling and reach further heights. We have the right staff, players and the support of the whole country behind us so we are on the right track.”
The 26-year old, whose family fled South Sudan due to the decades-long civil war and was born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, believes that this AfroBasket qualification will inspire many more young boys and girls that impossible is nothing – that they can achieve their wildest dreams.
South Sudan, who has the tallest population in Africa, will be looking to bank on that going forward as well as having thousands of players across the world in the USA, Australia and Europe ready to represent their country.
For Kuany, the journey is exciting and the future looks bright for his home country. He further reveals that the involvement of Luol Deng with the team has completely turned around things for their nation.
“To have Luol Deng as our head coach is very important and a vital part of our success. Not only because of the great basketball wealth and knowledge he brings to the table but also belief and confidence he instills on the team through team preparations, game plan and everything else he does on and off the court that truly makes us believe that we can beat anyone and that we are doing it not only for ourselves but for our people back home. We believe in him and the game plan he has for us so we just got out there and executed,” Kuany explained in detail.
His teammate and fellow captain Teny Puot echoed this: “I have been part of the team since 2017 and the grind it took to get here is something I fell in love with. We continued the battle in Kenya to where we are presently, we have proceeded to construct and improve each round and in the event that we keep this equivalent craving, difficult work and assurance, we shall continue dominating and arrive at additional statues.
“It is exceptional to leave a mark on the world and to cement our first historically speaking AfroBasket is something we are all so glad to be a part of. Particularly with everything going on in South Sudan, this gives our country something positive and gives them trust that we can accomplish anything when we put our mind on it.
“This was our first year as a national team and to be able to get to the position we are in now is a great accomplishment as a team and as a country. It is a great feeling to know that we are just getting started and already made this much stride as a team.
“Our next goal is to take it one game at a time at the AfroBasket and qualify for the [FIBA Basketball] World Cup. We are just focusing on our team right now and just trying to win one game at a time. We do not want to focus too much on the outside noise.”
For Puot and Kuany, this is just the beginning of the fairytale. They believe the Bright Stars of South Sudan can dominate Africa and the world and it is only a matter of time.
For their first participation at the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 in Rwanda from August 24 to September 5, South Sudan have joined the elite teams on the continent and have automatically qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Qualifiers.