South Sudan coach Royal Ivey has praised the bond within his squad as the Afrobasket 2021 debutants try to book a shock place in Saturday’s semi-finals.
Today in Kigali, Rwanda, a team that only joined world body FIBA in 2013, two years after the country’s independence, could become one of Africa’s four best if they beat Tunisia in the quarter-finals.
On Wednesday, Senegal and Ivory Coast set up a semi-final clash against one another when beating Angola and Guinea respectively.
Thursday’s game will be South Sudan’s biggest challenge so far, with the Tunisians not only the defending champions but also one of three sides yet to taste defeat at the tournament in Rwanda.
“These guys are great, they do all the right things and the biggest thing is the brotherhood – it is family,” head coach Royal Ivey told BBC Sport Africa.
“The way they care about each other is really love in that room. And I am so fortunate to be their head coach. They are teaching me day in, day out how to be a better coach and how to be a better person. So I want to thank them.”
Ivey, an assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA, took charge of South Sudan earlier this year after previous coach – and former NBA star Luol Deng – stepped down.
Deng is now president of the South Sudan Basketball Federation and has repeatedly stressed the importance of the sport to a country which celebrated its tenth year of independence in July.
“We come from a country that has been through a lot,” the two-time NBA All-Star told BBC Sport Africa.
“Some of these kids – what they went through – is something that you cannot control and as life goes on, a lot of people never get an opportunity to come back home, let alone to wear a jersey and represent the nation.
“For them it is more than just a game, it is really emotional, to just be recognized by their own people and to be known even for the game.
“I really believe that sport can turn a lot of things around for us – for us just to see us in the news and see others things besides the conflict and what is going and the difficult times people are having.”