September 2, 2023 – Manilla, Philippines. In a historic moment for South Sudan, the nation’s basketball team has clinched their maiden Olympic berth, earning a coveted spot at the 2024 Paris Olympics. This remarkable achievement unfolded on September 2nd at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Manila.
Known as the “Bright Stars,” the South Sudanese team secured their Olympic ticket with a resounding 101-78 victory over Angola. What makes this accomplishment even more remarkable is the composition of the team, which includes players who are refugees or the offspring of refugees from South Sudan’s war-torn past.
The team’s journey to this historic milestone began just six years ago, in 2017, when they played their first official international match. Since then, they have been on a relentless pursuit of excellence, culminating in their triumph in Manila.
Former NBA All-Star Luol Deng played a pivotal role in this journey. He not only took over the program but also provided significant personal funding to support the team. Deng’s vision was to recruit players with South Sudanese heritage, and this strategy has proved to be a winning formula.
Reflecting on this incredible underdog story, Luol Deng expressed his emotions, saying, “It’s an unbelievable story. It’s an underdog story that, 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. It’s such a unique achievement because it’s beyond basketball.”
The team’s head coach, Royal Ivey, a former NBA player and close friend of Deng, has been instrumental in their journey. Their training sessions, often conducted on concrete and outdoor courts, sometimes under challenging conditions, have been a testament to their determination.