South Sudan made history just by being here — this was the African nation’s first FIBA World Cup appearance.
They were not done. Led by Bulls’ point guard Carlik Jones — who scored 26 points and had 15 assists — South Sudan beat Angola 101-78, and with the win earned the right to represent Africa in the Paris Olympics next summer.
Also on Saturday, World Cup host Japan qualified to represent Asia in the Paris Olympics by beating Cape Verde 80-71 behind a strong outing from the Suns’ Yuta Watanabe plus 29 points from former Washington State star Joshua Hawkinson.
South Sudan is a powerful story. Long-time NBA forward Luol Deng — who was born in Sudan but moved with his family as a child to Egypt and then London to escape the ravages of a civil war in his homeland — is not only the president of South Sudan Basketball but has largely funded the effort to build this team. South Sudan — which separated from Sudan to become an independent nation in 2011 — is coached by former NBA journeyman guard and current Rockets’ assistant Royal Ivey. After the historic victory, Deng spoke to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
“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,” Deng said as he fought off tears. “It’s a feel-good story that majority of people can relate to. It’s such a unique achievement because it’s beyond basketball.”
Deng recruited players with genuine talent and experience — not to mention ties to South Sudan — to play for the nation. Against Angola, former Laker Wenyen Gabriel had 15 points and 10 rebounds, while G-League player Marial Shayok, who had a cup of coffee with the 76ers in 2020, scored 18 points. Former Baylor Bear Nuni Omot added 17. Even with all that talent, South Sudan needed a little help to qualify for Paris and got it when New Zealand beat Egypt 88-86.
Japan also had an emotional moment, clinching the right to head to Paris in front of a raucous home crowd in Okinawa.
Four teams have now qualified for the 12-team Paris Olympics men’s basketball tournament: France is in as the host (despite a disappointing World Cup outing), Australia representing Oceana, plus now South Sudan (Africa) and Japan (Asia). Two teams from the Americas and two from Europe also will qualify for Paris out of this World Cup, but those slots have yet to be decided. The final four slots in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament will be determined by qualifying tournaments next summer.