South Sudan at the 2024 Olympic Games: story of a young national team without a stadium uniting a torn country


From Juba to Paris, via the Far East. South Sudan’s national basketball team has made history once again. After their first participation in a World Cup and their first victory against China, the Sudanese also won their first Olympics, just 12 years after independence. The national team qualified for Paris 2024. An extraordinary achievement arrived.

An achievement that came from a quintet that barely knows the nation it represents, due to the civil wars that characterized the region, in fact, from 1955 to 2020 except for brief interruptions. Some have been able to sustain the pace and levels of the NBA. Wenyen Gabriel for starters who shared the Los Angeles Lakers jersey 68 times with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And then there is Carlik Jones. In the last two years he has played just 12 games between Dallas, Denver and Chicago, but he is mostly the one who dragged the “Bright Stars” to the upcoming Olympics with 26 points, 7 rebounds and 15 assists in the decisive game against Angola. Nuni Omot in South Sudan has hardly ever been there, as he was born in the refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya, where his parents had taken refuge to escape the atrocities of war. Marial Shayok, former Philadelphia 76ers, was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. Kuany Kuany, on the other hand, is from Aweil, a city in the north of the country, and emigrated precipitously to Australia when he was 9 years old.

They are joined by Khaman Maluach, 16 (he will be 17 next September 14). The third youngest player ever to make his World Cup debut. Maluach possesses that mix of mobility, defensive and three-point shooting skills that have always fascinated the NBA. All on a 218-centimeter physique. A diamond in the rough, he began playing seriously only two years ago in Uganda. Ahead of his young age he already glimpses the first fork in the road. He still has two years left to finish high school, then he will have to choose whether to go to the NCAA (universities like UCLA and Georgetown have already sought him out) or become the first player ever to move from Africa to the NBA in the 2025 Draft. But like any good story, there needs to be someone to put all the pieces together, to show the way forward.

South Sudan did in fact become independent in 2011, and immediately plunged back into the abyss of another civil war, this time an all-Sudanese one. A civil war was fought between December 2013 and February 2020, ignoring any calls for peace. Radical social instability has prevented the country from developing.

In all of South Sudan there is no arena for the national team to play in, and about 90 percent of the inhabitants live in villages. Against this backdrop, Deng personally recruited every single member of the national team, paying out of his own pocket for travel, rallies, flights, and matches. But above all, Deng put together Dinka and Nuer players. And perhaps, even more than the World Cup and the upcoming Olympics, this is precisely the biggest goal he wants to achieve: to make basketball the means to permanently unify and pacify an entire country.

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Date Published:

08 September 2023


Claudia, Office manager

Article Tags:

Latest news, South Sudan, Solidarity, Basketball, Olympics 2024

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