South Sudan’s men’s basketball team has made history as they qualified for the 2024 Olympics this weekend. Finishing their 2023 FIBA World Cup campaign with a 3-2, they took the Olympic berth granted to the highest-finishing African nation at the tournament. The milestone comes just three years after former NBA star Luol Deng took over the program, which he has largely funded himself. South Sudan notched wins over China, Angola, and The Philippines to secure their Olympic spot.
However, not only is it a testament to the team Deng has built, but it marks progress for athletics in South Sudan as a whole. The basketball team became the first South Sudanese athletes to directly qualify for the Olympics. While South Sudan has had five athletes represent them across the past two Olympics, all five qualified via “universality places”. Universality places are awarded by the IOC to ensure global equity at the Olympics.
South Sudan Headed To The Olympics
“It’s an unbelievable story, an underdog story not just for the South Sudanese, not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world. It’s a feel-good story that majority of people can relate to and such a unique achievement because it’s beyond basketball,” Deng told reporters as he fought back tears. Furthermore, Head coach Royal Ivey shared many of the same sentiments. “It’s been a humbling journey. I had heartaches, I have a lot of ebbs and flows, and it’s a great feeling right now. A year ago we were practicing outside with eagles flying around while we were practicing and the courts were flooded. Like to go from there to come and play in front of these fans in the Philippines, and I’m on cloud nine right now.”
The men’s Olympic tournament has quickly started to fill out as the World Cup enters its knockout stages. The only Olympic berths remaining from the World Cup are those for the two highest-placing European squads. At the time of writing, six European nations remain in the World Cup. While there are many individual stories on the South Sudan rosters, they have been led by the Bulls’ Carik Jones. Born in Cincinnati to Sudanese parents, Jones averaged 20.4 points and 10.4 assists across the team’s five games.