Upstart South Sudan basketball team qualifies for first Olympics

Dec 20, 2021; Coral Gables, Florida, USA; A general view as a basketball goes through the hoop as the Stetson Hatters warm up prior to the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Watsco Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

South Sudan, making its first appearance in FIBA World Cup play, qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics on Saturday.

The team, championed and largely funded by former NBA forward Luol Deng, will represent Africa in the Olympics after its 101-78 win over Angola on Saturday.

Japan, which beat Cape Verde 80-71, also earned the right Saturday to represent Asia next summer.

Deng, born in Sudan, is the president of South Sudan Basketball. Royal Ivey, an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, coaches the team.

South Sudan became an independent country in 2011.

“I’m speechless right now. To be quite honest, it’s so surreal. We’re going to the Olympics,” a teary Ivey told reporters after the game in Manila, Philippines. “This team is a beam of light. Like I keep on saying every postgame, we’re bringing unity, camaraderie, love and friendship to this country.

He added: “This country has only been independent for 12 years. This is incredible. I take my hat off to my players because they trusted us from day one.”

South Sudan was led by Chicago Bulls guard Carlik Jones, who had 26 points, seven rebounds and 15 assists against Angola.

Playing in Okinawa in its home country, Japan was led by Joshua Hawkinson, a former Washington State player, who scored 29 points and added seven rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Yuta Watanabe of the Phoenix Suns had 10 rebounds.

South Sudan and Japan join host-team France and Australia in the 12-team Olympics field. Still to be added are two teams from the Americas and two from Europe that will qualify through the World Cup. The remaining four teams will come from qualifying tournaments next summer.

–Field Level Media

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