South Sudan's Fiba World Cup team continues to inspire conflict-torn countrymen | Inquirer Sports

South Sudan’s Fiba World Cup team continues to inspire conflict-torn countrymen

05:15 AM September 03, 2023

South Sudan ends historic Fiba World Cup campaign with an Olympics berth.

South Sudan ends historic Fiba World Cup campaign with an Olympics berth. –MARLO CUETO/

They fought against all odds, overcoming even obstacles beyond the basketball court. They became a unifying symbol of hope for a divided country. And now, they’re going to the Olympics.

Theirs is the story Gilas Pilipinas had hoped to write.


Carlik Jones and his South Sudan teammates dominated Angola on Saturday, 101-78, and won a prize cherished by teams in the Fiba World Cup that had no business nursing championship hopes: an outright ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics.


“I’m so glad we got it done. We knew after we won the first game that we had a really good chance to qualify [for the Olympics] and we kind of just locked in on what we needed to do and I’m glad we got it done,” said Jones. “It’s a blessing, you know, to play in my first World Cup games and to walk out in the history [books] is unbelievable.”

Perhaps Jones was talking about his accomplishments when he spoke of leaving the tournament as part of basketball lore. Two days ago, he was a rebound shy of becoming the first player to tally a triple-double in the World Cup. On Saturday, Jones poured in 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out 15 assists to tie the record for most assists in a single game, which Croatia’s Toni Kukoc set in the 1994 World Cup.

The reigning NBA G-League Most Valuable Player also became the first player in the World Cup to tally at least 10 assists in three different games.

“Unbelievable, on both ends. I didn’t know I had 15 assists, that’s crazy. But you know, it’s mostly about the team, man,” Jones said.

Most likely, though, he was talking about South Sudan’s feat.

“We just qualified for the Olympics, man, I’m gonna enjoy this night,” Jones said.


The Philippines also found a reason to celebrate Saturday night.

Jordan Clarkson Gilas vs China Fiba World Cup

Jordan Clarkson celebrates with his Gilas Pilipinas teammates in the win over China in the Fiba World Cup classification. -MARLO CUETO/

The Filipinos turned back Asian heavyweight China—a rival the country always relishes beating—in a late-night match, 96-75.

It was a win that came too late in a tournament where the Philippines had big hopes, but it was nevertheless a positive final chapter authored by a team that limped into Saturday’s game on four straight losses.

Jordan Clarkson fueled Gilas Pilipinas with 34 points, 24 of which he poured in a third quarter where the Filipinos broke away.

The celebration over that win, however, will be muted. The Philippines did not get what it came to the World Cup for, what it hosted the event for. There will be no outright Olympic spot for a country that last played basketball in the Summer Games in 1972.

Meanwhile, South Sudan is on its way to Paris despite becoming a country only in 2011. Two years after gaining independence from Sudan, the landlocked Central African nation was plunged into a violent civil war that lasted about half a decade before peace deals were brokered in an attempt to end the bloodshed. South Sudan continues to experience what its government calls intercommunal violence, or clashes between opposing political groups. In March, however, Amnesty International described these conflicts as being “caused by ethno-political wrangling and competition amongst the elite over access to power and financial resources.”

Hope, positivity

Amnesty International also blamed these bloody clashes, which are often accompanied by human rights abuses, for the dire humanitarian situation the South Sudan is experiencing. The Global Conflict Tracker estimates that “in 2023, more than 7.7 million people, or two-thirds of the population, faced severe food insecurity—the worst hunger crisis the country has ever faced.”

Members of the South Sudan national team had said that they were being fueled in the World Cup by the hope and positivity they were providing for their countrymen.

“The reason why this is so important and means a lot is because we have so much division, a lot of trouble, a lot of conflict going on in our country,” forward Kuany Ngor Kuany said previously. “Whenever the basketball team plays, it’s literally the one time when everybody comes together. There are no more tribes, no more ‘I’m from the so-so region.’ Everyone is wearing the same flag—and that is South Sudan.”

They will get to provide more inspiration in Paris.

South Sudan emerged as the best African team to earn an outright ticket to the fashionable French capital with a 3-2 record, ahead of Egypt (2-3), which lost to New Zealand, 88-86, in its final game at the Mall of Asia Arena.

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“Are you serious? We’re going to the Olympics! That’s crazy, man,” said national coach Royal Ivey, holding back his tears after the game at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“A year ago we were practicing outside, with eagles flying around while we were practicing. Courts were flooded. To go from there and come in front of these fans in the Philippines? I’m on cloud nine right now,” Ivey added. “I never thought we’d be here. We’ll continue to celebrate, but yeah, this is literally the best day of our lives,” Kuany said on Saturday.

TAGS: China, Fiba World Cup, Gilas Pilipinas, south sudan

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