JUBA (South Sudan) – When Lul Deng led his national team to their first continental competition in Nairobi (Kenya) in 2020, he could never have imagined the happiness that choosing South Sudan would generate in Africa and elsewhere in the world. .
In just over two years since his accession to the presidency, he has managed to create a tremendous dynamic and the team’s performance so far has been very satisfactory.
After being elected – unopposed – to his position in 2019, Deng said: “I am very proud, excited and grateful to have been chosen to head our new federation. With humility I have not only joined the South Sudan Confederation, but also reconnected with Africa.”
Back in the country, the big basketball family thought he was undoubtedly the right man for the job.
“I don’t see this as a mission that has immediate results,” he added when he was elected.
Next Secretary Marie Aniwat was full of praise for the two-time NBA star, who represented Britain at the 2012 London Olympics.
“Deng’s return is great news for South Sudan. Basketball is only a small part of what we can do, however, our progress has no limits.
With a wealth of experience gained during his 15 years in the NBA, Ding made an immediate impact. His role in the rapid rise of the national team is clear.
His commitment to the team has pushed South Sudan to center stage. He knows how to find the right words to motivate his players and get the best out of them.
“We learn a lot from him. He treats us well and expects us to give our best,” notes Kwani Kwani, one of the selection leaders.
Ding, who was born in the northwestern city of Wau, wants to use basketball to change the lives of some of his compatriots.
“Having Lul Deng as a coach is very important and explains a lot of our current success. We benefit not only from his tremendous knowledge, but also from all the confidence he has been able to instill in us during our preparation stages,” Kwany affirms.
Many observers believe that the fairy tale of South Sudan is still in its infancy and that the “bright stars” will soon shine at the top of the continental pyramid.
It all started in Nairobi in January 2020, during the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 pre-qualifiers.
This was the first ever continental event for South Sudan and it didn’t disappoint at the start. Throughout the six team competitions, Ding always accompanied his team, both before and after matches.
Entering the deciding match against Kenya, the South Sudan national football team had no losses, winning power in each of their previous matches.
Backed by a group of fans, they crossed 100 points in their first five encounters. But in a crowded room in Nyayo, they dusted off and finally had to admit defeat to the hosts (74-68).
This defeat prevented them from winning direct qualification for the continental championship, but another opportunity came to them when the International Basketball Federation decided to organize an invitation competition – in Cameroon – with Chad and Cape Town.
Cape Verde had the last word and joined Egypt, Morocco and Uganda. But again, luck was smiling on them, as Algeria could not participate in the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 qualifiers.
Jumping on the occasion, South Sudan beat Mali twice and Rwanda once to invite themselves to the Continental Festival.
Thus, South Sudan was one of the 16 teams located in Kigali (Rwanda), where the “Bright Stars” took the impressive seventh place.
In Group D, he started with a 20-0 loss against Cameroon, then struggled with Senegal’s Law (104-75) before narrowly beating Uganda (88-86).
In the qualifiers for the quarter-finals, South Sudan took revenge on Kenya with a narrow victory (60-58). Then he couldn’t do anything in the quarter-finals against Tunisia, the future African champion, with an 80-65 defeat.
The next step was the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 qualifiers in Dakar (Senegal). This is where South Sudan sent a resounding message.
In Group B, he first stunned two-time continental champion Tunisia (72-64), then followed up with successes against Rwanda (68-56) and Cameroon (74-68) to take over the group leadership and imitate Ivory Coast. Coast, the only other unbeaten team at the moment.
The great adventure of South Sudan is definitely underway and the third window of the FIBA 2023 Basketball World Cup Qualifiers could be a confirmation. Morale is high and with the confidence currently prevailing within the team, it would have been better for his opponents to be very careful.
With a group of thousands of players scattered around the world, South Sudan has reason to be optimistic about its future. And when he bursts into the spotlight, he remembers one man: Lol Deng.