Football / MDI Editorial / Monthly Newsletters / Sport

South Sudan Basketball Team In Nairobi for Afrobasket Qualifiers

   Story by: Simon Dube

Kenya hosted the 2020 Afrobasket qualifiers for Zone Five in January after being granted rights by the Continental basketball governing body, FIBA Africa in Nairobi, November 25th 2019.

However, the competition was without Egypt, who had been given a wild card to the next round, also Uganda and Rwanda who had automatically registered spots in the next round. It meant the “Morans” of Kenya were to battle it out with South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi and Tanzania.

The team did enjoy each and every bit of their stay in Nairobi, Kenya

following their arrival to the capital, Nairobi on the 13th January,2020.

This was not only because of the flames they lit at Nyayo stadium in every

game they played but also, the comfort offered by The South Sudan

Basketball Federation president, Ex-NBA Star Luol Deng who footed

the bills of Sh.10,000 per room, per player and ensured all members of

the team booked in single rooms for comfort.

South Sudan entertained the spectators in their first game on the 14th Jan,2020

with a comforting 114-79 points win against Somalia.

On the 15thJan, 2020, they continued with their good form and also defeated Eritrea by 111-57 points. This arose fear in the other teams including the hosts but instilled more confidence into the South Sudanese team.

The Basketball president, Mr Luol Deng was impressed with the performance and to further motivate the players, he treated the team to a dinner at the posh village market ahead of their match against Burundi on Thursday 16th Jan, 2020.

The team of course continued the unbeaten streak with yet again another big win over Burundi with a score line of 100-59 points. The captain, Teny Tuot

contributing 33 points on this one and he indeed had a very beautiful game.

While the whole region thought that the show for the South Sudan team was over, the boys were actually just getting started. On the 17th Jan, 2020, they took on Tanzania and yet again doing what they do best, this time around on a different note winning 115-60 points.

After putting out impressive performances against Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi and Tanzania, South Sudan only had Kenya left to go through, a side that also won it’s four games.

On the 18th Jan, 2020, the Kenya vs South Sudan game was scheduled to start at 5:00 PM, but it had to be delayed for close to two hours after the Nyayo Gymnasium became extremely full with fans spilling all the way into the court and measures had to be taken to control and manage the crowd before the game tipped off at almost 8:30 PM.

The South Sudan unbeaten streak finally collapsed on this day at the Nyayo stadium. They lost to Kenya on a score of 74-68 points that Saturday night. The team of course as usual played a lovely game but luck was not on their side.

The Kenyan men team nick named the “Morans” finally gave the home fans a reason to smile as they won the bragging rights against their long-time rivals and Africa Zone Five rivals, South Sudan in a six-nation competition. They will join the other 15 teams that had automatically made it to this stage. These are Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tunisia and Uganda. These teams top-seeded from the Afro Basketball 2017 in Tunisia and Senegal.

The Kenyan head coach Mr. Cliff Owour said his team hopes to live the dream to make their debut show at the 2021 Afro Basketball in Kigali, Rwanda.

When asked about the match, he said “We talked as a team to deny them (South Sudan) the ball and control the boards. Stop their execution and that was it. We are happy to qualify to the next round.”

Speaking to the head coach, Mr. Ajou Deng, he appreciated the team for a job well done and hinted that if the match had not been delayed, the results would have been different. He believed the delay affected the team mentally though he acknowledges the discipline and persistence in the Kenyan side. He said “They were aggressive, great and a better team.”

Mr. Luol Deng thanked the entire team and the fans. He said “I am very proud of the boys and what they’ve done, they put up a performance that surprised everyone, so many people came to congratulate us for the good work. This was all possible because of the pride and joy from the fans that encouraged the team.”

In addition, he talked of his main goal being to use basketball to change lives in South Sudan since the talent is present and also hinted on financial support, not only from the government, but also Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).

Talking to Paul, a fan who travelled to watch the games in Nairobi, said “We didn’t make it through, but our boys really made us proud, viva Bright Stars, viva Luol Deng, viva South Sudan.”

Loki, another proud supporter expressed her love and appreciation for the boys in style. She said “when it comes to sports, my country has always let me down, but this time around, the basketball team has changed the narrative. The entire world will now at least give us some respect in the sports field.”

Finally, Noel, a student at Juba University, famously known as “17” appreciated the team’s efforts and hopes to see the team triumph in the wild card and compete in the Afro Basketball Championship, and hopefully win it because they are capable of winning.

South Sudan will now feature in the wild card to be held in West Africa and will probably proceed to the Afro basket tournament 2021 to be held in Kigali, Rwanda.

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