Ranked 62 in the world, the South Sudanese side stunned China to claim their first-ever victory on Monday during their World Cup debut in Manila — offering their citizens a rare respite from the long-running crises facing the young country.
The impoverished, violence-wracked nation won independence from Sudan in 2011, before descending into a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people between 2013 and 2018. South Sudan played their first official international basketball game just six years ago.
Hopes were high on Wednesday as hundreds of fans gathered at the Nimra Talata basketball stadium in the capital Juba to cheer the team, blowing vuvuzelas and donning the colours of the national flag while a giant screen broadcast the action from the Philippines.
Even the 115-83 loss by their team, which is nicknamed the Bright Stars, did little to dampen their spirits.
The team’s rise has been masterminded by Luol Deng, former Chicago Bulls player and now president of the country’s basketball federation. As the team’s coach during the qualifiers, the charismatic double NBA All-Star led the team to a historic qualification for the World Cup.