'It's a dream come true,” forward Nuni Omot said after the team qualified for the Paris Games
South Sudan’s men’s basketball team has capped off “an unbelievable story” to qualify for next year’s Paris Olympics.
The South Sudanese squad defeated Angola 101-78 at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Manila on Saturday, securing the team its first-ever spot in the 2024 Summer Olympics.
"It's unbelievable, it's a dream come true,” forward Nuni Omot told Olympics.com. “We became an independent country in 2011. Everything that's happened in these last couple of years... No one ever imagined or dreamed of being in this position. Now we're going to have the chance to walk across the Olympic stage with our flag. I'm so emotional right now. I'm just very blessed to be a part of it."
South Sudan qualified for the Olympics by being the African nation with the best finish at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Elsewhere on Saturday, Egypt lost to New Zealand, ensuring South Sudan was the last African team standing in the tournament.
The country gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. South Sudan’s basketball team is ranked No. 62 in the world and just played its first international contest six years ago, according to Reuters.
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Retired two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng took over the country’s international basketball program three years ago, according to ESPN.
"It's an unbelievable story. It's an underdog story that, not just for the South Sudanese, not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world," Deng told ESPN, as he struggled to hold back tears. "It's a feel-good story that [a] majority of people can relate to. It's such a unique achievement because it's beyond basketball."
The team is made up of lesser-known and former NBA players, as well as a few young prospects, including 16-year-old Khaman Maluach — a 7-foot-2 big man who has been one of the bright young stars of the tournament.
"This has been like a movie," Maluach told ESPN.
Chicago Bulls G-League player Carlik Jones led the team with 26 points and 15 assists, notching his third double-double of the tournament.
"It means the world, it means the world to the people back home," Jones told ESPN. "It's just a blessing."
The 2024 Olympics begin next July in Paris.
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