South Sudan’s 89-69 win over China was more than just a first win at a major FIBA event.
For the youngest nation competing at the World Cup, this victory showcases the meteoric rise for a country of 11.5 million people that gained independence in 2011.
And when you look at the list of the more established FIBA nations, ranked in the top 50, that have not competed in this prestigious showcase. South Sudan are ranked 64th.
To add, South Sudan competed in its first international tournament in 2017, not long after the end of a six-year civil war that left 400,000 dead and displaced millions.
“We come from a country that has been through a lot,” former NBA star and South Sudan Basketball Federation president Luol Deng told BBC Sport Africa back in 2020.
“Some of these kids [the players], what they went through is something that you cannot control and, as life goes on, a lot of people never get an opportunity to come back home, let alone to wear a jersey and represent the nation.
“For them, it is more than just a game, it is really emotional.”
And the emotion poured through the souls of every South Sudanese player along with their passionate supporters once the final buzzer went.
Leading for the majority of the game, they were given a scare when China narrowed the gap to 44-42 in the opening exchanges of the third.
But thanks to Carlik Jones’ 21 points and six assists, as well as going an incredible 15/30 from three-point land overall, the Bright Stars pushed through the Chinese barrier and eased their way to the finish line.
It was a clinic from beyond the arc, which showcased their deep skillset and tremendous off-ball movement to find the right shot, every time.
Despite the win, Jones isn’t going to be caught up in the moment, saying: “No. We are not done yet.
“I don’t really want to get into talking about the next game because we won our first game. It’s history. I just wanna enjoy the night.”
“It’s amazing to win. We feel blessed and honored to be a part of this, to be with my brothers,” said Nuni Omot, who scored 14 points.
“It’s an amazing feeling. What we’ve gone through to get to this point … people don’t understand that this is inspirational. This is emotional. People may not fully understand the story behind it, behind what we’ve been through.”
And the victory puts China on the brink of a first round exit.
Not only did we witness a win for the youngest nation at the FIBA World Cup, but there was also a victory for the smallest nation.
Cape Verde recovered from their opening day loss to Georgia with an 81-75 success over Venezuela.
The Islanders improved their chances for the second round as they’re now 1-1 in Group F.
Definitely not a bad position for a team that’s just in its maiden World Cup appearance.
“This is a historical moment for us,” said Cape Verde coach Emanuel Trovoada.
“It’s a small nation with a big heart. It’s a marvellous moment for our people. These amazing athletes, they represented the country in the best way possible.”