By Steve Vear
As the 2017/18 NBA season gets underway, there will be x4 players of South Sudanese origin playing in the top league in the world. Luol Deng (Lakers), Thon Maker (Bucks) and recent draftees Peter Jok (Suns) and Mangok Mathiang (Hornets). Add Buay Tuach who has been drafted into the NBA G-League team Long Island Nets, affiliate to the Brooklyn Nets.
Also, there are many playing pro overseas such as, Shayok Shayok, Emanuel Malou, Kuany Kuany, Deng Acouth, Majok Majok, Majok Deng, Deng Deng and Ater Majok.
Ok, so for many people this may not be ground breaking news but for the newest nation in the world it’s a big deal! And what is about to happen in the very near future for a nation is simple — South Sudan hoops is about to take off. And I mean “take off!”
When given the task of organizing the first ever DENG Camp USA for South Sudanese elite high schools players, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew there was talent, but what was discovered in just a 4-day camp in Omaha from 18–21 June — well, was simply eye opening!
I had a lot of help from a great person called Koang Doluony of the Omaha Talons who is a pioneer of South Sudan hoops in Omaha and becoming more so globally for the nation. Check out his story that Bleacher Report did a feature piece on.
Some arrive in beat-up cars packed with five and six long-limbed passengers. More walk over an hour through the cool…bleacherreport.com
So outside of the NBA and pros, when you look at the NCAA there are so many players who are making a huge impact in key roles for their programmes.
Deng Adel (Louisville), Gorjok Gak (Florida), Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky), Jo-Luol Acuil Jr (Baylor), Kouat Noi (TCU), Deng Gak (Miami), Mayen Kiir (LSU), Lat Mayen (TCU), Duop Reath (LSU), Billy Awet (Southern Illinois), Makuach Maluach (New Mexico), Koch Bar (Bradley), Marial Shayok (Iowa State), Nuni Omot (Baylor), Thik Bol (Southern Illinois), Chier Maker (Palm Beach St), Akoy Agau (SMU), Makol Mawien (Kansas State), Daniel Mading (Texas Tech).
The above players (and many more I have missed) will have sights of the NBA in their minds, which is a reality for many!
Bol Bol (son of the late Manute Bol) is a 5-STAR recruit currently one of the most highly recruited players in high school who recently transferred to Findlay Prep. He has yet to make his decision but looks like the front-runners are between Oregon and Kentucky.
Ed Chang is on his way to the University of Washington being one of the highest recruited Class of 2018 players out of Nebraska.
Add in more players who attended DENG Camp USA 2017, with Class of 2019’s Majok Deng having over x20 NCAA D1 offers already with one being from Duke and John Bol Ajak with offers from big programmes such as Villanova, Syracuse, Rutgers and UCONN.
Class of 2018’s Aguir Agau has over x15 offers and Majur Majak has been offered by Washington, San Diego State and UCONN, plus Yor Anei just recently committed early to Oklahoma State University.
It is evident to see the realness of the mass talent pool being recognised across the USA — and it’s growing!
Emmanuel Akot has committed to the University of Arizona who also suited up for the Canada National Team that just won the Gold Medal at the U19 FIBA World Cup. Akot, a 5-STAR prospect was ranked as the #1 recruit from Utah, #3 in the country and #15 overall player in the 2018 class, per Scout.com.
Lual Akot who plays at Canada Top Flight Academy was just ranked the #10 prospect by NorthPole Hoops and Class of 2021, Muon Reath was ranked as the #1 recruit for his class. Canada has a lot more up and coming South Sudanese talent, which really makes it a very exciting country of prospects.
I have been fortunate enough to work alongside the South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association (SSANBA) and attend the National Classic tournament x3 times that keeps growing and growing. This past summer I got to see even more talent where the future looks so bright in Australia for South Sudan basketball.
Many players who have come through Australia are on the above list playing across the NBA, NCAA and professionally overseas. Massive credit must go to Manyang Berberi and Mayor Chagai who worked so hard to ensure better opportunities for South Sudan basketball as well as other programmes in their circle.
The Manute Bol Court in Juba, built by the Luol Deng Foundation in 2015 is helping teach basketball to thousand of kids every single day with many having ambitions to follow suit and attend high school in the USA.
This program plays a key part to the player pathway of starting early at the grass root level.
Wait, there is more…
Talking South Sudan hoops, you cannot miss off Adut Bulgak —the only player in the WNBA. She attened Florida State and was selected as the #12 pick by the New York Liberty.
The 6ft 4″ center finished her FSU career fourth in career rebounding average (8.7), ninth in blocked shots (88) and tied for tenth in three point percentage (34.4).
Also, Nyagoa Gony has committed to NCAA D1 Purdue showing the future for female hoops is looking bright for South Sudan basketball.
South Sudan were granted affiliation to FIBA Africa in 2013 which is a massive step in not only putting the nation on the map but also to give an opportunity for so many talented players to represent their country. A huge deal for a country that has been through so much turmoil.
I have been fortunate enough to be included in the continuous dialogue of the National Team via the South Sudan Basketball Federation where some great work is going on to ensure the success of the nation.
Although it has a long way to go, if it’s run professionally, able to get the best players to buy in and play, as well as secure long-term funding, South Sudan will be the best basketball nation in Africa.
Not should or might be —it will be!
Steve Vear is a founder of KEY Basketball LLC and Global Director, DENG Camp. @SJVear