13 January 2011

KENYA : Basketball is to S. Sudan what athletics is to Kenya

By AFPPosted Sunday, January 9 2011 at 19:20

If there is one thing Southern Sudan is famous for in the outside world, it is the super lofty stars with which it has studded the NBA.

Now, as nationhood beckons, it is basketball that it is looking to to make a name in international sports.

No sporting official in Southern Sudan is in any doubt that the week-long independence referendum which opened on Sunday will have any other outcome than its emergence as the newest entrant on the world sporting stage.
And for the region’s impoverished, war-ravaged population, basketball is not just by far the most popular spectator sport; it is also a national treasure.

When the body of 2.31-metre-tall NBA legend Manute Bol was flown home mid last year, not only did president Salva Kiir pay tribute at a requiem mass, but hundreds of mourners walked for miles to attend his burial in his remote home village.

When Southern Sudan celebrated the referendum that they expect to bring a definitive end to five decades of conflict with the north, it put on a series of demonstration tournaments in the regional capital Juba that drew crowds by the thousands.
The city’s basketball court is basic — a raised platform above the dust serves as a playing surface and concrete terracing without seats accommodates spectators — but it is the best in all of Southern Sudan.
The region is one of the poorest in the world: before Bol achieved fame as a spectacular shot-blocker, he was as a boy cattle herder.

But poverty does not prevent Southern Sudanese sports officials from dreaming of converting the popular flare for the game into sporting success for the new nation.
“We will improve the standard of basketball after the referendum as an independent country,” said Gen. Wilson Deng, honorary deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Basketball Federation.
Deng played for Southern Sudan in the short-lived period of peace that reigned between 1972 and 1983. When war broke out again, he immediately joined the rebels, eventually becoming head of sports in the south’s ex-rebel army.
He makes no secret of the foreign financial help the new country will need to invest in its facilities and infrastructure if it is to make a mark on the international stage.
“We will look for some Good Samaritan who will try to help us in bringing up our standards,” Deng said. “We need the NBA to assist.”

South Sudan’s prospects have been improved by the return home of a number of wartime refugees who had the opportunity to hone their skills in the West and who are now keen to use them to develop the sport in their homeland.
Deng Aldo Ajou Deng is brother of Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng, and also played professionally in Britain for the Brixton Topcats in south London and the Plymouth Raiders in the southwest.

Born in the south Sudanese town of Wau in 1976, he fled to Egypt in 1988 and then Britain in 1994 before returning to his homeland with the signing of the 2005 peace agreement between the rebels and the Khartoum government.
“Now we’ve got our own country, this is unbelievable for me. It’s been a dream since 1988,” Deng said.

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