How Basketball earned South Sudanese opportunities abroad
South Sudanese people are known for athleticism and tallness that can be intimidating but exciting at the same time. These attributes may have played a crucial role in positioning the sons and daughters of the youngest African nation to the lucrative basketball sport, which according to a retired basketballer Arek Deng, has enabled some people to excel and find footing.
Deng, who now heads Luol Deng Basketball Foundation which nurtures young talents in the game revealed that most South Sudanese have earned scholarships thanks to playing basketball, and it is prudent to give it more attention.
She praised the late Manute Bol for playing a pivotal role in instilling the love for basketball in the country, at a time that many people were disturbed by civil wars.
The former NBA star narrated how Bol assumed a leadership role as a player talking about the country, spreading the message about the raw talents and supporting initiatives financially.
“It was something amazing to see the late Bol encouraging many South Sudanese to take up basketball as one of the most important sports in the country,” she told The City Review in an interview.
She added that Bol enabled most South Sudanese to get the opportunity of playing in the NBA.
‘‘People like Deng Gai, Mangok, Mathiang, Thon Maker, Deng Adel Wenyen Gabriel Francisco Elson including Luol Deng and others became famous in the world because of basketball,’’ she recalled.
More into the game
According to Arek, the campaign paid dividends because currently, there are many South Sudanese enrolled for basketball in USA and Australia.
Having played for Great Britain and accumulated experience, she added that there are good signs of development because there are more people currently playing in basketball clubs and colleges in the Middle East and Europe.
She recalled how luck struck and she became one of the South Sudanese who landed a scholarship through basketball and the same pattern replicated for her siblings.
“I can testify that in my family, seven of us got basketball scholarships in different fields. I and Luol got a basketball scholarship in 1999, followed by our brother who wasn’t an American but went out on basketball scholarship,” she revealed.
“Luol was there on a basketball scholarship [high school and university], I went to high school on a basketball scholarship. I went to university on a basketball scholarship and I did my masters on a basketball scholarship [too],” Ms Arek narrated.
She added that these scholarships were turning lives around by creating job opportunities.
“Basketball has done a lot of positive things in South Sudanese lives, not only as an individual, but it has also put South Sudan into the good picture on the continent. There are a lot of South Sudanese doing big things out there just because of basketball.”
She added: “Basketball opens so many paths of learning from the young ones and to the trainers or coaches.
“It teaches one discipline, hard work and teaches someone how to work with people whether you agree with them or not. It also teaches one to follow instructions, meaning when you play and love basketball you become a total disciplined person.”
She emphasised that there was the need for proper coordination between the former players who went through the scholarship path and the aspiring players. According to Arek, most of the institutions in Australia and the USA rely on referrals from former players.
She said: “For instance, if it is a school that wants players, then there is a process that the person needs to go through, like applications and other many processes before going to interviews.”
She however cautioned that no one can be allowed to go to the USA for a basketball scholarship if one does not have an academic qualification, saying “school goes hand to hand with basketball’’.
“There is a bright future ahead of these young guys at home and within the continent. They would do so much better. But there is a need for the facilities [grow their talents and get the best out of them],” Ms Arek said.
Who is Arek Deng?
Information from the website of Rapid Results Institute published in January 2013 indicates that she is a graduate of the University of Delaware. Arek played basketball internationally, competing in Division 1 NCAA basketball before playing professionally in Europe and becoming a member of the first Great Britain women’s basketball team.
Arek obtained a BA in International Relations and an MSc in Development and Refugee Studies from London, South Bank University.
Arek is also the African Affairs Liaison for the Luol Deng Foundation, and co-founder of the Foundation’s UK charity.
Currently the CEO of the Luol Deng Foundation.