It was a chant that Luol Deng waited years to lead. He stood along the side of the South Sudan locker room after their run in the World Cup was over, cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled the same thing, over and over.
“Where we goin’?” he shouted.
“Paris,” the players all responded.
Deng’s vision when he founded the national team about a decade ago was to use basketball as a beacon of hope for his homeland. And his vision never seemed more real than on Saturday.
A struggling country just 12 years removed from gaining its independence — making it the youngest nation in the world — is headed to the Paris Olympics as the automatic qualifier from Africa. Carlik Jones finished with 26 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds, and South Sudan rolled past Angola 101-78 on Saturday in the final game of the World Cup for both teams.
The win, combined with Egypt’s 88-86 loss to New Zealand in a game that went final about a half hour later, clinched the Olympic berth for South Sudan as the highest-ranked African team in the tournament. And later Saturday, Japan joined the Olympic field as the highest-ranked World Cup team from Asia — clinching that spot by holding on for an 80-71 win over Cape Verde.
“This team is a beam of light, like I keep on saying,” South Sudan coach Royal Ivey said. “We’re bringing unity, camaraderie, love and friendship to this country. This country’s only been independent for 12 years. To do this, for Luol Deng to put this together, this is incredible. This is incredible.”
Marial Shayok scored 18, Nuni Omot — the reigning MVP of the NBA-backed Basketball Africa League — scored 17 and Wenyen Gabriel added 15 for South Sudan (3-2).
Childe Dundao led Angola (1-4) with 21 points.
South Sudan and Japan joined Australia (the Oceania automatic qualifier) and France (the host nation) as teams to have clinched spots in the 12-team Olympic men’s basketball field.
The World Cup serves as a qualifier for seven teams — the two highest-ranked teams from the Americas, the top two from Europe, and the top finisher from Asia, Oceania and Africa — into the Olympic field. Those seven join France, and the other four spots will be decided in last-chance qualifying spots next summer.
“I love this team,” Ivey said. “Man, this is a great feeling. This is a great feeling. I wish I could bottle this up right now.”
Japan played host to the Olympics two summers ago and now has secured another trip to the games, though it was far from easy at the end.
Keisei Tominaga put the hosts — Japan got to play its World Cup games in Okinawa — up 73-53 on a 3-pointer with 2:00 remaining in the third quarter.
Cape Verde roared back. It held Japan scoreless for the next nine minutes, going on a 15-0 run to get within 73-68 on a 3-pointer by Betinho Gomes. Japan went 11 minutes without a field goal, but Joshua Hawkinson had the team’s only baskets of the final quarter. They both came in the last minute, one setting up a three-point play, the other a 3-pointer to help the hosts advance. TIM REYNOLDS, MANILA, MDT/AP