Maluach reflects on his mercurial 2023 basketball journey

SOUTH Sudanese teenager Khaman Maluach brims with confidence when he speaks about his achievements in basketball and is single-minded about his aspirations in the game.

Given the year Maluach has had, it is understandable why. The giant centre has seen his stock rise in the game, all this happening before his 17th birthday last month.

The path to a successful 2023 so far began in the Basketball Africa League (BAL) for the 2.18m (7ft2) centre, who was part of AS Douanes team that fell short in the final against Egypt’s Al Ahly.

In late July, Maluach was among the 80 players (40 boys and 40 girls) selected for the Basketball Without Borders Camp in Johannesburg and at the end of that camp, he cantered off with the MVP title.

The crowning moment of his young career saw him join South Sudan’s FIBA World Cup campaign between August and September in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia. 

Khaman Maluach at the FIBA World Cup
Khaman Maluach was proud to represent South Sudan at FIBA World Cup. Pictures: FIBA

In a Q&A with The Big Tip Off, Maluach reflected on his mercurial journey and what the future could hold for him.

The BTO: How has being part of the NBA Academy in Senegal helped you grow as a player?

KM: It’s been great. I have had a lot of good life experiences at the NBA Academy. They helped to develop my body and skillsets. Also, being among my brothers has been great for me.

The BTO: The Academy features African players from diverse backgrounds. How have you experienced one another’s differences?

KM: In the beginning, it was hard because of the language barrier, but learning one another’s languages has connected us. It has made us brothers forever. The lessons we are learning are much bigger than basketball.

The BTO: You were part of the AS Douanes team that made it to the BAL final. How did you experience that moment?

KM: I was the youngest player to start a BAL final! That was a milestone for me. On the playing side, we did not have the best start. We lost the first two games, and everybody thought we were out. Eventually, we won our next three games and made it to the final. My big takeaway was to believe in yourself before everyone else does. No one expected us to make it to the finals, but we knew we could, and we did.

 

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The BTO: You participated in this year’s Basketball Without Borders (BWB). How did you experience that camp and walking away with the MVP award?

KM: It was great to play against players I had never met. We were together for a couple of days at the camp. In that time, I formed some friendships with players from other countries. Winning the award was a great achievement. I went there determined to win it. Now, I look forward to BWB Global.

The BTO: You were part of the South Sudan team at the recently concluded FIBA World Cup. How did you experience that tournament?

KM: It’s something I take pride in, playing for my country and showcasing my talent on a big stage. South Sudan was the youngest country to participate in the tournament, and me being the youngest player there was unbelievable.

The BTO: What lessons did you learn while you were with South Sudan at the World Cup?

KM: Basketball at that level is different. As a player, you have to adjust to the situation. Luckily, my team has professionals who have played for many years. That helped me a lot. To learn from the professionals and how they work. They pushed me during practices and kept me on the right path. It was amazing. 

Khaman Maluach in action at Basketball Without Borders
Khaman Maluach was the boys MVP of BWB Africa 2023. Picture: The BTO

The BTO: South Sudan finished 17th at the tournament and qualified for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris. What did that moment mean to South Sudan and yourselves as players?

KM: It’s something big and not for ourselves only… It’s for South Sudan as well. I think our achievements on the basketball court have brought our people together. We have been at war for the past couple of years. That was the image the world had of us. Through basketball and what we have done, the world has a different view.

The BTO: Can you talk about Luol Deng’s impact on basketball in South Sudan?

KM: Without him (Luol), this would not be happening. Luol Deng had the dream that something this big could happen for South Sudan. It has changed the lives of people. So what he has done is a big deal.

The BTO: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

KM: I hope to become a professional basketball player. Hopefully, I can be a part of a championship team. That is the vision I have for myself.

The BTO: When you look at your achievements so far, what would you say to the Khaman, who picked up a basketball as a 13-year-old?

KM: I would say he believed in himself. And that impossible is nothing. Hard work always pays off, and the results will always show.

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