South Sudan

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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Can African teams rise on the global stage?

JAPAN, Indonesia and the Philippines are the centres of basketball worldwide. All three nations have partnered to co-host the game’s biggest showpiece, the FIBA World Cup (25 August – 10 September).

The Big Tip Off previews the prospects of African teams, Angola, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt and South Sudan at the tournament. 

Angola

Angola are the most successful team at the continental level, with 11 AfroBasket titles and are appearing at their ninth World Cup. A country that has produced the golden generation of Joaquim Gomes, Eduardo Mingas, Olimpio Cipriano, and Carlos Morais. Now the baton has been passed on.

A new era of players has come through the ranks and have much to live up to. Players like Bruno Fernando, Gerson Lukeny, Childe Dundao and Dimitri Maconda have been the flag bearers for the Southern African nation.  

They will be in a tough Group A with the Dominican Republic led by Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl Anthony Towns. Host nation, the Philipines, who have NBA 2022 sixth man of the year Jordan Clarkson (Utah Jazz) and Italy, who have had success at the international level, complete the group. 

Angola will have memories of Italy and the Philippines, their group opponents from the 2019 World Cup. And they will hope to improve on their 1-2 record from that tournament. 

Gerson Goncalves in action for Angola
Gerson Goncalves has been instrumental in leading Angola’s new generation. Picture: The BTO

Their Achilles heel at big tournaments has always been their lack of height, which could impact their chances of progress at this World Cup.

This new generation of Angolan players will want prove they are ready take the mantle of the old guard. 

Cape Verde

Cape Verde, who surprised the world, are the smallest nation to compete at the FIBA World Cup, but they will no doubt try to make giant strides.

Despite being new to this level of competition, Cape Verde, 2021 AfroBasket semi-finalists, have experienced players in their ranks.

Players like Walter Tavares, Betinho Gomes, brother Joel and Ivan Almeida have international experience at the club level.

Walter Tavares warming up for Cape Verde
Walter Tavares was a key factor Cape Verde’s qualification for the FIBA World Cup. Picture: The BTO

Their (Cape Verde) Group F also has World Cup debutants Georgia and two countries who are no strangers to this stage in Slovakia and Venezuela. The Cape Verdeans will open against Georgian team with EuroBasket experience and will feel they have nothing to lose.   

It will not be an easy ride against their experienced opponents, but Cape Verde, could have the element of surprise on their side.

Cote d’Ivoire

After a forgettable 2019 tournament, where they failed to win a game, the Elephants are looking to exorcise the demons. 

The West Africans will lean on the experience of veterans Solo Diabate, a two-time Basketball Africa League winner, and Charles Abouo. The duo are making their third appearance at the World Cup.

Cote d’Ivoire, who are making their fifth appearance, have to fight tooth and nail to get out of Group G. Against world champions Spain, boasting the likes of Juancho and Wily Hernangomez, the Ivorians will give their all.

Charles Abouo in action for Cote D'Ivoire
Charles Abouo will play in his third FIBA World Cup for Cote D’Ivoire.

Iran is the next fixture, and the two-time African champions might feel they are at par against the Asian nation.

South American juggernaut Brazil will pack just as good a punch as Spain. 

Of all the African teams, Cote d’Ivoire are in the hardest group. They will need to dig within themselves to have a fighting chance.

Egypt

The Pharaohs are making a return to the tournament after a nine-year absence. They have not had much international success and will use this World Cup to try re-establish Egypt as a force in the game.

For this World Cup, five-time African champions Egypt have assembled one of the most talented teams. From the scoring ability of Ehab Amin to the shot-blocking and rebounding prowess of centre Anas Mahmoud, the North Africans have a balanced team. 

Anas Mahmoud will step up for Egypt at the FIBA World Cup
Big man Anas Mahmoud will provide shot blocking and rebounding for Egypt. Picture FIBA

Players like Omar Araby, Patrick Gardner, Amr El Gendy and Omar Hussein will give the Egyptians positional depth. 

Egypt are in Group D with Mexico, Montenegro and European giants Lithuania.

The Pharaohs have a tough opener against Lithuania. Against Montenegro and Mexico, they (Egypt) will fancy their chances to come out of the group.

South Sudan

The South Sudanese were the continent’s best team during the World Cup qualifiers with an 11-1 record. Their record on the road to Asia speaks to their leap since becoming internationally recognised by FIBA in 2013.

On their debut international tournament, the 2021 AfroBasket, The Bright Stars finished in the quarter-finals. Their well-earned trip to the World Cup is a testament to the quality of the team. 

In Basketball Africa League champion and MVP Nuni Omot, South Sudan have a two-way threat. His ability to defend and score is a plus for the World Cup debutants. 

 

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Kuany Kuany, Wenyen Gabriel, and Carlik Jones will give the South Sudanese more scoring and defensive options. 

South Sudan will be in an interesting Group B, alongside Serbia, China and Puerto Rico. 

South Sudan does have the talent at their disposal to face the best in the world. Their opening game against Puerto Rico and their close-out game versus Serbia will test their level of competitiveness. 

 

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