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FIBA WORLD CUP

Blazing a trail: Dech's road to Cup tilt

Dale Fletcher

12 days ago

7 mins read

Sunday Dech is still coming to the realisation he will be representing South Sudan at the 2023 FIBA World Cup in August.

The Adelaide 36ers guard led his homeland to FIBA World Cup qualification last month after South Sudan finished a rigorous qualification campaign with an 11-1 record.

“It feels surreal from starting the journey last July with the guys,” Dech said this week.

“To have that at the top of our goals, to finally accomplish it, it something we are really proud of and now we have something to look forward to.

“To be part of the 32 teams that compete in August is something special.”

South Sudan booked their ticket to the World Cup with an 83-75 win over Senegal last month, sparked by a massive 24-12 final quarter surge.

Dech described the emotions moments after the final buzzer sounded.

“Just enjoyment and excitement to know we have qualified and accomplish that goal was huge feat of ours,” he said.

“Everyone that was there, all the people in the stadium, our fans, our staff, our bench, we celebrated together and embraced each other.

“To beat Senegal was a huge feat, they brought the heat for three and a half quarters, but in the fourth quarter there we kind of picked it up and got the ball rolling.”

Dech said the win was extra special after rebounding from their only loss of the qualification process to Senegal last July.

“We owed them one, they beat us by three points in a game we thought let slip, but it motivated us for the next five games, we went five in-a-row,” he said.

“To beat them was something special for sure and to know we are the number one team in Africa and beat everyone who came before us was something special.

“I think come August when we are at the World Cup it will final sink in that we are here.”

After the Senegal victory, South Sudan then went on to defeat Congo and Egypt after already booking their ticket for the 2023 tournament and Dech said it’s a one game mentality.

“The message was pretty clear from the coaching staff, we don’t take any game lightly, everyone is going to give us their best shot, so we have to perform,” Dech said.

“Those second and third games, our bench was able to play with the reduced minutes of some of the main guys, it’s just a testament to our depth.

“Once we had qualified, we still had a point to prove that we were the number one team out of Africa.

“That not only helps us in the World Cup ,that helps us in future competitions as well.”

ROCKSTAR WELCOME ON HOME SOIL
After winning their final three matches in the qualification window, the South Sudanese team were rewarded with a trip back home to see family, friends and fans.

Dech said the trip was never planned, but the reaction from everyone involved was something he would never, ever, forget.

“It was magical, it was unscripted, we weren’t actually going to go home initially,” Dech said.

“But seeing how much it meant to us and those back at home, the government and the president chartered us a plane to go back.

“Just landing on the tarmac you’re embraced by thousands of fans, friends, family, loved ones.

“That was definitely very special, something I have never experienced before, it was giving me goosebumps just seeing the singing and the dancing and the enjoyment it brought across everyone’s faces.

“We got paraded around the city for a bit which was pretty cool, but once we finally got to the hotel we could get onto Wi-Fi and contact family members as well.”

The trip was Dech’s first visit to South Sudan, the combo guard was born in Ethiopia and then his family migrated to Australia in 2001, and he said he met family members he had never seen before.

“There were family members which told me they held me as a baby,” he said.

The bus ride from the airport to the hotel was one of pure elation and joy.

“It was enjoyment, excitement, all the emotions coming into one and to celebrate with your countrymen and women is something really cool as well and something that is unifying the whole of South Sudan,” he said.

“We definitely don’t take it lightly, we have a stage now and I think that brings a positive light to South Sudan, where in recent years it’s been war, conflict.

“But now basketball is unifying everything and we are taking that a running with it.”

NBL LINKS KEY TO SUCCESS
The South Sudan roster is full of National Basketball League links and Dech believes this adds to an already strong chemistry within the side.

During the last qualification window, Dech was joined in the South Sudan team by 36ers big man Deng Acuoth, Cairns Taipans pair Majok Deng and Bul Kuol and Illawarra Harks forward Deng Deng.

“That is something that gives us an advantage for sure,” Dech said.

“Playing alongside guys I grew up with in the Australian system.

“Also guys who have played internationally and have an understanding of the style of game.”

During the qualification process South Sudan also had former Melbourne United big man Jo Lual-Acuil and Illawarra Hawk Mangok Mathiang play as part of a very deep selection pool.

“Going into these short qualification windows, we could build chemistry quite quickly,” Dech said.

“Luol Deng and the South Sudan basketball federation have done a wonderful job in embracing everyone who comes in, you’re one of the family from day one.

“Playing against those guys in the NBL, scouting them, then going back to play with them makes the game so much easier.

“My job is to distribute the ball, so I know where everyone is going to be and their job is to score the ball.”

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ROAD TO WORLD CUP DEBUT
Dech said South Sudan has one of the deepest talent pools in the tournament and just making the final team of 12 is going to be a challenge.

“That is the coaches luxury to have, to be able to pick a team of 12 out of 20 to 25 guys,” Dech said.

“Anyone on any given day have a claim to be on that team.

“Our job now is to go home to our respective teams and get ready for training camp in July.”

Dech said training camp will be around 15-20 players who will try to make the final 12 who will make history in August.

“Between now and then is a long time, there is obviously a main core of guys and guys we have added late and a few fringe NBA guys as well.”

South Sudan have a trio of NBA stars, including JT Thor, Wenyen Gabriel and Bol Bol, and Dech said there’s optimism all three will be at the World Cup.

“They are definitely on the shortlist I’m not sure how that process is planning out, if they’re on the team that’s going to be really exciting, but even if they decide not to, we have just as good a team as anyone out there as well,” Dech said.

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