By the numbers: How South Sudan defied the odds (2017-2022)
JUBA (South Sudan) - With the last and decisive window of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup African Qualifiers coming up next month, FIBA.basketball recalls South Sudan's journey and shows the numbers that made the Bright Stars a team to be reckoned with.
"TO BE IN THIS POSITION WE ARE NOW IS A TESTAMENT OF THE HARD WORK WE'VE PUT IN."
South Sudan's 8-1 record in the African Qualifiers wasn't envisioned by many, but that's where they currently stand.
How did they do it? Perseverance, self-belief, and determination to rewrite African basketball history played a huge part in this Cinderella Story.
Before we look through South Sudan's African Qualifiers numbers it's worth noting that no national team from Africa climbed more places in the FIBA World Rankings than South Sudan over the past five years.
From a relatively unknown team back in 2017 to becoming one of the strongest contenders to secure one of the five tickets available for African teams for this year's World Cup, South Sudan defied the odds.
South Sudan's FIBA World Rankings dating back to 2017:
December 2017 - No. 137 in the World; No. 29 in Africa
December 2018 - No. 124 in the World; No. 20 in Africa
December 2019 - No. 123 in the World; No. 19 in Africa
December 2020 - No. 98 in the World; No. 16 in Africa
December 2021 - No. 82 in the World; No. 14 in Africa
December 2022 - No.63 in the World; No. 7 in Africa
The FIBA AfroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers and Qualifiers throughout 2020 have proven a turning-point for the Bright Stars. They not only qualified for their first-ever AfroBasket, where they reached the Quarter-Finals, but they also gained entry to the World Cup African Qualifiers.
Once the race for 2023 World Cup started, South Sudan seemed a few steps ahead of their opponents, especially when they beat reigning African champions Tunisia, not once, but twice.
WHAT SOUTH SUDAN'S NUMBERS SHOW AFTER 9 GAMES IN THE AFRICAN QUALIFIERS:
Points per Game - (75.7) - Third behind Nigeria (78) and Cote d'Ivoire (76)
Field-Goal Shooting - (43.9 percent) ahead of Egypt (42.3 percent) and Cape Verde (42.3 percent)
Total Points scored - (681) - Second after Cote d'Ivoire (688)
Three-Points - (38.2 percent) - First ahead of Egypt (30.17 percent)
Efficiency Rating - (84.4) - Second after Cote d'Ivoire (84.7)
The East Africans selected 19 players in the African Qualifiers so far, but only five of them (Kuany Ngor Kuany, Nuni Omot, Deng Acuoth, Mareng Gatkuoth, and Padiet Wang) played in all nine games.
American Royal Ivey, an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets, and former NBA All-Star Luol Deng, have coached the Bright Starts since the start of the tournament.
WHAT THEY SAY
To put their success into context, Ivey, who has reportedly been offered South Sudanese nationality, chooses to dismiss his coaching skills for the team's success, praising his players instead.
"They came out here and competed it," he said after South Sudan dismantled Egypt 85-65 to improve to 8-1 last August.
"It wasn't about my coaching, it all was about them. They came with hight spirit; attention to detail. At the end of the day, it's a collective effort. We are a deep team. Our style of play is very tough because we pressure the ball, we run the floor.
"We have a selfless group. There is no "I", it's a "We". Once we connect, we a re tough team. It's fun coaching this team. it's an enjoyment, being around this guys. "
Team captain Kuany Kuany added: "To know that we are on win away from the World Cup, it's amazing. It's something we didn't really think about when we first started, when we played in the  AfroBasket. To be in this position we are now is a testament of the hard work that we've put in."