FOR some, the FIBA Basketball World Cup is a ‘Colosseum’ for hoops attrition and animosity. For others, it’s a grand stage to seize pride and honor for their respective countries. It’s a playground for the display of world-class skills, too.

But for South Sudan, it’s safe haven. It’s home.

Basking in its first-ever World Cup experience, the African country preaches peace and love through basketball to serve as inspiration back home where it’s needed the most.

“I think for us as a country, the reason why this is so important and means a lot is because we have so much division, a lot of trouble, a lot of conflict going on in our country,” said South Sudan team captain Kuany Ngor Kuany.

“Whenever the basketball team plays, it’s literally the one time when everybody comes together. There are no more tribes and everyone is wearing the same flag and that is South Sudan.”

South Sudan, established as an independent country only in 2011 but nursed internal conflicts, has surely made the most out of its breakthrough World Cup stint by pairing it with a maiden victory against China, 89-69, in Group B play.

The African bet wasn’t able to catch a bus to the next round with a 1-2 record after losses to Puerto Rico in overtime, 101-96, and to powerhouse Serbia, 115-83, but still in contention for the lone Olympic ticket from its continent.

As no African team made it to the second round, South Sudan is very much in that race to be the top African country depending on the results of its classification matches (17th to 32nd place) against no less than home team Philippines and rival Angola in the new Group M.

But for Mr. Kuany and his coach Royal Ivey who’s a former player himself, playing in the World Cup and for an Olympic spot is bigger than basketball.

“That is what our basketball team stands for. It stands for unity, peace and development in the country. It’s way to change the narrative. That’s why it’s so much bigger than basketball and we’re going to continue to do our best and use that as a tool to promote the image of our country,” Mr. Kuany added.

“Through basketball, we use that vessel for peace and changing the narrative in the country. Everybody is watching us so they come together, they unite. And through basketball, we share the vision of camaraderie, friendship, love, sportsmanship and togetherness. That’s what my players emulate everyday when they step out on the court,” said Mr. Ivey, who’s also assistant coach to the Houston Rockets in the NBA.

For a team nicknamed the “Bright Stars” that only started participating in basketball six years ago, the future is indeed bright and even beyond the hardcourt. — John Bryan Ulanday