There are two Bulls putting in work during the tournament, one of whom made history.
Bulls reserve guard Carlik Jones put on a 21-point, six-assist effort in an 89-69 win over China on August 28. The victory was the first in FIBA World Cup History for South Sudan who is 1-1 in the tournament and garnered a reaction from Jones’ Bulls teammate, Alex Caruso.
“Yeeeessir,” Caruso said in an Instagram post on August 28.
“We made history,” Jones, said, per NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson. “It’s so huge for the players and the fans. The feeling is unbelievable. We all worked so hard. It’s huge for the country. We’re just blessed to be here.”
Jones was sure to note that South Sudan was “not done” and that there was “a lot” left to play.
A former undrafted free agent out of Louisville, Jones averaged 2.9 points across seven appearances with the Bulls last season. He averaged 26.1 points, 7.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 steals with the Windy City Bulls in the G League, earning MVP honors.
“My players stuck to the gameplan from the opening tip to the closing horn,” South Sudan head coach Royal Ivey said, per Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops.net on August 28. “They were resilient, persistent, and focused. They followed the gameplan and competed at the highest level. Everybody did their job, they played with emotions and fought.”
South Sudan needed the win to have a chance at advancing to the next round. They will have to get through undefeated Serbia on August 30 first, though. Serbia rosters a pair of current NBA players: Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Atlanta Hawks and Nikola Jovic of the Miami Heat.
Former Bulls Paved Way for Carlik Jones, South Sudan
Ivey also paid homage to former Bulls star, Luol Deng, who is the President of the Republic of South Sudan Basketball Federation.
“Luol Deng is the heart and soul of all of this,” Ivey said, per AFP News Agency and Yahoo News. “Without Luol, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Deng spent nine-plus seasons with the Bulls, earning two All-Star nods and an All-Defensive selection in 2011-12. He also spent time with the Heat Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, and Minnesota Timberwolves in his 15-year career.
Infamously, Deng was still counted against the Lakers’ salary cap up until 2022 thanks to the four-year, $72 million contract he signed in 2016. The Lakers waived and stretched Deng’s contract and had to count his salary four years after he last wore their jersey.
Since then, Deng had
“I got into basketball because Manute [Bol] took a vacation in order to help the South Sudanese community there,” Deng said in 2021, per Andrew Binner of Olympics.com on June 27. “So if it wasn’t for someone who was trying to help others from their home country, I would have never had the opportunity that I got.”
But it wasn’t always easy.
“Things didn’t always go our way, but we kept pushing,” Deng said on the “Bulls Talk Podcast” in 2021. “We couldn’t get players in the beginning to commit to see the bigger picture. But we kept pushing.”
Ivey certainly sees the results and knows it is largely because of Deng.
“He had a great vision,” said Ivey, who also played 10 years in the NBA spread across four different teams. “I entrusted in his vision and it all came together.”
Nikola Vucevic ‘Beasting & Feasting’ With Montenegro
While Jones is stealing headlines, Bulls center Nikola Vucevic has been doing his part to guide Montenegro to the next round. Montenegro is 1-1 with their final tilt against Lithuania on August 29.
Vucevic is averaging 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.0 assists through two FIBA World Cup games.
He had 27 points, 10 rebounds, and two block in a win over Mexico on August 25
Vucevic signed a three-year, $60 million contract to return to the Bulls next season. If performance is any indication, he will be back to his consistent ways in 2023-24.
“As long as I can play on a high level, I’ll play,” Vucevic said, per the official FIBA website on August 26.
The article from FIBA called Vucevic the “best player nobody talks about”.
“I just don’t want to end things where it’s not me anymore,” he said. “Because of myself, because of the people, the fans – I want them to remember me as this version of Nikola Vucevic.”