Down in Austin, the University of Texas men’s basketball program is looking for a new leader. On December 12, their then head coach, was arrested and charged with felony family violence for allegedly strangling, biting and bruising his fiancée. Three weeks later, Chris Beard was fired and a search began for a new head coach.
It would appear that Rodney Terry, the Longhorns associate head coach, will be a leading candidate. UT is the 10th ranked team in the NCAA, but he remains “interim” head coach and other candidates, including Nets assistant coach Royal Ivey, are reportedly in the mix. He could be an attractive candidate having played for Texas and been an NBA and G League assistant coach for a decade.
The knocks are that he has no collegiate experience and according to most reports out of Austin, no head coaching experience, just assistant gigs with the Thunder, Knicks and Nets. That’s true up to a point, but a closer look at what Ivey has done in FIBA coaching ranks shows Ivey’s tenure is nothing short of astonishing, having taken South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, to within one win of the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
As FIBA.com notes in a profile of South Sudan’s program Tuesday, Ivey doesn’t want to take credit for the national team’s success, instead pointing to his players.
“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 these guys. “
Ivey has been so successful that he’s reportedly been offered South Sudan citizenship!
Right now, after last summer’s qualifying round, South Sudan is 8-1, with two of its wins coming against perennial African powerhouse Tunisia. Next month, a new round of qualifiers will determine which teams will make up the 32-team field for the 2023 FIBA World Cup to be played this summer in Southeast Asia. South Sudan is in the driver’s seat.
“To know that we are one win away from the World Cup, it’s amazing,” said team captain Kuany Kuany. “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.”
Indeed under Ivey and his predecessor Luol Deng, no FIBA program has jumped as much as South Sudan in national team rankings over the past six years, going from No. 137 to 63. And they’ve done it without many NBA players. Nuni Omot, who had a training camp deal with the Nets and spent some time with Long Island, is their only player with NBA or G League experience. He currently plays for the Westchester Knicks.
So while there are those in Texas who don’t think Ivey has a head coaching pedigree, in the traditional NCAA and NBA sense, he has been enormously successful in not just winning on the international stage but also doing so by giving a war-torn country — two million of its 11 million people are displaced within their own borders — some hope and pride. That should matter to any search team.