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Aiken alum Carlik Jones leads 1st-ever South Sudan Olympic basketball team

Last Updated 2 weeks by Amnon J. Jobi | Amnon Front Page

An underdog only knows one way to approach life: Work harder than everybody else. Thats the mantra that Carlik Jones learned growing up as a Cincinnati kid with dreams of making it to the NBA.

Jones, a proud Aiken High School alum, walked through Woodward High Schools basketball gym on a trip home to Cincinnati recently. I sat down with him.

Some battles Ive had against the Bulldogs. Its a good feeling, especially when you havent been in the arena in so long, Jones said.

Over a decade later, Jones can pinpoint the moment he began to manifest his NBA dreams.

My freshman year of high school, I knew that it was a good chance that I could make it. I knew I just had to stick with it. Be myself and just outwork everybody in front of me. Ill have a chance, Jones said.

A chance is all the underdog ever needed. Jones was under-recruited out of Aiken; The prime time for athletes to be recruited to play NCAA sports is typically the summer before their senior year. Jones did not receive any offers to play Division I basketball until his final summer weekend before his senior year.

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Despite that, Jones said, my senior year I knew (I could make the NBA).

Jones committed and played four years at Radford University. He was a star for the Highlanders, averaging 20 points per game in his final season. Jones transferred for his redshirt senior season to the University of Louisville, where he was named First Team All-ACC.

After going undrafted, Jones made his NBA debut in the 2021-2022 season with the Dallas Mavericks. Bouncing back and forth between the NBA and NBA G-League, Jones found a lot of success as a member of the Chicago Bulls organization. Jones was named the MVP of the G-League for the 2022-2023 season. After Jones was waived from the team, he received a call from a prominent Bulls alum, Luol Deng. Deng invited Jones to play for Dengs home country of South Sudan as they fought for a spot to play in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.

The Olympics though, thats a dream come true. You watch them. You watch it all the time. Youre hype. But I never thought Id be there I never told (Deng) this but he never really had to say too much (to convince me). The respect was there, Jones said.

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The first phone call went to mom and dad to share the news.

They were a little confused as well, Jones said.

The Cincinnati kid became a nationalized player for South Sudan.

I always feel like Im an underdog so Id love to be a part of an underdog story, Jones said.

South Sudan is the ultimate underdog story. Only gaining independence in 2011, the country has never had an Olympic basketball team.

Im like bro, the Olympics. Like I have a chance to qualify for the Olympics, I know people dream of it. The NBA is one thing, but Olympics, thats elite. The best athletes in the world in all sports, Jones said.

In the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Jones averaged over 20 points and 10 assists per game, leading South Sudan to the highest seed out of any team in Africa and punching a ticket to 2024 Paris Olympics.

When I sign into do something, I do it. Ive learned these guys’ culture. Ive learned what these guys have been through. Ive honestly considered those guys my brothers. They took me in with open arms.

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Jones spent the past season prepping for the international game, playing professionally in China as a member of the Zhejing Golden Bulls.

They treat you like youre a celeb and stuff, but it aint nothing like being home, Jones said.

As a kid, Jones admitted that he was a dreamer, but what he calls a realistic dreamer. The Olympics was never a goal he strived for. Although his ticket his punched, it still feels surreal.

“Personally in my generation, I dont know a lot of people who have been to the Olympics. That piece is just that Im doing it, and that Im one of the first that I know of from Cincinnati doing it, Jones said.

1-on-1: Carlik Jones talks about his road to the Paris Olympics with South Sudan

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