When you think about UNC basketball players competing in international tournaments, you almost always picture them wearing a Team USA jersey. Michael Jordan leading the 1984 Olympic team in scoring on the way to a gold medal. Michael Jordan playing on the Dream Team. Vince Carter jumping clear over someone’s head and dunking in a live game. There are plenty of others.
That’s not to say there aren’t international Tar Heels, but UNC is an American school in an American heavy sport.
Later this summer, the 2019 Basketball FIBA World Cup will kick off in China. There might not be any Tar Heels on the USA roster this time around, but Harrison Barnes is in the extended training camp squad, so there’s still a chance. However, if he doesn’t make it, UNC will still be represented at the tournament from a semi-unexpected source.
On Monday, 2009 national champion Deon Thompson announced that he will represent the Ivory Coast at the World Cup.
I’m excited and proud to announce that I will be playing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in Beijing, China with the Ivory Coast! Looking forward to continuing working with my new brothers, fighting for our goals and making the country proud! pic.twitter.com/VPEiiRvtUJ— Deon Thompson (@DeThompson9) July 22, 2019
Despite never having played even one game in the NBA, Thompson has carved out a very successful career for himself overseas. He’s been part of championship teams in Germany, Lithuania, Serbia, and Israel, while having made All-Star teams in both Germany and Slovenia.
He has not, however, played for anyone internationally, at least on the professional level. There are many players ahead of the California-born Thompson for Team USA, but the Ivory Coast has given him a chance to play on the world stage.
Thompson had previously played for the USA team at the 2007 Under 19 Championships. He averaged 10 points and 6.1 rebounds on a team that included the likes of Stephen Curry, DeAndre Jordan, and Michael Beasley.
As for his new team’s chances, the Ivory Coast is current the lowest ranked team in the tournament according to the FIBA seedings. However, the do appear to be in arguably the weakest group in the tournament. “Les Éléphants”’ opponents in the tournament will be the hosts China, Poland, and Venezuela. The Ivory Coast will need to finish at least second in the group to move on to the second round. In most scenarios, they would need to win two games in order to accomplish that.
Thompson and his team will begin their tournament on August 31st against China. ESPN has the American broadcasting rights for the event, so you will likely be able to, at the very least, check him out on ESPN’s streaming platforms. If Barnes or any other Heels pop up elsewhere in the tournament, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on them as well.