The West Asian Basketball Association – WABA – 2017 Asia Cup qualifiers concluded on Thursday.
Lebanon finished first in the standings – though as host of the 2017 Asia Cup, they were essentially playing for nothing because of their auto-bid. So, the tournament ultimately was five teams – Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan and Syria – competing for four spots in the 2017 Asia Cup. (Four spots were available this year because of how WABA teams performed at the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge) Iran, Jordan and Syria wrapped up a berth in the August tournament going into the fifth and final day.
Iraq and Palestine played each other Thursday with the final berth on the line. The game turned out to be anti climactic with Iraq walking through Palestine 79-48.
Here are our take away’s from the six competing nations at WABA 2017:
Without their best player – Sani Sakakini, who is still in the middle of the Chinese Basketball Association season – it was going to be an uphill battle for Palestine. They opened the tournament getting mollywhopped by Iran, before losing in decisive fashion against the rest of the field.
To counterbalance losing Sakakini – their anchor in the middle – the team brought in naturalized American Michael Nunnally. A position-less 6’9″, Nunnally did a good job rebounding for Palestine, grabbing over 10 boards a game. He came up short in the offensive department however, scoring just a hair over 8 points per contest.
The team couldn’t keep pace offensively.
Wing, Jamal Abu-shamala played admirably dropping 17.8 points per game, but it wasn’t enough with little help elsewhere.
With a new coach, continuity problems also plagued Palestine.
Syria has never competed in the Olympics, or the World Cup.
Syria has only participated in five FIBA Asia Championships. Expectations were low coming into WABA 2017.
Despite a roster lacking big game experience or size, Syria surprised the field with their fifth place finish. They hung tough against Jordan – losing by only 8 – and were competitive in losses to Iraq and Lebanon and they defeated Palestine by 16.
6’5″ 35 year-old guard/forward Michael Madanly looked as sharp as ever, leading the team in points (15) and assists (5) per game. Against Jordan, he had a turn-back-the-clock game going off for 24. Way back in 2007, Madanly led the FIBA Asia Championship with 33 points per game.
A Syrian Christian, and native of Aleppo, Madanly has the distinction of playing for the national team, despite having fled the country. In 2011, his brother was taken hostage by militant’s; a ransom freed him and the Madanly family left Syria. Since leaving Syria, Madanly has bounced around between the CBA (China) and the PBA (Philippines).
Iraq is a tough out. Naturalized player Kevin Galloway is their unquestioned leader on the court. A rangy 6’7″ Galloway shoots a lot – naturalized scorers often shoulder this burden alone. What makes Iraq different is the supporting cast chips.
Galloway led the team with 22 points per game, but he got big help from Mohammed Al-Khafaji and Dhulfiqar Al-Hchami who both averaged 11.
6’10” center Ali Hameed also stepped up, protecting the rim, and grabbing nearly 8 boards a game.
Going into the tournament, Galloway said “right now, we’re at our strongest point and I think we’ll win enough games to qualify.”
The bench isn’t deep and Galloway makes the offense too one dimensional to really compete at the FIBA Asia Cup, but Iraqi basketball is improving.
Don’t be shocked if they turn some heads come August by rattling off an upset.
In 2009 Jordan won Bronze at the FIBA Asia Championship. In 2011 they took home silver. Their new head coach Sam Daghles was the premier player on those Jordanian teams – climaxing with a 2010 World Cup appearance.
The team has struggled since 2011, and Daghles is trying to instill a sense of urgency in his team, saying “as a coach or player, it is very hard to work like this as everyone expects the coaches and players to sacrifice and win games.”
Despite missing their two best players – Dar Tucker and Zaid Abbas – Jordan finished a strong third with three wins: either speaking to the depth of this team or the weakness of the field (home court advantage probably played a role).
6’1″ Mahmoud Abdeen and 6’2″ Mousa Alawadi were a two-head backcourt juggernaut combining for 36 points and 7 assists per game.
The team isn’t big, or overly athletic, but they win on energy defense and veteran savvy.
With Tucker and Abbas back in August, the team is poised to make a run at the podium.
Without Mehdi Kamrani and Hamed Hadaddi, they still finished a strong second, only losing to Lebanon.
Wing Arsalan Kezemi is too athletic; two guys hover around 7’0″ in the middle; and Mohammad Jamshidijafarabadi scored at will. Iran looked nearly unbeatable -keyword nearly.
Getting Kamrani and Hadaddi back in the mix makes them an easy favorite among WABA teams at FIBA Asia Cup.
Joe Moujaes made his debut as Lebanon’s head coach at WABA, leading Lebanon to a first place, undefeated finish. With a defensive focus, the team avenged a loss against Iraq at the FIBA Asia Challenge, holding Iraq to a mere 46 points, while putting up 86.
In a squeaker, they upset Iran 65-62.
A veteran team, Lebanon is led by naturalized big-man Ater Majok (Sudan by way of UConn) and 38 year-old swingman Fadi El Khatib.
El Khatib was nothing short of sensational for a team in desperate need of offense with mainstays Julien Khazzouh, Ahmad Ibrahim,Haig Geukjian, Rodrigue Akl, Ali Kanaan and Jean Abdel Nour all out.
El Khatib led the tournament in scoring, edging out Kevin Galloway with 22.8 points per game. Impressively, he did it in nearly 10 minutes less per game than Galloway.
The biggest question for Lebanon, looking ahead to the FIBA Asia Cup is, will they be at full strength or not?