The 2017 basketball year is about as big as it comes for Lebanon, a country hoping to challenge for supremacy in the region.
Up first is the West Asian Basketball Association (WABA) Championship, an event that tips off on Sunday in Amman, Jordan. In August, the Cedars will be the host team of the FIBA Asia Cup.
Joe Moujaes, the coach of the national team, is cautiously optimistic. He and the players have only been able to train for the event since 21 January yet the signs are good that Lebanon, who finished fourth out of five teams at the last WABA Championship, will be a tough team this time.
In a warm-up game for Amman earlier this week, Lebanon squared off against Syria in Beirut and rolled to a 107-49 victory.
“We could’ve had more time to prepare but it wasn’t possible to stop the local league earlier than this,” said Moujaes, who is also the coach of Lebanese league side Homenetmen.
“However, preparations are going well. We want the team at its best in Jordan.”
Lebanon have won the tournament four times in their history while Iran have claimed a record six WABA titles. First up for the Lebanese will be Iraq.
The team will be missing several key players yet one experienced star will be with the side to provide points, grab rebounds and lead. That player is the 38-year-old forward Fadi El Khatib.
Also on the roster is Wael Arakji, the guard who averaged 9.8 points per game at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in China.
“Our team for WABA is the most appropriate under the circumstances,” Moujaes said. “We are missing key players like Julien Khazzouh, Ahmad Ibrahim and Haig Geukjian as well as Rodrigue Akl, Ali Kanaan and Jean Abdel Nour due to injury.”
|Lebanon’s 12-player roster squad for WABA Championship 2017|
|Rodrigue Akl||Wael Arakji||Fadi El Khatib||Mohamad Ali Haidar|
|Ali Kanaan||Jad Khalil||Elias Rustom||Amir Saoud|
|Nadim Souaid||Elie Stephan||Charles Tabet||Ater Majok|
Moujaes has one eye on the bigger event, the FIBA Asia Cup. The tournament was this week moved forward by seven days and will now be staged 10-20 August.
“Lebanon is capable of hosting a big event such as the FIBA Asia Cup, which will improve its chances of winning it for the first time,” Moujaes said.
Lebanon finished fifth when it was held in Changsha, China, in 2015.