Coaches chime in on the FIBA-Asia Champions Cup!

Below are choice excerpts from several interviews conducted by S. Mageshwaran of He was able to get in touch with several coaches from the participating clubs in the upcoming Champions Cup in Manila. I focused on their comments about who would be favored to win and who their imports are going to be. My own comments follow after the excerpts.

Coach Mensur Bajramovic of Al Jala’a (Syria)
Coach Bajramovic of Al Jala'a
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Q: What do you think of your chances in Manila?
A: Last year we did not come in a good situation.  We had lost the Syrian League Finals only two days before the FIBA Asia Champions Cup started. This year we are in a different position – our confidence is high with the wins and we have enough time to recover. I hope we can translate that into a better finish.

Q: What do you think your group for the Preliminary Round?
A: Two finalists of last year’s competition (Mahram and Al Rayyan) and then Al Riyadi along with Al Shabab, who won GCC (Gulf Cup Championship). Of course, the group is tough, which means each game will be very exciting. We’ll take one game at a time and aim to enter the quarterfinals first. We will rework our plans after that.

Q: Who will be your imports?
A: Samaki Walker and Jamaal Miller, the same two players who have served us very well during the entire season. Like I said earlier, bringing in these two catalyzed our efforts and paved the way for our wins this season. Samaki is playing under the basket with a lot of experience. Jamaal is combo guard, and this competition is a big challenge for him.

Q: Who according to you is the favorite to win the title?
A: Mahram is favorite No 1, but we must not forget Smart Gilas. They are not only the home team, but are also preparing together for two years. And then there are teams like Riyadi and Rayyan. It’s too early to pick a winner.

Coach Ariel Vanguardia of Westport Kuala Lumpur Dragons (Malaysia)
Coach Vanguardia of the KL Dragons
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Q: This’ll be your first appearance as a team as well as a coach in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup. What are your initial thoughts?
A: It is a great challenge for us to face the best club teams in Asia. We are not just representing Malaysia, but also the ASEAN Basketball League as a whole and I think it’s a giant step for the league and for our team the Westports KL Dragons. This year we are really looking at building up our locals, and another challenge for us is to play minus our Filipino imports for this tournament.

Q: Coach, you’ll be leading a team in front of your own home crowd. How does it feel?
A: I feel honored to represent the Filipino coaches in the tournament. Hopefully, our countrymen will also support their neighbor country Malaysia. It's a dream come true for me to coach versus coach Rajko and Smart Gilas. I envisioned a similar direction for Westports KL Dragons and Malaysian basketball as a whole. I see very strong potential in Malaysian basketball and I'm very happy and thankful to Westports KL Dragons and Malaysian Basketball Association (MABA) to be part of its long term development.

Q: Who according you is the favorite for the 22nd FIBA Asia Champions Cup?
A: Smart Gilas of course is still my sentimental favorite, they are playing in front of all the basketball loving Filipinos. They’ve got a good mixture of young as well as experienced players. Marcus Douthit is a perfect fit for Gilas and with veteran Asi Taulava they can match up well against the Arab teams. Defending champions Mahram will also be very tough and of course ASU with FIBA World Championship veterans Daghlas and Abbas. The Arab teams will also be fresh from the Arab Cup Championships. So whoever wins it will have the momentum going to 22nd FIBA Asia Champions Cup.   It will be very interesting and every game will be a battle.

Coach Frederick Oniga of Applied Science University (Jordan)
Coach Oniga of ASU-Jordan
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Q: Let’s talk about FIBA Asia Champions Cup. You are in Group A. You think it’s an easier group?
A: Well, there is no easier team or easier group in a tournament of this magnitude. Some names might be regarded as big, but eventually it's the results that count. ASU will respect every team and will never underrate any team under my watch. Moreover it is taking place in Philippines. Philippines are gradually improving to become a powerhouse in Asia once again. They have a very strong team in Smart Gilas coupled with their fantastic fan base. It's never going to be easy.

Q: Who will be your imports?
A: There has been elaborate discussion to maintain the two imports we had in the last FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Doha. But opinion shifted and the club management decided to go a different direction to enroll Ryan Forehan-Kelly (who had 15.2 PPG with Aishin Sea Horses taking the team to the top of the Regular Season in the tsunamic-truncated JBL) and Jameel Watkins (who averaged 20.5 points and 13.3 rebounds per game for Jilin North East Tigers in the CBA).

Q: What about Zaid Abaas and Sam Daghlas? Will they play for ASU?
A: Yes they will. The duo of Zaid Abbaas and Sam Daghlas are proud Jordanian players. They both played in the CBA recently and were remarkable.  Sam as the captain of the National Team will surely have no problem of adjusting with the team. Both players are fully engaged and committed to ensure ASU’s success.

Zaid Abbaas averaged 16.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, taking the Beijing Ducks to the CBA play-offs, while Daghlas was the leader in assists for the entire CBA season, averaging 9.1 assists per game and scoring 15.1 points per game for Shanxi Zhongyu.

Coach Rajko Toroman of Smart-Gilas (Philippines)
Coach Toroman of Smart-Gilas
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Q: How much did playing in the PBA help? In what aspects did the team improve after the PBA?
A: PBA was very difficult for us, both physically and mentally. All the teams played very rough against us. The positive thing is that we had games on a regular basis, which was the main point of our involvement. We are grateful to PBA for that.

Q: I know you are aiming at Wuhan as the final target. But what are you aiming for at Manila?
A: Target is the same in Manila and Wuhan. We would like to play the finals. Also, we would like to represent ourselves in a best possible way at home.

Q: Playing in Group A, you think it is easier in terms of competition?
A: Group A is easier, that's for sure. But then quarterfinals are going to be more difficult. Any opponent in the quarterfinal will be equally tough.

Q: Between 2009 and now, if you have to choose two players who have improved remarkably who would that be?
A: That would be JV Casio and Chris Tiu.

Q: Please comment on Asi Taulava and Dondon Hontiveros coming from PBA into the team?
A: They will be important pieces of the puzzle. Hontiveros is a great player, both good in defense and offence, and has a great personality. Taulava will be a good back up for Douthit.

*As of this writing, it has been reported on that Fadi El-Khatb will indeed be playing for Al-Riyadi in Manila. That’s another big headache for all the other teams to deal with!

My own two cents:
-       Group A will not be easy, despite not having the “big” name clubs in the continent.
-       “Underdogs” like Al Shabab of UAE should not be taken lightly. Any team, yes even the KL Dragons, is capable of springing an upset, since this will be an import-heavy tourney. If the imports wax hot then anything can happen.
-       A lot of people are picking Mahram or Gilas to make the finals of the competition, but I think the Jordanians, in particular, will be extremely dangerous since two of the country’s stars, Sam Dahglas and Zaid Abbas, will reinforce the team after doing really well in the Chinese Basketball Association.
-       I honestly think Gilas will do well. The home-court advantage will be a big lift. They’ll finish in the Top 4 for sure, but a championship or even a finals appearance, is far from certain. It’ll be tough. Gilas is the only team without a second import (technically Douthit shouldn’t even be counted as an import since he is a naturalized citizen). Coach Rajko has his work cut out for him.

Source: All interview transcripts can be seen HERE.

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