All Roads Lead to Manila: Gilas Entry #19 – West Asia’s Peak Performers (Part 5 of the 2013 FIBA Asia Key Players Series)

It is July 23, 2013 here in Manila, and there are only 9 nights left before the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championship Tournament, the first ever held in these parts in four decades, kicks off at the ultramodern Mall of Asia Arena and the historic Ninoy Aquino Stadium.

An air of excitement can be felt all around the metropolis as the promotions for the event continue to ramp up each day. Various signs along highways, advertisements on radio and TV, and promo spots on YouTube have popped up, readying the rabid Filipino populace for what should be the biggest sporting event of the year.

And as the last one-time-big-time FIBA Asia Men’s Championship (the format will change after the 2014 World Cup) closes in, we will take a look at the players and teams who will take part in it. Now that FIBA Asia has officially released the rosters on the tournament’s official micro-site, I can get down to making proper team-by-team previews, but before even starting that I have to finish this.

In this fifth in a six-part series, I will put the spotlight on the stars from West and Central Asia who are expected to be in peak form when the basketball version of Thrilla in Manila commences. These are Hamed Haddadi, Erfan Ali Saeed, Anton Ponomarev, and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi.

Hamed Haddadi should be in peak form this August.
(image from

I hope that at the end of this series, readers of this blog and fans of Asian hoops will be more enlightened, and be even more excited for the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships.

Here we go.


Hamed Haddadi (IRI)
Specs: 7’2 - 28 years old
Current Club: Recently waived by the Phoenix Suns (NBA)
Been in National Team Since: 2004
Latest Tournament & Achievement: Led Iran’s title-clinching conquest of the 2013 William Jones Cup, averaging 18.8ppg, 8.7rpg, 1.5bpg, and 1.2spg while shooting 56% from the field.

Maybe the most dominant force in
FIBA Asia right now.
(image from

Haddadi has been the most imposing force in Asian basketball since Yao Ming’s retirement from FIBA Asia competitions in the mid-2000s. Had Iran not been upended in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Wuhan edition, he would have possibly led Iran to a third straight FIBA Asia title and won for himself a third straight FIBA Asia MVP citation.

The real scary thing about him, however, is he is in his prime right now. Armed with NBA experience and the hunger for redemption, Haddadi should be nothing short of a force of nature come August. And without veteran foes like Wang Zhizhi and Ha Seung-Jin to stand in his way in the first two rounds, it’s easy to imagine the former Memphis and Phoenix center average double-doubles all through the first five or six games.

In the most recent Jones Cup, he was, again, quite unstoppable despite the fact he wasn’t even giving full effort yet. Given his size, mobility, and court awareness, I just think that, frankly, there is probably no stopping him and the rest of Team Iran.

Erfan Ali Saeed (QAT)
Specs: 6’6 - 30 years old
Current Club: Al Rayyan (Qatar)
Been in National Team Since: 2004
Latest Tournament & Achievement: Helped Al Rayyan capture the 2013 Qatar Heir Apparent Cup Championship.

Erfan Ali Saeed is one of the potential headaches
from Team Qatar.
(image from

Despite pushing 30, Saeed isn’t exactly slowing down anytime soon. His uncommon combination of size, speed, and shooting make him such a versatile player for Team Qatar. He can play any of the middle three positions well – he has enough strength and athleticism to battle opposing forwards and enough quickness and shooting to go toe-to-toe with Asia’s best wingmen.

During the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup, he was arguably the best local player for the Qataris, averaging 12.1ppg and 7.9rpg while shooting better than 43% from long range. He had double-doubles in most of his games in that tourney, including averaging 12.5ppg and 12.0rpg in QAT’s last two games against Japan and the Philippines.

With the addition of Jarvis Hayes, I am projecting Saeed’s versatility to come to fore even more. He and Hayes can play both wing positions against bigger teams and both can play up front against smaller opponents. Simply put, Saeed will prove to be a big match-up dilemma for any of the teams Al Annabi is bound to face.

Anton Ponomarev
Specs: 6’11 - 25 years old
Current Club: BC Astana (KAZ)
Been in National Team Since: 2005
Latest Tournament & Achievement: Helped BC Astana win the 2012-2013 Kazakhstan Cup Championship, averaging 7.8ppg, 5.3rpg, and shooting 36.7% from long range.

Anton Ponomarev will be hard to stop come August.
(image from

It has been 4 years since Anton Ponomarev last played in a high level FIBA Asia tournament. The last time Kazakhstan participated in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships, it won half of its games, with Ponomarev averaging 15.6ppg, 9.6rpg, and 1.5spg while shooting better than 53% from the 2-point area. He was about 21 years old back then and now that he is in his mid-20s we can expect that his performance will probably be even stronger.

Another big factor that we will have to look at is now that Kazakhstan has its own naturalized player in guard Jerry Johnson, opposing defenses will have to react a little differently to how they used to when facing this former Soviet nation. Johnson will team up with veterans Rustam Yargaliev and Timur Sultanov at the wings while I imagine Ponomarev will operate down low alongside Mikhail Yevstigneyev and Alex Zhigulin, and the added talent should give Ponomarev more free looks than usual.

Ponomarev is also known for being able to hit the outside shot with consistency, which has led some in FIBA Asia circles to label him the Kazakh version of Dirk Nowitzki. That’s not too far off, and with token resistance from fellow Group D teams Bahrain, India, and Thailand, I expect Ponomarev to dominate early and often.

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (IND)
Specs: 6’4 - 22 years old
Current Club: Uttarakhan (IND)
Been in National Team Since: 2009
Latest Tournament & Achievement: India dominate the SABA tournament and qualify for the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s tournament.

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi should finish among the
scoring leaders in the 2013 FIBA Asia tourney.
(image from

Very few Pinoys know a thing or two about Indian basketball, but by the time the 2013 FIBA Asia tournament closes, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the guys local hoop nuts will talk about is Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. The young wingman from the Uttarakhan club in the semi-pro Indian league started making waves in the 2009 Tianjin edition of the FIBA Asia tourney, where, as a 17-year old, he finished in the top 10 in scoring.

In the recent 2012 FIBA Asia Cup, his scoring was on full display again, as he dropped at least 21 points in three of India’s games – 21 each against Iran and Japan, and scoring 22 against Taiwan. While doing so, he matched up against some of Asia’s best wingmen in Hamed Afagh, Kosuke Kanamaru, and Lin Chih-Chieh. He also normed 6.5 assists per outing to lead the Blue Tigers’ campaign.

Though India lost all four of its games in Tokyo during that competition, fans were again left talking about this kid from India who could run circles against his defenders, find the open man, and shoot from long range. With more weapons in store for the Manila joust in August and a relatively light grouping in the first round, expect Bhriguvanshi to once again be at his scoring best and lead the Indians into the second round.


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2 Comment

Why haven't any of the broadsheets picked you up yet? great analyses!


Haha it would be awesome if they did, but I guess my style of writing just isn't their schtick :)