#FIBAAsia2015: Bright young stars to watch - Part 1

(this earlier appeared on my column on FIBA.com)

With most domestic leagues already done and a few more wrapping up their respective seasons this month, much of the focus of Asian basketball fans will shift to the top basketball tournament in the continent - the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. The joust is expected to be extremely competitive since the winning team will get a ride to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Another reason to get very excited about the event in Changsha, China (23 September-3 October) is seeing which young players will rise up the ranks and make significant impacts for their teams.

At the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, several young studs made their marks. Foremost among them was Korean spitfire Kim Min-Goo, who ended up being named the tournament's best shooting guard after averaging 12.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. Another Korean, Lee Jong-Hyun, also impressed as he ranked second overall in blocks with 1.7 swats per outing. Saudi Arabian wingman Ayman Al Muwallad came out of nowhere to finish fourth best in scoring at 15.3 points per contest, while then 19-year-old Wang Zhelin stamped his class with averages of 10.2 points and 6.0 boards per game.

In this year's edition, there will certainly be a host of young players who will be raring to burst onto the scene and make their presence felt. These are players projected to play in their first senior men's championship. Over the next two weeks, I'll take a look at some of these promising young talents.

In this first of a two-part series, we’ll focus on emerging players from Iran, Lebanon and Qatar.

Behnam Yakhchali (IRI)
Yakhchali was in action for Iran's men's team at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, 2014 FIBA Asia Cup and 2014 Asian Games. In those stints, Yakhchali, despite being one of the youngest on the team, showed a lot of maturity and consistency. As one of the designated shooters, he never shied away from an open three and more will surely be expected of the young gun who will turn 20 by the time Team Melli opens defence of its FIBA Asia crown. Don't be surprised if he splits just as much time at the shooting guard position with veteran Hamed Afagh or even takes over the starting position. He is projected to be Iran's number one shooting guard in the future and that may as well start in 2015.

Wael Arakji (LIB)
Arakji made some headlines in Lebanon earlier this year because of his decision to declare for the 2015 NBA Draft, but he should make even more headlines later in the year for emerging as one of the building blocks of Lebanon's basketball future. A shifty lefty point guard, he is as aggressive as they come. He is fearless and that's exactly the kind of playmaker Lebanon needs to do well this year. After missing the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, the Cedars are definitely aching to show the entire continent just how good they are on the hardwood, and Arakji is going to be one of the aces up coach Veselin Matic's sleeve. It will also be interesting to see how he plays with living legend Fadi El Khatib, who will probably play in his last FIBA Asia Championship.

Saad Abdulrahman Mohamed (QAT)
Not to be confused with veteran shooting guard Saad Abdulrahman Ali, this younger Saad Abdulrahman was a man among boys in the 2014 FIBA Asia U18 Championship, scoring 40 points against India en route to leading the entire field in scoring. He finished the tournament with averages of 27.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.0 triples per game. If he does make the final roster for Qatar, which has already qualified for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, the young professional basketball player should prove to be a dangerous scorer off the bench.

In Part 2, we will look at a few other budding young Asian stars.

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