#FIBAU18Asia: Asia’s future stars stamping their class at U18 Championship

Ali Mansour (LIB)
(Image from FIBA)
*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com. 

A few days into the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship in Tehran, and several players have already wowed us with their skill and grit. Lebanon and Chinese Taipei have turned a lot of heads with their sublime play, while China remain favorites to defend their crown. The story, however, really has been the bevy of up-and-coming players whose stars are sure to shine even brighter even after the final buzzer of this competition has sounded.

Ihab Al-Zuhairi, Justin Bassey and JV Gallego are three players who have really stood out despite the early struggles of their respective teams. Al-Zuhairi’s Iraq won just one game from their first three, but the 2.07m center has been nothing short of unstoppable. He averaged an unbelievable 42 points and 24 rebounds in his first two games. Bassey, for his part, has been one of the most highly skilled individuals in this tournament. He exploded for 34 points and 21 rebounds against SEABA rivals Philippines on Day 4 to notch Thailand’s first triumph. He is one to watch in the next few years for sure. Gallego, meanwhile, has always been on the wishlist of Batang Gilas, and they finally got him to play this year. The 1.79m guard has shown his worth, putting up 13.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per outing, but the Filipinos have been hard-luck of late, winning just once in four tries. Gallego will need more help from his teammates if they are to barge into the Quarter-Finals.

Lebanon has been the darling of the competition so far, and the U18 Cedars have been carried mainly by the troika of Ali Mansour, Karl Assi and Mark Al Khoury. Mansour, who is currently based in the United States, has been Lebanon’s pillar, averaging 12.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. His stellar play on both ends has really made Lebanon a strong title contender. Al Khoury, for his part, has anchored Lebanon’s play in the box, while Assi has been the team’s top playmaker. Al Khoury had an 18-point, 13-rebound effort against Kazakhstan on Day 1, and he hasn’t looked back since. Assi, meanwhile, has been a whirlwind at point guard, averaging 7.5 assists in the Cedars’ last two wins.

Talking about Asia’s best won’t be complete without any mention of Chinese players, and in this tournament, Taruike Jianiyou, Fan Ziming and Liu Zeyi have impressed the most. Taruike, a half-Nigerian, half-Chinese front-liner, has really come to his own. His naturally gifted size and athleticism have made him a daily double-double threat, and he is sure to figure in the Chinese national team’s future plans sooner rather than later. Fan and Liu, two other promising big men, have also made their presence felt. Fan leads China in rebounding with 8.8 boards a game, while Liu is second in scoring behind Taruike with 13.8 points per contest. All are sure to continue playing major roles as the championship progresses.

Two other notables are Kao Kuo-Hao and Tseng Hsiang-Chun, who have been terrific for Chinese Taipei. Kao, nicknamed the “Taipei James Harden,” has been a crowd favorite owing to his flashy and fast-paced style of play. He leads his team in scoring and is one of the competition’s best shooters, drilling more than 2 triples per game. Tseng, a 2.00m center from Taipei City, has also drawn interest with his physicality in the paint and ability to protect the rim. He’s a classic, no-nonsense big guy who doesn’t have qualms about doing the dirty work as proven by his near-double-double averages of 9.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game.

The home crowd have also had a couple of reasons to cheer: Mohammad Jafari and Amirhossein Khandanpoor. Jafari has been one of the tournament’s best all-around scorers and sharpest shooters. He hit 5 threes in Iran’s runaway win over Kazakhstan on Day 2, and there seems to be no signs of cooling off for the 1.90m native of Tehran. Khandanpoor has also attracted a lot of attention with his athleticism and effectiveness in scoring close to the hole. He has had some of the most highlight-worthy dunks in the tournament, and his tenacity in the box is something a lot of coaches would give an arm and a leg to have. He reminds me a lot of NBA draftee Arsalan Kazemi, and that should be a flattering comparison.

A photo posted by amir hosein (@amirhosein___18) on

Yes, only one team will walk away with the FIBA Asia U18 crown, and only three will book tickets to the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship in Cairo, Egypt, but, by the time the final whistle is blown, many players will have raised their stock and served notice that their time to shine on a bigger stage is fast approaching.




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