#FIBAAsiaChallenge 2016: 10 potential breakout players!

Hu Jinqiu (CHN)
Image from FIBA.

*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

The 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge is the centerpiece continental tournament for Asia this year, and it’s also the last competition featuring an all-Asia cast given how Australia and New Zealand will be joining the fray starting in 2017. Like always, the biennial competition will feature some of Asia's brightest hoops stars, but this particular edition is also notable for ushering in a new breed of hardcourt heroes for several of the participating countries.

In last week's column, I gave a general outlook for each of the participating nations, and now I will focus the lens on ten players who may just break out in a big way come September 9.

Hu Jinqiu (China)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to have China potentially parading a platoon of young big men who have yet to turn 20 years old. At the very front of that pack is none other than Hu, a veteran of sorts for China’s youth teams. Hu led China in the 2013 FIBA Asia U16 Championship, the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship and, most recently, the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship. Hu paced his team with nearly 14 points and 9 rebounds a game in Greece last year, and, judging by his performance in China’s most recent tune-ups, he has a very good shot of making the final line-up for the FIBA Asia Challenge.

Satnam Singh Bhamara (India)
2015 was big for India as their first ever homegrown player got drafted into the NBA. Sure, Satnam wasn’t able to make it to any bona fide NBA roster, but he got some licks as a player in the D-League for the Texas Legends. His numbers in 19 appearances aren’t pretty, but the experience and training he got will certainly make him an intriguing prospect for India come September. He obviously adds a lot of size to the team, but something tells me Satnam can really make an impact if given the chance.

Sajjad Mashayekhi (Iran)
Much has been written about Mashayekhi’s contemporaries, most notably Behnam Yakhchali and Mohammad Yousofvand, but the pint-sized point guard from Tehran is set to become the team’s leading floor general when hostilities open in about two weeks. Mashayekhi will take over playmaking duties as veterans Mahdi Kamrani and Aren Davoudi have seemingly hung their hi-tops from the international game. This kid’s quickness and fearlessness make him a formidable presence.

Naoto Tsuji (Japan)
Tsuji skipped the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, but he has blossomed this year, leading Japan in scoring in their OQT campaign in Serbia. Tsuji’s quickness, passing and, most especially, three-point shooting will be key for the Akatsuki Five, who will no longer be with Yuta Tabuse. Tsuji can also play shooting guard alongside point guard Ryoma Hashimoto, and that versatility will be important for coach Kenji Hasegawa.

Pavel Ilin (Kazakhstan)
Ilin is the lone remainder of the Kazakh team that played in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. His shooting, defense and experience will be crucial for Kazakhstan, which will be bannered mostly by up-and-coming talents. Without perennial threats Anton Ponomarev, Anatoliy Kolesnikov and Dmitriy Klimov, as well as naturalized player Jerri Jamar Johnson, Kazakhastan will have to find a new ways to open up the perimeter so Ilin can do much damage.

Lee SeoungHyun (Korea)
Lee was already quite impressive in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, but some key injuries to the likes of Lee JongHyun and Choi JunYong should give Lee even more playing time in the FIBA Asia Challenge. Lee is perhaps the most versatile big man the Koreans have, and they would do well to take advantage of his outside shooting, physicality and tenacity. His frontline combo with Kim JongKyu should enable Korea to leverage their quickness and shooting against other foes.

Jio Jalalon (Philippines)
In Manila, Jalalon is nicknamed “The Bus Driver,” although one glance at his 1.75m frame casts doubt on whether that label actually fits. Jalalon, however, lets his game do the talking. He stuffs stat-sheets like crazy in the Filipino collegiate game, with his ball-handling, court vision, defense, and ability to finish as his primary weapons. With no Jayson Castro, Terrence Romeo, Paul Lee or even Kiefer Ravena, who remains in the States, the onus will be on Jalalon to carry the fight in the team’s backcourt.

*As of this writing, Jio Jalalon will no longer be part of the Gilas squad in Iran. He will, however, rejoin the pool after the tournament and after the NCAA season ends.

Abdulrahman Saad (Qatar)
Saad burst onto FIBA Asia consciousness after being Qatar’s main man in the 2014 FIBA Asia U18 Championship, where he scored 30 or more points several times. With Al Annabi’s veterans getting further in age, it seems the promise of a new generation of Qatari players rests quite squarely on Saad’s shoulders. He’ll probably have to play behind whomever Qatar chooses as their naturalized player, but that doesn’t diminish his importance to the team.

Frederick Lish (Thailand)
Known in his homeland of Thailand as just Freddie Goldstein, this Thai-American is set to debut for the national squad and is expected to make a big impact. That’s crucial because the Thais will be without, arguably, their two best homegrown players: Chitchai Ananti and Kannut Samerjai. This means Lish will be relied upon to be a well-rounded and highly productive juggernaut for the the Thais.

Liu Cheng (Chinese Taipei)
Liu has always been a very good player, but without old reliables like Tseng Wen-Ting and Lin Chih-Chieh, Liu is expected to carry an even bigger load for Chinese Taipei. The former SBL MVP has been tagged as this team’s new leader, and there’s no bigger stage this year for him to show it than at the FIBA Asia Challenge. As long as Liu plays to his potential, he should be among the tournament’s leaders in scoring and steals.




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