#FIBAAsiaChallenge: Excitement building up for 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge

Hamed Haddadi (IRI)
(Image from FIBA)
*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

In what will be the last continental FIBA tournament to be played by an all-Asian cast of countries, the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge holds a lot of weight. Of course, it also goes without saying that its importance is further underscored by the fact that five additional berths in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup are up for grabs.

Twelve teams have already qualified for the tournament, with 2015 FIBA Asia champions China and hosts Iran leading the way. West Asia teams Iraq and Jordan have also qualified along with East Asia contenders Chinese Taipei, Korea and Japan. South Asia subzone champions India, Gulf subzone representatives Qatar, Kazakhstan from Central Asia and Southeast Asia subzone teams Philippines and Thailand also join the fray. The top five teams at the close of the competition will each earn for their respective subzones an additional berth in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup, which will already include powerhouse teams Australia and New Zealand.

The 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge is actually still about a month away from now, but already excitement and anticipation are building up. The same can be said for the preparations of the countries participating.

In fact, China have played nearly twenty preparation games, which should compensate for the fact that they won’t send their top tier team, who are currently in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics. Instead, China will be bannered by a host of young guns, many of whom are projected to form the country’s core team in the run-up to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Among these youthful stalwarts are Hu Jinqiu and Fu Hao — veterans of the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship — and big man Zhu Rongzhen, who played in the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship. Also expected to banner the squad are members of the national pool who did not make it to Rio 2016 like Tao Hanlin, Fang Shuo, Chang Lin and Jia Cheng.

Iran, too, have been preparing hard, assembling a 21-man pool from which they will get their final 12-man squad, which will reportedly be led by the hulking Hamed Haddadi. Iran played in the 2016 William Jones Cup as their main preparation, winning 5 of their 8 games and finishing fourth overall. Like China, much of Iran’s core will be comprised of relatively young talents, with the likes of Behnam Yakhchali, Mohammad Yousofvand and Vahid Dalirzahan expected to earn a lot of valuable experience. Iranian fans, however, can count on the likes Mohammad Jamshidi, Rouzbeh Arghavan, Oshin Sahakian and Haddadi to carry much of the load.

Oriental rivals Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei all vied in the Jones Cup as well, with contrasting results. Korea finished a strong second place right behind import-laden Philippines, which was spearheaded by seven Americans. Korea won 6 games out of 8 and were led by veteran center Kim JongKyu, who averaged 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds. Young playmaker Heo Hoon, meanwhile, turned a lot of heads with his steady playmaking, averaging more than 4 assists per outing. As for Japan, the Akatsuki Five won just 3 of their 8 assignments, finishing in seventh spot. Despite the seemingly low placing, though, they should not be taken for granted in the FIBA Asia Challenge. Pint-sized point guard Yuma Fujii was a revelation for Japan, and he made a strong case to be one of the team’s weapons in the FIBA Asia Challenge. Undersized big man Yuki Mitsuhara also impressed, and it’ll be interesting to see how they mesh with some veterans who will backstop the team in Tehran. As for Chinese Taipei, it’s no surprise that former SBL MVP Liu Cheng has taken a prime leadership role on the team, with naturalized player Quincy Davis and up-and-comer Chen Ying-Chun also stamping their class. For sure, all three squads will be in the running for a podium finish later this year.

2015 runners-up Philippines, for their part, have started from behind in terms of their preparations. They have had only a couple of training sessions so far an no preparation games as of this writing. It has been confirmed that the Gilas Pilipinas team playing in the FIBA Asia Challenge will have virtually no PBA talents and will, instead, be comprised of the top amateur and semi-professional players in the country. These players usually ply their trade in the Southeast Asia subzone qualifiers, so it will be a curious experiment to see if they will find similar success at the Asian level. Given the fact that coach Tab Baldwin will be helming the outfit, however, the Filipinos should not be taken lightly.

A photo posted by Josh Reyes (@joshreyes8) on

India are also going to be dangerous even if they fell to last place in the Jones Cup. Veterans Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Rikin Pethani, Amrit Pal Singh and TJ Sahi are sure to carry the team in Tehran. Of the other teams, Qatar are always a contender, while Iraq have seen much improvement of late.

Given these developments, there is no doubt that the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge is shaping up to be one for the books!




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