2016 #FIBAAsiaChallenge and #FIBAAsiaChampionsCup Review (and explanation) Part 1

Iran were crowned champions in the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge.
(image from FIBA)

For the past month or so, I haven’t been able to update this blog as much and as often as I want to, and there’s one reason for that — work. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. On the contrary, I’ve been writing a whole lot, but my writing just hasn’t been appearing on this blog. You see, for the better part of the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to write for FIBA.com (first as a columnist and, eventually, in a more significant editorial capacity). It’s all legit and certainly feels awesome, but the tradeoff, so to speak, is that my time to personally update this blog has been diminished. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (far from it!), since I have the freedom to re-post my stuff from FIBA (and other sites) onto this blog. It’s accurate to say, however, that, given everything else that’s to be juggled, things have “leveled up” and, consequently, maintaining the balancing act has been more challenging than ever before. 

My planned personal coverage for both the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge and 2016 FIBA Asia Champions Cup, in particular, has taken a hit. It’s actually quite ironic because I constantly wrote on every single competition day, staying up till around 3:00am Manila time (all my writing has appeared on the official FIBA Asia microsites). My usual daily roundups have been absent, though, and I want to kinda make up for that right now. In addition to the roundups, however, you will find team-by-team write-ups (for the FIBA Asia Challenge) and some brief thoughts on the future of Asian hoops. 

Team Write-Ups

- It was not a surprise that Iran won the FIBA Asia Challenge. They were playing at a very high level and playing in front of their home crowd. Hamed Haddadi coasted in the first few days, but he dominated in the knockout stages. Kudos to the as they played without veterans Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, Hamed Afagh, and Mahdi Kamrani.

- Korea had to scramble to defeat an overachieving Iraqi squad in the Semi-Finals, but it was still an impressive showing for a team that hadn’t played in the biennial tournament since its initial staging in 2004. Spitfire guard Kim Sun-Hyung was the team’s best player along with big men Kim Jong-Kyu and Lee Seung-Hyun.

- This bronze medal finish was as good as gold for Jordan, which had a forgettable campaign in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. Coach Sam Daghles was successful in steering his squad to a podium finish, and they have served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with again in Asia.

- Powered by naturalized player Kevin Galloway, Iraq was the most surprising team in the field, finishing in the top four for the first time ever. Mohammed Al-Khafaji and Dhulfiqar Al-Hchaimi also impressed as Iraq showed that they can no longer be overlooked in Asian basketball. 

- With a young core, the Chinese didn’t have the firepower, experience, and savvy to get over the hump and finish on the podium. A loss to India int the group stage placed them in a precarious match up with dangerous Iraq in the Quarter-Finals, and that was their undoing. Still, finishing fifth means China is no slouch, especially with promising young guns like Hu Jinqiu, Liu Zhixuan, and Zou Yuchen leading the way.

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- Fresh off their top four finish in 2015, Japan were expected to contend for the title in this tournament, but their size (or lack of it) put them at a significant disadvantage. New naturalized player Ira Brown was explosive, but without key frontliners Kosuke and Joji Takeuchi and with the injury to top gunner Naoto Tsuji, the Akatsuki Five just couldn’t get past the Quarter-Finals.

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- India were the darlings of Asia once again after notching a couple of landmark victories. They upended Southeast Asian kings Philippines right on Day 1 and repeated the “Miracle of 2014” when they upset China anew on Day 5. Amritpal Singh, Amjyot Singh, and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi continued to progress into bona fide stars, and India will enter 2017 as a serious threat at the continental level.

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- The Taiwanese were powered mostly by a new generation of players who are set to inherit the mantle from their more illustrious elders in 2017. There were hardly any familiar names on their roster except for stalwarts Quincy Davis and Liu Cheng, who still managed to be productive in helping Taiwan finish among the Top 8. 

- It was a disappointing affair for the Qataris, who went winless in the first four days before scraping by Thailand on Day 5. This was a clear indication that the continued success of Qatari basketball may be in peril if they cannot develop more high level talents to support new leaders Hassan Mohamed and Abdulrahman Saad.

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- Like China, Kazakhstan did not send their top tier team, which mainly explains why they didn’t do well. Without old reliables like Anatoliy Koleshnikov, Anton Ponomarev, Dimo Klimov, and naturalized player Jerry Johnson, the Kazakhs had to lean on the like sof Pavel Ilin, Nikolay Bazhkin, and veteran big man Mikhail Yevstigneyev in this tourney.

- The Thais actually had a respectable performance considering how they didn’t have a few of their top brass like Chitchai Ananti, Kannut Samerjai, and Freddie Goldstein. At full strength, this Thai team could’ve actually made the knockout stages, but, alas, they had to be content with finishing dead last. 

- For the first time in the history of the tournament, the Philippine team failed to make it to the Quarter-Finals. That’s a bit of a downer, of course, but one must realize that this team was undersized, inexperienced, and had next to no reinforcements from the PBA (Hooray for Almond Vosotros!). They also had no naturalized player, and 6’9 center Arnold Van Opstal was more concerned with fouling out than collaring rebounds. The silver lining, though, was that the Filipinos may have found a jewel in the rough in star-in-the-making Mac Belo, who finished second overall in scoring with 20.2 points per game. 

FIBA Asia Challenge Game Reports

KOR over JPN, 80-73 
IRI over QAT, 81-49 
CHN over JOR, 94-75 
IND over PHI, 91-83 

KOR over THA, 84-43 
TPE over IND, 90-66 
IRQ over QAT, 71-54 
JOR over KAZ, 89-71 

JPN over THA, 96-67 
TPE over PHI, 87-76 
IRI over IRQ, 94-51 
CHN over KAZ, 106-85 

JOR over IND, 121-65 
CHN over PHI, 75-65 
TPE over KAZ, 92-77 
JPN over IRQ, 67-65 
IRI over THA, 114-41 
KOR over QAT, 86-60 

PHI over KAZ, 98-86 
IND over CHN, 70-64 
QAT over THA, 64-62 
JOR over TPE, 109-83 
IRI over JPN, 68-57 
KOR over IRQ, 102-80 

JOR over PHI, 119-105 
CHN over TPE, 93-88 
IRQ over THA, 102-69 
IND over KAZ, 100-90 
IRI over KOR, 85-47 
JPN over QAT, 79-65 

KOR over TPE, 70-69 
IRQ over CHN, 85-79 
IRI over IND, 77-47 
JOR over JPN, 87-80 

CHN over TPE, 88-66 and JPN over IND, 77-66 

IRI over JOR, 74-63 
KOR over IRQ, 78-72 

FOR 7TH and 5TH: IND over TPE, 80-68 and CHN over JPN, 75-67 

FOR 3RD: JOR over IRQ, 94-72 

FINAL: IRI over KOR, 77-47 

In Part 2, I will talk about the FIBA Asia Champions Cup and give some insights on the future of Asian basketball.




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