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Published on February 22nd, 2018 | by Joseph Najjar

New Lebanon coach Saba offers fresh approach for Cedars

Patrick Saba says he is up for the challenge of leading Lebanon’s men’s senior basketball team to the 2019 World Cup in China.

The Lebanese Basketball Federation named Saba as head coach recently, making him only the third Lebanese to fill the post. He replaces the Lithuanian Ramonas Butautas.

It is his second stint in charge of the Cedars, having previously taken them to 2016 West Asia Basketball Association Championship in Amman, Jordan, where they claimed a top-four finish.

Saba told fiba.basketball: “Hopefully, with early planning and the efforts of the many talented local players, Lebanon will have high chances of qualifying for the 2019 Basketball World Cup.”

Lebanon have only previously reached three World Cup tournaments, and their new coach admits changes to the qualifying process won’t make it any easier this time round.

Australia and New Zealand are now included in a joint Asia-Oceania group of 16 teams playing home and away games during six windows – November 2017, February, June, September and November 2018 and February 2019.

Full strength

At the end of those windows, the top seven teams – in addition to the hosts China – will qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 as Asia’s representatives.

“The new competition system is different,” Saba said. “We need to get accustomed to it, but the beauty of it lies in its high competitiveness and high level of excitement.

“It will see a very high level of competition with the participation of the two Oceania countries, especially if they choose to play at full strength.

“I hope they enter the competition in full power because that way the rest of the Asian national teams will have to upgrade their level.”

Lebanon got off to a mixed start in the opening window last November, beating India but losing Jordan in a thrilling encounter.

Saba seems to have the backing of Lebanon’s basketball-loving public. Cedars fan Daniel Youssef told me: ” I believe the appointment is a good one, as Saba is a well-known coach in Lebanon. I also believe he should be given time to carry out his ideas, as everything needs patience.”

Honours

Although Lebanon’s World Cup record isn’t notable, they tend to do much better in Asian tournaments. They have made nine appearances in the Asia Cup, coming second on three occasions back in 2001, 2005 and 2007. They have also made two European Championship appearances.

FIBA Asia Championship – 3 Silver Medals

FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup – 1 Gold Medal

West Asian Basketball Championship – 5 Gold Medals, 4 Silver

Pan Arab Games – 1 Gold Medal

Top players

Seba’s approach promises to be bold and innovative approach as he prefers not to use naturalised players in the most key roles as he wants to bring in more Lebanese talent and give them the chance to show their potential.

Daniel Youssef said: “Saba should use Lebanese and naturalised players, as using both would make the team stronger, plus why shouldn’t we use naturalised players? All the other team use them.

“But in the future, Lebanon should look into concentrating on the younger generations and trying to bring them into the team.”

Lebanon have got the players to make it to the World Cup. One of is Wael Arakji, Lebanon’s captain and point guard.

He started his playing career in 2012 for Sporting AL Riyadi Beirut and has won the Lebanese Basketball League Championship four times.

He is currently averaging 17.0 point per game, 5.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists.

Another top player Saba might utilise is Sam Young, a former NBA player now starring for Homenetmen Beirut.

Young is a prolific scorer who led Al Ahli UAE in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup back in 2016; he averaged an amazing 35 points per game, along with 8.6 rebounds.

Qualifying Format

The 2019 World Cup in China will feature 32 teams.

The format for the Asia-Oceania qualifiers is there are 16 teams split into four groups; this is still the first round of qualifiers. In the second round, the top three teams from each group will be placed in a group with three teams from another group.

All results from the first qualification round are carried over to the second round. The top three teams in each group along with the better-placed fourth team will qualify for the World Cup.

Rivals 

Lebanon’s established rivals in their group are Jordan and Syria. Having lost in Amman, they will get their chance for revenge when Jordan travel to play in Beirut.

The enmity with Syria goes back a long way, and in politics as well as sport thanks to Syria’s involvement in the Lebanese Civil War.

Cedars fan Daniel added: “Even though it’s a long shot, I hope Lebanon do make it to the FIBA World Cup.”.

For Saba and the rest of Lebanon, all their focus is on the upcoming game against Syria on February 23rd.

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