Tag Archives: Lebanese basketball

Nehme heads for Lebanon to realise his hoop dreams

Ghassan Nehme is a hot prospect in Lebanese basketball, aged 22 and playing for one of the country’s top teams, Club Sagesse.

He was born and raised in America, growing up in Colorado where he started playing in the community YMCA leagues at a very young age.

Nehme told me: “My father played for Champville [a private Christian college in Lebanon] under coach Fouad Abou Charka. I’ve always had a ball in my hand and wanted to be like my dad. He’s my idol and who I thrive to learn from on and off the court.”

The young star has the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“After going through a tough second year of college with injuries I felt like it was time to move on and try something new.

“My dream was to be playing where my family is from and represent the Lebanese blood in me. It’s a true blessing to get to play over in Lebanon.”

The season so far

Nehme is currently in his first year at Beirut-based Club Sagesse, where he is having a very good season to date.

His stand-out performance was against Homenetmen Beirut. Coming on for Dwayne Jackson, he scored 31 points in 15 minutes, hitting 9 of 11 from the three-point line, a new record in Lebanese basketball.

Even though Sagesse went on to lose the 105-97, Nehme was highly praised after the game, and even got labelled the ‘Steph Curry of Lebanese basketball’.

Playing in basketball-mad Lebanon for a major team such as Sagesse, who have won nine national titles, piles a great responsibility on to every player’s shoulders.

So for a 22-year-old to come on, when the team is low on morale and losing by a big margin, and perform so well just shows you that he is a top player who has great ability and character.

Asked about the support of Sagesse, Nehme said: “Playing for Hekmeh [as the team is also known] is the best experience I’ve had playing basketball.

“On and off the court the fans are amazing, and you’re treated like a professional. Nothing compares to Hekmeh fans, and how passionate they are and how much they influence our play. I’m very fortunate to experience such amazing fans.”

Nehme has to put in more great displays like he did against Homenetmen, as Club Sagesse will need him to perform at his best if they want to make it to the finals of the Lebanese Basketball Championships.

The future

Club Sagesse’s next game is against their fierce rivals Al Riyadi, which always is a thrilling match-up, on March 6th.

As well as helping Club Sagesse to glory, Nehme also has ambitions to break into the Lebanese national team, which is gunning for a spot at the 2019 World Cup in China.

Lebanon are just through to the next round of qualifiers, and Nehme knows that consistent good displays at club level will help him to catch the eye of Lebanon’s new head coach Patrick Saba.

But international success can’t come before domestic achievement, and Nehme has one overriding aim as a Club Sagesse player. “I wish to achieve winning the Lebanese League Championship during my career,” he said emphatically.

Ghassan Nehme is on Twitter @gnehme23

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.

The Lebanese El Clasico: Al Riyadi vs CS Sagesse

Religious and political strife are probably what come to most people’s minds when they think about Lebanon.

But this small, often troubled Middle Eastern nation, bordered by Syria and Israel, is also home to one of sport’s great but unheralded clashes.

Basketball is Lebanon’s most popular sport, and its two most successful teams are Club Sagesse and Al Riyadi. Welcome to the fever-pitch rivalry of the Lebanese El Clasico.

The two Beirut-based clubs have a history of fierce competition that, in its context, is just as intense as the antipathy between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

As you might expect in a nation characterised for many decades by conflict between Christians and Muslim factions, it’s a clash driven by religious and political differences.

Club Sagesse

Established in 1992, Club Sagesse is one of the most successful teams in the region – and beyond.

Its many triumphs quickly saw it overshadow the football team that sprang from the same Beirut sporting club as it dominated the the newly-formed Lebanese League, as well as the Arab and FIBA Asia Championships.

The club is owned and controlled the College de la Sagesse of the Maronite Catholic Archeparchy of Beirut.

It is backed by the Lebanese Forces political party, one the country’s most influencial Christian organisations, led by Samir Geagea.

Club Sagesse’s roll call of notable triumphs includes:

  • Eight Lebanese Championships
  • Three FIBA Asia Champions Cups
  • Three West Asian Championships
  • Two Arab Club Basketball Championships

Al Riyadi

The Al Riyadi club are based in the Manara district of Beirut where men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are held every year.

The club was founded back in 1934 but was only given the permission to be involved in various sports in the post-war, when Lebanon formally broke away from French colonial rule.

It is supported financially by Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Al Hariri,  who is a Sunni Muslim and the leader of the Future Movement political party.

Al Riyadi has won even more trophies than Club Sagesse, including:

  • 15 Lebanese Championships
  • Two FIBA Asia Champions Cups
  • Two West Asian Championships
  • Two Arab Club Basketball Championships

Tensions

While both clubs rightly celebrate their many triumphs on the basketball court, these have been overshadowed down the years by religion and political tensions between fans.

There have been many instances where games between the two have been halted or even postponed due to fighting between fans and players.

One die-hard Sagesse fan told me: “Politics plays a big part between these two teams as Al Riyadi is supported by Saad Al Hariri. They have pictures of him placed inside their stadium, and most of their players follow his political party.

“Religion plays a role too, as most Club Sagesse fans and players are Christian, whereas Al Riyadi, their fans and players are Muslim, plus it’s very rare for that player who played for Al Riyadi will ever move and play for Sagesse [or vice versa].”

One Al Riaydi fan told me: “Everything [in Lebanon] involves religion and politics.

“When basketball became popular, Sagesse and Al Riyadi were the best two teams so that caused a rivalry between them, and fans started to call it the Lebanese El Classico, as they always played each other in the finals.”

Overlooked

When it comes to the head-to-head record between Al Riyadi and Club Sagesse, the former lead by nine wins since the 2007-08 season.

Club Sagesse over the years has had some problems with players not being paid. For example, Elie Rustom,  a valuable player for Sagesse, left them for Champville Mariste Club due to complications over his contract.

When these two teams meet it’s more like one religion versus another religion, or one political party versus another political party.

The quality of the basketball on display, with both sides determined not to be defeated by their bitter rivals, is often overlooked.

Lebanon, once the playground of the Eastern Mediterranean for the world’s rich elite, is currently enjoying a period of relative political and economic stability.

But peace is unlikely to break out between Al Riyadi and Club Sagesse anytime soon…