FIBA Asia Cup: Players to watch
MANILA, Philippines – The curtains have been raised on the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, which is being held in Wuhan, China, the site of the 2011 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships.
Nine teams are participating in this edition of what was formerly called the FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup (Uzbekistan backed out a couple of days ago). This tourney happens every two years, with the previous one held in Tokyo in 2012.The winner in that edition was Iran, which beat the host nation, 53-51, in the Finals.
Iran went through the whole field unscathed, beating India, Qatar, Taiwan, and Japan in the group stage, then upending Uzbekistan and the Philippines in the knockout rounds before repeating over the Japs in the Championship Game.
In that particular tournament, there were several key players who really broke out in a big way. Elie Stephan of Lebanon, Guo Ailun and Wang Zhelin of China, Kosuke Kanamaru and Ryota Sakurai of Japan, and Asghar Kardoust of Iran all did well in that tournament, and they all cemented their respective places in their team’s rosters for the foreseeable future.
In this year’s edition, there is a new set of Asian players raring to rise through the ranks and be among the continent’s elite players. The following guys aren’t there yet, but they will probably get there sooner rather than later.
In this last of a four-part primer, we’ll take a look at some up-and-coming players to watch in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup.
AHMAD AL-DWAIRI (Jordan)
Club: Ittihad Schools (Jordan Premier League)
Al-Dwairi was already part of the Jordanian national team when it participated in the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships in Manila. He wasn’t used much in that tourney, but he did gain valuable experience playing against some of the continent’s best big men. He’s young and still a little raw, but he is an imposing presence underneath.
He has shown flashes of brilliance on offense, especially when Jordan swept the 2013 WABA tournament, and he has a knack for rebounding the ball, currently averaging 6.5 rebounds per game. In Jordan’s most recent match, Al-Dwairi dominated the Singaporean frontline with 12 points and 9 boards.
He needs to work defending smarter, though, since he has already tallied 9 fouls in just two games.
GAO SHANG (China)
Age: 19 (turning 20 on August 10)
Club: Guangdong Southern Tigers (CBA)
Gao didn’t play a lot this past season for Guangdong as the Southern Tigers had national team mainstays Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu starting on the wings, but when he was on the court he was effective, averaging 4 points and shooting 36% from beyond the arc in under 14 minutes of action per outing.
He was much better in the 2013 FIBA World U19 tournament in Prague, leading the team with 18.8 points per game.
He also shot 38% from beyond the arc and made 3 treys per outing against some of the world’s best players.
In Wuhan, Gao has already shone, leading China in scoring with 14.5 points per game and shooting 56% from rainbow country.
SAJJAD MASHAYEKHI (Iran)
Position: Point Guard
Club: Mahram-Tehran (Iranian Superleague)
Mashayekhi is touted as the heir apparent to superb Iranian playmaker Mahdi Kamrani. Mashayekhi constantly plays against Kamrani in the Superleague, but the youngster yearns to learn from the veteran as the latter is going up in age.
This early, Mashayekhi has already shown a lot of promise, leading Iran in scoring in the 2013 FIBA World U19 tournament in Prague with 14.6 points per game. He was also one of the best rebounding small men in that joust, collaring more than 7 boards per outing.
Mashayekhi is not much of a facilitator, but he is a whirlwind when driving to the basket.
In the current tournament in Wuhan, the 20-year-old is already putting 9 points and 4 rebounds per game while making 54% of his two-point shots.
DAIKI TANAKA (Japan)
Club: Toyota Alvark (Japan-NBL)
Tanaka was one of the most sought-after players coming out of college prior to the 2013-2014 season of the NBL because he was the ace of Tokai University.
Even before making his pro debut, Tanaka already played for the national team's senior level, having stints in the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup, the 2012 and 2013 Jones Cup, the 2013 East Asian Championships, and the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships.
He’s not much of a shooter from long range, but he’s a good facilitator, slasher, and defender.
He’s projected to be one of Team Hayabusa’s main wingmen in the foreseeable future, especially as veterans Takuya Kawamura and Ryota Sakurai near the end of their international careers.
Right now, Tanaka is norming 8.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists for Japan.
LIU CHENG (Taiwan)
Position: Small Forward
Club: Taiwan Beer (Taiwan-SBL)
There is much to be said about Liu Cheng, especially after he led Taiwan Beer to the 2014 SBL semifinals and bagged the league’s MVP award.
He was the league’s third-best scorer (13.7ppg) and best in terms of steals (2.5spg).
This tournament is his debut for the Taiwanese senior national team in a major FIBA Asia event, and he is expected to shine.
With only Quincy Davis as the holdover from the Taiwanese team that finished fourth in Manila in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships, Liu will have to carry much of the load on both ends of the floor.
He will be one of the main options to score and should be the team’s top perimeter defender, too. He’s already living up to the hype, averaging 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.
ZHOU QI (China)
Club: Liaoning Flying Leopards (CBA) for the 2014-2015 season.
At just 18 years of age, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Zhou might still grow bigger than his already imposing 7’2 frame. He’s not built like a rock, but he has great footwork and a soft touch to boot. In short, he might just be China’s best bet at having another NBA star post-Yao.
Zhou has been a mainstay of China’s national youth teams since 2011, and he’ll definitely be a big part of the team’s future on the senior level along with Wang Zhelin.
As expected he has ruled every Asian youth tournament he has joined, but he will surely be tested in Wuhan. So far, Zhou has given a fair account of himself, though, putting up around 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 steal per game while shooting 70% from the field.
PAUL LEE (Gilas Pilipinas)
Club: Rain or Shine Elasto-Painters (PBA)
Lee has always wanted to play for the national team, and he finally got his wish this year. He will alternate at the point with veteran playmaker LA Tenorio, but Lee isn’t really around to distribute.He’s on the team to score.
The former PBA Rookie of the Year has normed around 13 points per game in his three pro seasons and is known for his streaky outside shooting (almost two triples per game in 2013-2014).
In his international debut, Lee burned Taiwan for 18 points on 6/11 FG shooting, including 4 from long distance.
Opposing defenses will probably key on him from now on, but the former UE Red Warrior’s creativity with the basketball should enable him to power through anyway.
He has never faced this high a level of competition before, though, so it’ll be interesting to see how he goes up against the best of Jordan, Japan, China, or Iran as the tourney moves along. – Rappler.com