TEHRAN, Iran (22nd FIBA Asia U18 Championship): Mehran Hatami, the coach of the Iran U18 team preparing for the 22nd FIBA Asia U18 Championship to be played at Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) from Aug 17-26 is a man of few words. But those few words are well-measured, well-meant and well-merited.
The 48-year-old who earlier in the season steered Azad University to their first ever Iranian Super League semifinals spoke to this website after leading the Iranian U18 team on a tour of Europe.
On European tour
Hungary: At the beginning our performance wasn’t good enough, but I think that was natural because our training camp started late and also we were playing boys from the U20 age-group. Also, you shouldn’t forget that playing in European level is pretty tough and different from the way we play in Asia.
Slovenia: Our main intention was giving players, especially those with lesser experience, more playing time. We did it in first 5 European games. In the last game in Slovenia, we used our main players for just 10 minutes.
Italy: This is where we started thinking about results and played with whole strength. We played a very close game against Italy U18 team, but one of our key players Sajjad Mashayekhi was injured at the crucial moment. We thus lost the game. The game against Ukraine too was similar, but this time we were prepared better and clinched the issue in the closing minutes. Sweden, though didn’t have their tallest and the best player, but we played very well.
On being on track to regaining the gold medal
We’ll have a tough time. This European tour was a great experience and I hope we will be able to use this experience in the 22nd FIBA Asia U18 Championship, but you shouldn't forget that our opponents like China and Korea have been in World Championship. Other teams too have had lots of preparation games.
I hope we get the best result. I do promise that we will fight to get the best that we can.
On the team’s strengths and weaknesses
Participating in European level tournaments is our strength. It was great and my players benefited a lot and gained some experience there so that we can work on them.
On the other hand, our opponents have more playing experience and preparation games. That would be our weakness because we don't have enough time to fill that gap.
On the further training for the Mongolia event
Eleven of our players will participate in the Asian Student Games in China this week. They will resume training with us only on Aug 1. I only hope they don’t get injured. We’ll stay and train in Tehran till we travel to Mongolia.
Photo courtesy: ISNA. Mehran Hatami (red shirt) with assistant Ali Tofigh during a training session in Tehran.
Reporting inputs from Fereshteh Seyfi Naji in Tehran