BEIRUT, Lebanon (23rd FIBA Asia Champions Cup): Iraq’s Duhok ensured WABA clean sweep of the medals at the 23rd FIBA Asia Champions Cup by winning the bronze medal on Sunday – the first time any Iraqi team had finished on the podium in any FIBA Asia competition – and coach Hamza Ubaid Bakkal called it a natural progression reflecting the overall development of basketball in Iraq.
“We have improved with every event that we have participated in. I’m not only talking about Duhok and the clubs, but also teams that represent Iraq in FIBA Asia events,” said Bakkal.
Bakkal was the coach of the Duhok team when they made their debut at the 21st FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Doha (Qatar) in 2010. A year later at the 22nd FIBA Asia Champions Cup at Manila (Philippines), Duhok progressed further than the Preliminary Round before losing in the quarterfinals.
In between, the Iraq National Team, comprising mainly of players from Duhok, made a few sit up with a feisty performance at the 3rd FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup at Beirut (Lebanon) in 2010, that included a win against the back up players for the 2010 FIBA World Championship-bound Iran.
“So you see, we have improved every year,” said Bakkal with a beaming smile.
“The medal is a great indication of our improvement. But I think even a higher ranking is good enough to judge that we have progressed,” he added.
Talking more about the factors helping the development process, Bakkal said: “the very fact that we have taken part in FIBA Asia competitions regularly has helped.”
“On the one hand, it has provided our players the much needed experience and exposure and on the other it has made us (coaches and support staff realize) about the work that needs to be done,” he added.
“Obviously playing in a region like WABA has its own advantages. This is indeed the most competitive region for clubs basketball (Teams from WABA have won the FIBA Asia Champions Cup seven times in the last 10 years),” he said.
“Initially, we were cowed down by the teams from Iran and Lebanon, or even Jordan. But not anymore. We know Iraqi basketball has the quality to take on the big teams. And we have done so. We may have lost games, but certainly it was not for of effort from our side,” he signed off to join the celebrations.
S Mageshwaran / FIBA Asia
Photo: Milad Payami / FIBA Asia