TEHRAN, Iran (22nd FIBA Asia U18 Championship): Sajjad Mashayekhi is one of the very few junior players in FIB Asia who have already cut their teeth in the professional ranks. The crafty point guard averaged a healthy 13 minutes per game as Mahram went about their business regaining the WABA League crown earlier this year and will count on that experience to lead Iran back to the podium in the 22nd FIBA Asia U18 Championship starting in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) this Friday.
At the 21st FIBA Asia Championship at Sana’A (Yemen) two years ago, Iran failed to finish with a medal only for the second time in a decade, thus adding pressure on the current team under Mehran Hatami to regain lost glory.
The twice gold medalists – 2004 Bangalore and 2008 Tehran – will match wits with Kazakhstan, GCC’s top team Saudi Arabia and SEABA champions Philippines in Group D of the Prelim Round before going into the second round with the qualifiers from Group C.
“Our preparations began a little late, but picked steam as we went along,” he said.
“The key to our preparations was the high pressure training during our tour of Europe under the supervision of the senior team’s coach,” he said.
Iran went on a tour of Europe – playing games in Hungary, Slovenia and Italy – with the coach of the Iran NT Memi Becirovic accompanying them as the technical advisor. Some of these games involved oppositions which were in the U20 age group.
“In the beginning, it was difficult for us to compete with the older European guys. Some of the players didn't have much experience. The games were tough and physical and one of our players was injured almost every day,” Mashayekhi said.
“But the next trip to Slovenia was a really good one with all facilities and tough trainings. All players were tired but the practice was happy and cheerful. We also had some individual work outs,” he added.
“Then came the trip to Italy, a tournament with teams all in our age. All the three teams we played against were big names and the way we played was really surprising for them. The Italian fans even applauded for us after he game against Italy,” he beamed.
“The progress in our team was obvious after that trip.”
Mashayekhi has been named the captain of the Iran team and was already plotting his way through the possible play-off pairings.
“I think we should first be worried about Korea, because we will most likely face them in semifinals, and I know they beat us twice earlier,” he said.
“China is a different story. They have played almost 40-50 games in preparation and also they played against teams like the USA. But one thing is for sure. They are not unbeatable,” he added.
“All the in our team have worked hard. We know our performance in this event is a good chance to set the stage for future success. We are like brothers in this team and back up each other. I really hope this group can make it to go to the FIBA U19 World Championship,” he rounded off.
Reporting inputs from Fereshteh Seyfi Naji in Tehran