BEIRUT, Lebanon (23rd FIBA Asia Champions Cup): Tammam Jaroudi is a man of great ambition. The chief helmsman of the all-conquering Al Riyadi Beirut ship, the most accomplished basketball club in this part of the world, is now on a different mission. To showcase the organizing abilities of Al Riyadi Beirut at the 23rd FIBA Asia Champions Cup starting on Monday.
Having won all possible titles and tournaments in every corner of Asia, including their first in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup last year – at the 22nd FIBA Asia Champions Cup at Manila (Philippines) – Jaroudi and his team of dedicated have now set out to prove that their squad can perform as well off the court in putting together an event of the FIBA Asia standards as their team performs on the court.
As a result, the Saeb Salam Stadium off the Manara coast of Beirut on the highly popular Raouche promenade is looking better than ever. The smell of the fresh coat of paint couldn’t have been more obvious; the buzz of the new air condition system couldn’t have been louder; and the enthusiasm of the eager volunteers team couldn’t have been more efficient. If well begun is half done, Jaroudi and his team have surely won half the battle.
“We are leaving no stone unturned to make this event a success,” Jaroudi told this website in the midst of his multi-tasking busy schedule.
“As facilities go, we are limited in our stadium. This is a reality. But we are making use of every inch of available space to meet the standards set by FIBA Asia. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth every single bit of it,” he added.
So much for the off court challenges for Al Riyadi. On the court, of course, there’s the challenge of meeting the growing expectations as always.
The all-famous blue-and-yellow brigade is bristling with confidence having won the 12th Hariri Cup international tournament only last week; their dependable Ismail Ahmad has grown in stature; the prodigious Ahmad Ibrahim has shun flamboyance for flourishing performance; and a new coach in Serbian Slobodan Subotic has added a new dimension to their offense.
Does it mean Riyadi’s path is smooth?
“No. We are always under pressure to deliver,” says seasoned shooting guard Omar El Turk.
“Whenever we enter the court the expectations from our fans, supporters, management and even the media are always high. Even a small slip is analysed to the minutest detail with a microscope. This has been the case for a long time,” he added.
“But then as a team we thrive on such pressure. We always deliver when the expectations are high. I am sure this time too it will be the case,” added El Turk.
The challenges for Riyadi are from far and near, familiar and unknown. As near and familiar as Iran’s former twice champions Mahram, whom Riyadi dethroned in the gold medal game of the 22nd FIBA Asia Champions Cup at Manila (Philippines) last year, and Iraq’s Duhok. As far and unfamiliar as from Mongolia’s Falcons and Turkmenistan’s Belent Asgabat.
Mahram, of course, for their first measure of revenge when they beat Riyadi in the Finals of the WABA League earlier this year. The 23rd FIBA Asia Champions Cup will be the second stage.
With a team that comprises many of the players who won the gold medal for Iran at the 4th FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo (Japan) less than a month ago, Mahram are surely the team to beat for Riyadi to retain their crown!
Well, a Mahram-Riyadi battle is already of a part of the WABA basketball folklore. This edition in Manara is just continuing that tradition.
S Mageshwaran / FIBA Asia
Photo: Milad Payami / FIBA Asia