It’s this time of the FIBA World Cup, where 16 of the 24 teams advance to the Round of 16 to play knockouts, while the other 8 teams return back to their respective countries, wondering where did they go wrong, why didn’t they advance, and what do they need to do to make it to the next level.
This has been the same story for the Lebanese national team over the past 8 years. In three participations in basketball’s version of the World Cup, Lebanon has always been knocked out early from the tournament, always finishing in the bottom two of its group. You can always understand their performance in the 2002 World Cup in Indianapolis, where they lost all three games to Puerto Rico, Brazil and Turkey. Back then, it was their first performance ever on the world stage and there was a lack of experience in addition to that the other three teams were better than them. In Japan 2006, the Lebanese team made a huge improvement, despite how bad its basketball league was getting, and beat Venezuela in its first game of the tourney, giving the Lebanese hope of climbing the ladder to the Round of 16 as it needed one more win, preferably Nigeria to take its place. It lost to Argentina and Serbia, and then played France, a national team that has 4 players in the NBA (and I’m not counting Tony Parker since he was absent for the game). Lebanon beat France by a point, easily being the upset of the tournament, and suddenly making our national team looking one of the best after that historical performance. Yet that win in a way was useless, since Lebanon still needed to beat Nigeria in order to qualify, and if it wins, it will not only advance, but take a surprisingly second position in the group. Yet the lack of energy showed in the Lebanese team as they played the Nigerians, where Lebanon was trailing throughout the game by 10 points and could have always came back into the game, yet didn’t have the focus to do so, and since they lost their games in bunches of points, their point differential didn’t help and got them out of the first round again. Despite all that, Team Lebanon gave an impression that its next time would be memorable one and will finally get us to play knockouts for once with the big guys.
Well, 2010 in Turkey came, and for the third straight time, yes, Lebanon got KO’d from the first round AGAIN.
Lebanon started off this edition of the World Cup in style by beating Canada. The game went well for the Lebanese team, who managed to turn a mid-3rd quarter deficit of 9 points into a 10 point win behind Fadi El Khatib’s magical performance, 31 points and 8 rebounds. After I watched that game, I personally thought Lebanon was going to defeat anyone it’d play, since El Khatib and Rony Fahed were shooting the lights out of the ball, they looked so unstoppable, although the rest of the team didn’t perform as well, something that should have been taken into consideration because in its next game vs. France, it was obvious how bad things were. When El Khatib and Fahed struggled, no one was there to pick up for them. OK, Jackson Vroman had 19 points, but who else was there to score the points? Everyone saw how ex-NBA player Matt Freije knocked down three 3 pointers in the first 5 minutes, but no one cared to see that Freije shot 36% vs. Canada and 33% vs. France. Eventually, Lebanon were unable to repeat the upset, and lost by 27 points. Lebanon got a bye day after that, and prepared for the big game vs. New Zealand, a game that all Lebanese fans expected to win and would be more than enough to get Lebanon through (Finally!) to the second round. Well, think again. New Zealand were firing on all cylinders, jumping to a 32-16 lead at the end of the first quarter and only to improve after that to win by as much as 32 points. Things only went downhill for Lebanon, including a loss to world champs Spain. Funny to mention, Lebanon were actually UP when Jackson Vroman blocked Marc Gasol’s shot, only to get a foul and a technical to give him 4 fouls after that in the second quarter, giving Lebanon another loss, this time by 34 points. Now I am not saying Lebanon was going to win, but seriously, when Marc Gasol scores 21 more points after Vroman is out in less than 10 minutes, you got to give Vroman credit. The last game vs. Lithuanua was a game for Lebanon to save face, and try not lose by 27+ points this time. Guess what, Lebanon were very close again, and another dubious call on, yes, Vroman that pulled him out of the game gave the Lithuanians a break. Yet the game didn’t end in a twenty something deficit, and the Lebanese at a point could have came back into the game, but were unable to score, and eventually broke down in the end and lost by 18 points, putting them out AGAIN early in the tournament.
Let me tell you a few things:
vs. Canada: 12 points on 4 for 11 shooting (4 for 7 on 3-pointers)
vs. France: 11 points on 4 for12 shooting (3 for 8 on 3-pointers)
vs. New Zealand: 4 points on 1 for 7 shooting (0 for 3 on 3-pointers)
vs. Spain: 0 points on 0 for 3 shooting (0 for 1 on 3-pointers)
vs. Lithuania: DNP (Surprise!)
Seriously, were you expecting him to play vs. Lithuania? The best shooting game he had was 36% and in that game he failed to make a basket inside the 3 point line? Are you kidding me? This is your “star” player?
2. Ever heard of an assist-turnover ratio? Well, when your assists are double or triple your turnovers, that means your team is in good shape. Take a look at this:
vs. Canada: 10 assists to 10 TOs
vs. France: 11 assists to 17 TOs
vs. New Zealand: 10 assists to 21 TOs
vs. Spain: 5 assists to 20 TOs
vs. Lithuania: 17 assists to 16 TOs
That is just STINKING bad, especially that Spain game. FIVE ASSISTS? No one told them about passing the ball? The Lithuania game was good, which explained why they were hanging in till almost the end.
3. Bench production:
vs. Canada: 7 points
vs. France: 9 points
vs. New Zealand: 24 points
vs. Spain: 11 points
vs. Lithuania: 24 points
Usually, the bench should have AT LEAST 30-35 points so you can say that you have an effective bench. Basically there was Jean Abdel Nour, Ali Mahmoud and Ali Fakhreddine who were efficient off the bench, but that was about it. I mean, Eric Gordon was scoring these numbers ALONE off the bench for the US every night.
Players to praise: Fadi El Khatib, Jackson Vroman (despite temper issues that screwed him in three of four losses), Rony Fahed, Jean Abdel Nour, Ali Fakhreddine
Players that disappointed: Matt Freije
The rest should have played more, especially Ghaleb Reda, where I’ll never understand him only playing in trash time where he can be much better.
Overall, Lebanon’s national team for basketball had a tough draw, playing three of the top teams in the world and two mediocre teams. Yet after seeing those Spain and France suffer in group play while Lithuania proved to be a top tier, one would think Lebanon actually had a chance to beat those teams and New Zealand and make it to the second round. Yet these issues should be looked into before making plans to make the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2014 FIBA World Championships.
Despite all that, we are proud of our Lebanese national team. Go Lebanon!