New season, high hopes

THE battle lines have been drawn. The teams are ready with their weapons all polished and set to fire. While some sides went for major overhauls, others made only minimal changes to their combinations.

Established names and newcomers will rack their brains to identify and execute the most effective strategies.

Come Saturday, the Al Rayyan Indoor Hall will wake up to the squeaks of the sneakers and bounce of that brick-coloured ball as the first game of the 2012-13 Qatar League begins.

For those who entertain the romantic notion of the underdogs, the opening match should provide the perfect setting.

Al Shamal, the new kids on the block, will take on runners-up and Emir’s Cup holders Al Sadd. While the outcome of that match, in all probability, is a foregone conclusion, it is not as easy to predict the fortunes of teams in the competition.

Last season, Rayyan had to fight hard, until the penultimate round, to retain the League title. The general consensus among players and coaches is that things will get much tougher this year.

Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who was recently re-elected as president of the Qatar Basketball Federation (QBF) until ’16, made his intentions clear.

“We’re committed to make our League one of the best not only in the region, but in the entire world. We’re prepared to go to any lengths to achieve the dream. We’ll bring the best coaches and talent from around the globe to the Qatar League,” said Sheikh Saoud, who is also the Secretary General of the Qatar Olympic Committee.

Changes have already started showing.

Rayyan’s American professional Marcus Campbell, who briefly played for NBA side Charlotte Bobcats and extensively for NBA Development League’s Anaheim Arsenal, looks to have started an exciting trend.

Rayyan coach Brian Rowsom, himself a former NBA player with Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, agreed.

“The game in Qatar is passing through a fantastic phase. Teams are showing an urgency to sign strong players who can improve the League’s quality. I see more big names heading this way in the future.

“For us, Marcus is a big addition. His experiences in Iran, with Shiraz a.s Pipe, will stand him in good stead,” said Rowsom, after the team’s friendly against Al Arabi
last week.

It is not just the big players, who are making a beeline for the country. Rowsom is as big as it gets in terms of NBA experience in coaching, but Milan Minic, who joined El Jaish this season, has a reputation to match.

The Serb was an assistant coach with erstwhile Yugoslavia when they won the ’98 FIBA World Championship as well as ’95 and ’01 European gold medals. Jaish manager Mohammed Al Obaidly explained the reasoning behind the move.

“Since we’ve a set team in place, we didn’t make a single change this year. However, our previous season was disappointing and we wanted an experienced coach. Minic, who was closely associated with the Yugoslavian team, fitted the bill perfectly,” he said.

Irrespective of the quality of players and coaches, the end result comes to naught if there are no spectators to watch the games. This has indeed been a long-standing gripe about the Qatar League. But a recent tie-up between the QBF and Pinoy Basketball of Qatar (PIBAQ) is expected to address this issue to an extent.

“From this year, one of PIBAQ’s professional division matches will be played in between the Qatar League games on Fridays. This is a good step towards attracting more crowd. We would’ve loved to extend the arrangement to more game days, but the PIBAQ League is played only on Fridays,” said QBF Technical Director Moustafa Diab.

The presence of African players is a common sight in various teams in Qatar. But if the QBF has its way, they will soon be a memory of the past.

An official explained.

“In my opinion, Qatari clubs have been dependant on Africans for too long. But it hasn’t helped the competition grow much. Currently, we allow two Africans and a professional in each team. From next season onwards, only two professionals will be allowed. It’ll improve the game’s standards and also give youngsters more chances to feature in the First Division,” the official, who wished not to be identified, said.

But for the plan to succeed, there needs to be a continuous supply of young talent. It is in this context that the QBF’s regular competitions for players in seven age categories —  micro (8 to 10), mini (10 to 12), Passerelle (12 to 14), boys (14 to 16), juniors (16 to 18), youth (18 to 21) and men (above 21) assume greater significance.

“Talent identification and youth development are two key areas we’ve been working on lately. Each club in Qatar now has at least seven dedicated coaches. They’re well taken care of by the QBF and they’ve been provided with perfect working conditions. A few promising players have already been identified and we’ll help them progress the correct way,” said Diab.

With several ageing players in its ranks, the national team is in dire need of an overhaul. But for that to happen, more players need to come up through the ranks in the League. If at all anyone is looking to make an impression and announce his arrival, now is the time.

 

TEAM-BY-TEAM ANALYSIS


With the 2012-13 season of the Qatar League all set to begin at the Al Rayyan Indoor Hall on Saturday, anticipation is at an all-time high. While some sides retained their entire roster of players and coach, others went in for major overhauls. Doha Stadium Plus takes a look at the teams and their chances in the new season.


AL RAYYAN

Al Rayyan, who lifted the Qatar League shield for a record 15th time last year, will once again be the team to beat. Although four players have left the side, its core remains the same.

Qatar internationals Erfaan Ali Saaeed, Malik Salim Abdullah and Yasseen Moussa are as dependable as ever. Njimbo Tangui, acknowledged as one of the best players in Asia, will add strength to the line-up. Other teams will have to strive hard to beat the country’s most successful and decorated club.

Coach: Brian Rowsom (USA)

Brian Rowsom, a wily tactician, is one of the most experienced coaches in the Qatar League. The 209cm tall former NBA player with the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets started his coaching career in Qatar with Al Ahli, but made the switch to Rayyan last season. Going by bench strength, he will be the happiest coach in the country.

Player to watch: Boney Watson (USA)

Rayyan initially signed 30-year old American centre Marcus Campbell, but  replaced him soon with pointguard Boney Watson. The wily tactician, who has had great seasons with the champion club before, is considered one of the best in the country. A recent addition to the Qatar national team, he helped it win the Gulf Championship title. A natural leader, he is a player to watch out for.

HONOURS

QATAR LEAGUE: 1996, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12

HEIR APPARENT’S CUP: 2002, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’08, ’09. Runners-up in 2000 and ’03.

EMIR’S CUP: 2000, ’01, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’08, ’09. Runners-up in ’02, ’04, ’10, ’11 and ’12.

FIBA ASIA CHAMPIONS CUP: 2002, ’05. Runners-up in ’03, ’08, ’10. Third in ’04, ’06 and ’07.

GCC CLUBS CHAMPIONSHIP: 2004, ’07, ’10. Runners-up in ’06. Third in ’05.

AL SADD

Al Sadd were one of the most improved sides last season. They finished as runners-up behind Al Rayyan in the League besides winning the Emir’s Cup title. Had their players not lost focus at crucial junctures, their performances could have been even better.

The club went in for major changes — recruiting six players and the coach this season. Cameroonian Johan Maliona and Dominican Republic’s Chris de La Rosa are expected to give them a big lift.

Coach: Dejan Tomic (SER)

Sadd recruited Serb Dejan Tomic in place of compatriot Zoran Kreckovic. Tomic is no stranger to the game in the region as he coached the Saudi national team from 2003 to ’07. He also coached the Kuwait Club from ’07 to ’12. With some skilled players at his disposal, he should make an impression. Under him, Sadd should give Rayyan a tough fight.

Player to watch: Michael Benjamin Southall (USA)

The American, first recruited by Krekovic for the season-ending Cup competitions last year, made an immediate impact. He was a major reason for the club’s Emir’s Cup triumph. Sadd acknowledged his good work and made him a permanent addition to the side and he will once again be the vital cog in their attack. But thanks to Maliona and De La Rosa, some of the burden will be relieved off his shoulders.

HONOURS

HEIR APPARENT’S CUP: Runners-up in 2001, ’05, ’07 and ’11

EMIR’S CUP: 2004, ’12. Runners-up in ’07.

GCC CLUBS CHAMPIONSHIP: Fourth in ’05

AL ARABI

Al Arabi, Qatar League champions on seven occasions, had been free-falling in recent times. But they arrested the decline in fine fashion last season. After finishing a creditable third in the League, they added the Heir Apparent’s Cup to their kitty, their first major triumph in five years.

Reposing faith in them, the management retained the entire team and coaching staff for the new season. Qatar international Mansour El Hadari is the key in a team devoid of superstars. But their fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude won them many a game last season. The same spirit makes them capable of upsets this year as well.

Coach: Hatem Mamlouk (TUN)

The Tunisian has been with the side since ’09 and the long association with players helped him make some sound tactical judgements last season. An astute reader of the game, he made good use of the players at his disposal. He was a former coach with the Tunisian youth national team. It should help him extract the best out of a relatively young Al Arabi side.

Player to watch: William Byrd (USA)

The 27-year-old was one of the key architects behind the team’s successes last season. He added much-needed teeth to their attack. Byrd played with Lebanon’s Kahraba Zouk before moving to Arabi. The Heir Apparent’s Cup win last season was his first career-title. That sentimental fact may have prompted Byrd to stay back for another season.

HONOURS

QATAR LEAGUE: 1982, ’83, ’84, ’85, ’86, ’92, ‘94

HEIR APPARENT’S CUPL: 2007, ’12

EMIR’S CUP: Runners-up in 2000, ’05 and ’06

FIBA ASIA CHAMPIONS CUP: Fourth

GCC CLUBS CHAMPIONSHIP: 2008

 

AL GHARAFA

Al Gharafa stunned the pundits in Qatar when they took the Heir Apparent’s and Emir’s Cup titles during the 2010-11 season. The presence of Iraqi coach Kosay Hatem and pointguard Boney Watson were the key factors in their dream run.

However last season, despite their presence, Gharafa managed only a disappointing fourth. With Boney choosing not to renew his contract this season, they will have a tough path ahead.

American William Belton and Nigerian Emmanuel Adako, two new recruits, will add sting to their attacks. Three Qatari junior players — Badr Bustaiman, Abdulrahman Saad and Khaled Adam — will also make their debut for the side.

Coach: Kosai Hatem (IRQ)

Kosay is one of the more successful coaches the country has seen in recent times. In addition to helping Gharafa to major domestic titles, his cameo as national coach brought home the ’11 GCC and Arab Games gold.

Hatem is also famous for guiding Lebanon to upset wins over France and Venezuela at the ’07 FIBA World Championship. With a more potent mix of players at his disposal, the soft-spoken coach’s style could be the tonic needed for a Gharafa resurgence.

Player to watch: Omar Abdulkhader (QAT)

The towering presence of 206cm tall Abdulkhader will give Gharafa a huge fillip. Just as with the national team, the soft-spoken centre player is also his club side’s backbone. The 29-year-old, who started his career as a youth player with the national team, has progressed steadily through the ranks. No doubt, he will have to shoulder a heavy responsibility.

HONOURS

HEIR APPARENT’S CUP: 2011. Runners-up in ’06 and ’10.

EMIR’S CUP: 2010, ’11

 

 

EL JAISH

The surprise Qatar League winners of the 2007-08 season had mixed fortunes last year. They finished fifth in the domestic league and fell to Al Arabi in the final of the Emir’s Cup.

Their decision to part ways with Serbian coach Dragoslav Milovanovic in the second phase of the league backfired. His replacement, American Erik Rashad, could do little to rally the players.

The side went for yet another change at the helm this season, but have retained all players. Their pre-season preparations have been solid. They are the only Qatari side to have attended an outstation training camp, in Istanbul, Turkey, where they also played preparatory games. It should help them in the long run.

Coach: Milan Minic (SER)

The Serb signed for El Jaish last month. Earlier, he was an assistant at Greek clubs Olympiacos, Panionios and PAOK. He also trained Koln (Germany), PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban (Russia) and Vojvodina (Serbia). However, his biggest career achievements came during his years as an assistant coach under Dusan Ivkovic, when erstwhile Yugoslavia won the 1995 and ’01 European titles as well as the ’98 World Championship gold medals.

Player to watch: Fadi Hani Adilmane (QAT)

The former Lebanese player is El Jaish’s engine. The diminutive pointguard’s fearless runs down the right flank more than makes up for his short stature. He is a born leader. Fadi played a lead role in his team’s League title win in 2007-08. The former footballer, who made a late switch to basketball, is a darling of the galleries. He is expected to help his team find winning ways again.

HONOURS

QATAR LEAGUE: 2008

HEIR APPARENT’S CUP: 2010. Runners-up in ’12.

 

AL AHLI

Al Ahli started last season poorly, but sprung a few surprises in the second phase of the Qatar League to end up in sixth position. Just as in the last season, the trio of Hashem Zaidan, Omer Ahmed Omer and Mohammed Saeed Al Hasani will be expected to shoulder the bulk of the team’s responsibilities. Guinean player Youla Muhammed Beka is expected to give them good support.

Ahli fared badly in the Heir Apparent’s Cup and Emir’s Cup. One of their main aims for the new season would be to rise above the status of whipping boys. The team is sure to once again look up to veteran Qatari international Zaidan for inspiration.

Coach: Radenko Orlovic (SER)

The Serb took charge of the team this season. Prior to moving to Qatar, he was in charge of newly-promoted Lebanese side Haouch El Oumara (2010-’11). Although he helped them to a few strong wins in the top division, the team was disbanded in November, ’11, following financial hardships. Earlier, in ’06-’07, he was in charge of Iranian powerhouses Mahram Tehran and led them to a third-place finish in their Superleague.

Player to watch: Ryan Brock (USA)

Brock, who hails from New Orleans, Los Angeles, is regarded as a very talented player. He entered high school at Brother Martin in New Orleans and played a variety of sports. But during his sophomore year, when asked to choose a specialisation, he settled on basketball. A largely untested player, Ahli could be the perfect launch pad for the 25-year-old.

HONOURS

QATAR LEAGUE: 2001

HEIR APPARENT’S CUP: 2000, ‘01

 

AL WAKRAH

Al Wakrah won just two games last season, against Qatar SC, over two phases, to finish seventh among eight teams in the Qatar League. But they have strengthened the side this season by recruiting Al Sadd’s Abdulrahman Osama and Al Rayyan’s Abdullah Shaher Matalkeh.

In addition, they have also signed 25-year-old Nigerian Kayode Ayeni, who will give the side a big boost. The addition of the sharp shooter is expected to turn around the team’s fortunes this season.

Coach: Ihab Jalal (JOR)

The Jordanian is the longest-serving coach in the Qatar League. He has been coaching the club’s senior team since 2003. Before that, he was in charge of their youth team for two seasons. The club’s best-ever show at home was a second-place finish in the ’02 Emir’s Cup. Although a similar run is highly unlikely now, Jalal, who has formed a great bond with his players, is expected to lead them to a better finish in the league.

Player to watch: Jayson Omokaro Obazuaye (USA)

The powerfully-built 28-year-old is expected to lead the side to glory. The American, nicknamed ‘J O’ and who likes to watch movies and play video games during his spare time, has a Herculean task on hand. He was an influential player for the Colorado Buffaloes during his high school years. Although not as famous as some of his compatriots in the League, J O will provide a beacon of hope for Wakrah.

HONOURS

EMIR’S CUP: Runners-up in 2001

 

 

QATAR SPORTS CLUB

Qatar Sports Club, who failed to win a single game last season, ended up at the rock bottom of standings. Looking to improve their dismal record, the management has wisely recruited some new players.

Cameroonian Gaston Moliva, who was with them two seasons ago, before moving to Japan, has returned. Three Qatari junior players — Abdullah Al Malki, Ahmad Mahmoud and Waleed Al Ghanim — will also make their debut for the senior side.

But the lack of a proper training facility is sure to hurt them in the long run.

Coach: John Wojtak (AUT)

Austrian Wojtak, who coached Al Sadd two years ago, will be the man in charge. The club recruited the veteran coach late last season and decided to stick with him this year. Although he had been out of the coaching scene for the last two years due to personal problems, he is as sharp as ever. The coach, with an intimate knowledge of the game in Qatar, is a very valuable addition.

Player to watch: Chauncey Leslie (USA)

Leslie, one of the two American professionals for Al Rayyan during last season’s Cup competitions, signed for Qatar SC this year. His big physical presence on court, coupled with his ability to play on wing positions, makes him a dangerous proposition. Possessing quickness and sharp-shooting abilities, his defensive skills are also outstanding. The previous experience of playing in Qatar will stand him in good stead.

 

HONOURS

QATAR LEAGUE: 1987, ’88, ’89, 90, 91, 93 and ‘95

HEIR APPARENT’S CUP: 2003. Runners-up in ’02, ’04, ’08 and 09.

EMIR’S CUP: 2002, ’07. Runners-up in ’03, ’08 and ’09.

 

AL SHAMAL

Al Shamal, a brand new addition to the Qatar League, is an unknown quantity. Most of their players came from other teams in the League. Nobody expects any miracles from them, and in all probability, they seem destined to inherit the title of ‘punching bags’ from Qatar SC.

But their presence in the League is likely to encourage other Qatari clubs to follow them into the competition. At the moment, they do not have a proper training facility and they do so at different schools. But a strong showing in the Qatar League could very easily change their fortunes. If for nothing else, Shamal can be proud of having representation in all team games in the country.

Coach: Zoran Prelevic (SER)

Serbian Zoran Prelevic, who previously coached the Oman national team, is in charge of Al Shamal. But the veteran trainer, who led Al Arabi from 1996 to ’98, will have his task cut out. The FIBA instructor has travelled the region extensively over the last decade, and will be quite confident about the new mission. This will likely be the toughest assignment yet for the erstwhile Yugoslavia international.

Player to watch: Tyvon Williams (USA)

The 25-year-old New Yorker has been hailed as one of the fastest point guards in the country. An explosive player, he shoots accurate three-pointers and will be a constant threat to any defence. Williams is an intelligent player who can often finish very strongly. The team will heavily depend on him. If he can withstand the pressure of expectations, Qatar could be a stepping stone for him to bigger things in the future.

Debutants in the Qatar League.