CHINA Preparation period: The Chinese started training way back in late March. They are, in fact, the team that started the earliest despite the fact they will be playing at home and parading one of the deepest rosters in the tournament. Throughout the past six months, coach Gong Luming has spared no expense in providing tough competition to his wards. They had various series of tune-up games against an American selection, the Lithuanian U24 team, some European clubs, and the national teams ofVenezuela, Russia, Ireland and Serbia. They’ve lost more tune-up games than they’ve won, but that’s primarily because they’ve rarely paraded their full-strength line-up.
Star player:Yi Jianlian will be turning 28 later this year, which means he should be hitting his prime at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. He didn’t do particularly well in 2013, when he was slowed down by injury, so he should be raring to prove that he is still among the best big men in the continent. Aside from his talents, though, his leadership and experience will be crucial in pushing China back to the top of the Asian hoops mountain.
Strengths and weaknesses: Aside from Yi Jianlian (2.13m), China will be parading three more players who can only be described as giants. The “shortest” is 21-year-oldWang Zhelin (2.14m), who, like Yi, also played in Manila two years ago. Joining them to make up the new generation of the “Walking Great Wall” are 23-year-old Li Muhao (2.18m) and 19-year-old Zhou Qi (2.17m). Depth will also be a strength for the Chinese, who have very talented players at every position. Returning to senior national team duty are veterans Liu Wei, Guo Ailun, and Zhou Peng, while newcomers like Zhao Jiwei, Zhao Tailong and Li Gen will all be raring to impress. Most of coach Gong’s wards will, in fact, play in the FIBA Asia Championship for the first time, and that may be the only flaw of this team. Their relative inexperience may put a dent in their efficiency and consistency against the highest level of basketball in Asia.
JORDAN Preparation period:Earlier this year, Jordan had a lot of trouble trying to gather funds to organise tune-up games and training camps outside of the country, but they seem to have finally found some momentum of late. They recently played in a 4-nation pocket tournament in China, where they won their first three games against China’s Team B, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates before faltering in the championship game against the hosts. Now they are currently in Manila for a few more tune-up games against PBA clubs. As of time of writing, they’ve won two of their four tune-up games, including a fight-marred affair against the Barako Bull Energy. Iconic playmaker Sam Daghlas rejoined the team in the Philippine capital, but iconic player Zaid Abbas wasn’t able to fly in because of visa issues. He is expected to join his countrymen when they fly to Changsha-Hunan in the next few days.
Star player: Speaking of Abbas, the onus will be on him to really carry this team. Yes, the return of Daghlas and the addition of new naturalised player Alex Legion will both be major factors, but it is Abbas who can potentially make or break this team. This is especially true because of the absence of promising young center Ahmad Al-Dwairi, who stayed in Turkey with his club team. The 2.01m Abbas has averaged double-doubles for various teams in the last five CBA seasons, and if he can bring that level of productivity to Changsha-Hunan, then Al Nashama should definitely be a force to reckon with.
Strengths and weaknesses: Despite not having Al-Dwairi’s hulking presence in the middle, Jordan should still parade a team with good size. Abbas will share frontline duties with veterans Mohammed Shaher Hussein (2.06m), Ali Jamal Zaghab (2.05m) and Ahmad Obeid (1.99m), while Legion (2.02m) and Daghlas (1.98m) have great size at their wing positions. Of course, coach Rajko Toroman has also assembled a deep and experienced squad, as proven by the fact that all but three guys have already played in at least one of the previous FIBA Asia Championships. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for this team will be the fact that they crammed preparations for the tournament. That may affect team chemistry and fitness down the line.
SINGAPORE Preparation period: Because of personnel constraints, coach Neo Beng Siang has been forced to hold mostly light practices, drills and conditioning along with hardly any scrimmages at home. I’m sure he would’ve wanted to assemble his team much earlier and engage quality competition from other countries, but the fact that many of his players had to split time between basketball and their jobs/school has really hampered coach Neo’s efforts. They did, however, play reasonably well in the 2015 SEABA Championship and 2015 SEA Games, so those experiences should form the foundation of the Singaporeans’ performance in Changsha, Hunan.
Star player: Twenty-seven-year-old Wong Wei Long has been Singapore’s main gun for the past few years, and he should reprise that role anew in this tournament. He played below par in the 2015 SEA Games, which resulted in his team failing to make the championship game as many had hoped. Wong’s combination of quickness and sharp-shooting should keep opposing guards busy, but it is highly uncertain if even a superhuman performance from him can propel Singapore to even a single win in the group.
Strengths and weaknesses: Only 20-year-old Delvin Goh (2.02m) can really be considered a big guy on this team. The next tallest player is Hanbin Ng, who stands 1.94m tall. That points to size being a major weakness for this team, especially considering how the other Group C teams are pretty big. Coach Neo’s wards will hope to counter that with speed and shooting, but, to be quite honest, even on a good shooting day, Singapore’s beating any team in this group is a significant long shot.
KOREA Preparation period: Korea’s training camp formally started on 20 July, which was quite late mainly because the national federation had to scramble to find a suitable head coach after incumbent coach Yoo Jae-Hak stepped down. The national pool initially got additional size with the comebacking Ha Seung-Jin (2.19m), but he was cut last week due to a hip injury. Korea had a series of tune-up games with East Asian rivalChinese Taipei and they split their games 1-1. Shortly thereafter, Korea joined the 2015 William Jones Cup, where a slow start hampered their campaign en route to finishing in the lower half of the field. After that tournament, coach Kim Dong-Kwang had to tweak his roster, what with the injury to Yoon Ho-Young sidelining him permanently and star guard Kim Sun-Hyung embroiled in a much-publicised gambling issue. With Ha, Yoon, and Kim officially out, the Korean team named collegiate stars Kang Sang-Jae, Choi Jun-Yong, and Moon Seong-Gon as replacements.
Star player:Moon Tae-Young (a.k.a. Gregory Stevenson) will be playing in his first FIBA Asia Championship, but that won’t stop fans from heaving high expectations on the naturalised forward. Moon takes over after older brother Moon Tae-Jong announced his retirement from international basketball. This younger Moon recently proved that he is a worthy successor, leading the Korean team in scoring in many of their tune-up contests. As long as he remains healthy and consistent, Moon, who was named 2015 All-Star Game MVP of the KBL, can be a potentially dominant presence for this squad.
Strengths and weaknesses: As always, speed, shooting, and team defense are expected to come to the fore for Team Korea. A slew of backcourt veterans led by Yang Dong-Geun should produce stable playmaking and perimeter play, while the presence of twin towers Kim Jong-Kyu (2.07m) and Lee Jong-Hyun (2.06m) should give opponents second thoughts about attacking the basket. Yes, Korea is expected to be among the serious contenders for a podium finish in this joust, but the personnel issues and domestic distractions that thrown a wrench in their preparations may yet haunt them.