Bawji aims to power Al Riyadi through expectations and defend the title
NONTHABURI (FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2018) — The saying is cliché and beaten to death, but still stands true: It’s never easy to win a championship and it’s even harder to defend a title.
Al-Riyadi had already succeeded at winning the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in 2017 when they had an edge coming in as the runner-up in the previous year. Coming in to the 2018 edition of the tournament, the Lebanese club needed to add even more firepower to their squad if they aimed to be the 4th team to defend a FIBA Asia Champions Cup title.
They got what they needed by acquiring Bassel Bawji for his first time ever playing for Al-Riyadi at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this tournament,” Bawji expressed. “It’s the first time I’ve played in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup and Al-Riyadi.”
“It’s a big responsibility and I’m excited. We’re here, I’m a part of the team, and we’re going to give our best and hopefully bring back the championship.”
The 28-year-old has been a key contributor for the Lebanon national team throughout the years, making his addition to the team a no-brainer. Throughout the FIBA World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers, Bawji has been one of the team’s best players with 10.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Adding a player of Bawji’s caliber puts on even more pressure for the defending champs to succeed, but they are ready to overcome all of the obstacles.
“Of course, we have high expectations,” Bawji admits. “but first of all, I have high expectations for myself at a certain standard. I know [Al-Riyadi], we always high standards. The fans are always hungry to win, they don’t except anything lower than our usual standards.”
“All of us understand that and we [have done] our work. The rest will take care of itself.”
Al-Riyadi’s start to the FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2018 has not been perfect, losing to Alvark Tokyo and needing an overtime session to beat Mono Vampire. However, they have showcased the heart of a champion with Bassel Bawji at the center of their success.
The 6’8” forward has recorded double-doubles in both his first two games to average 18.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and an efficiency rating of 24.5. Though he hasn’t been with the club for a long time, he’s gotten along well with his teammates.
“Most of the players, I’ve played with before on the national team,” Bawji explains “We’ve played with each other for years but of course, I understand my role here.”
"We have shortage at the 5, so I’m going to have to be the center position which is not my real position. But you know, whatever it takes I’ll have to give my team with the best of my ability.”