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Former 3x3 Dunk Contest winner Lahiani looking to make waves with Tunisia at China 2019
TUNIS (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers) - Firas Lahiani has experienced a World Cup before, but it's at FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China that he hopes to shine even brighter.
Back in 2014, Lahiani's Tunisia fell short in the Last-16 of the FIBA 3x3 World Championship in Moscow, although he became a talking point after winning the Dunk Contest.
"PLAYING FOR THE NATIONAL TEAM IS ABOUT PRIDE, IT’S ABOUT BRINGING ALL THE POSITIVES YOU HAVE AND HELP YOUR COUNTRY TO BE SUCCESSFUL."
His athleticism was and continues to be so impressive that it's not a surprise he goes by the nicknamed "Air Tunisia".
And for a team like Tunisia that usually lacks some athleticism, as opposed to their fellow Africans, the 27-year-old fits in the African champions rotation like a glove.
And, don't get mistaken by his average of six points in eight FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 African Qualifiers games because each time he attacks the rim, the 6ft7in (2, 01m) forward does so with such ferocity, doing justice to his top dunker credentials. And of course, fans love it.
"That's one aspect one of my game, but I can do more than just dunking. I can play defense, I can help the team in all aspects of the game" Lahiani said to FIBA.basketball.
"Of course playing 3x3 has helped me develop my movements on the court. I still like playing 3x3 because of its unique spectacularity. A player's individual skills can make a tremendous difference in 3x3 whereas, on 5x5 basketball, you have to follow a team game’s plan. But I have adjusted well," said the man who last played for Tunisian side Union Monastir.
With Tunisia returning to the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time since 2010, Lahiani, who has been fundamental for his national team coming off the bench throughout the African Qualifiers, feels China 2019 is the right place to reaffirm Tunisia's and his basketball potential.
"I will keep working to deserve coach Palma's confidence. And if I have a chance to go to the World Cup, I will try and do my very best to help my country make an impact in China. We all know that the World Cup is highly important for Tunisia as it reflects what basketball is made of in Tunisia."
Over the past few years, his eyeglasses became his trademark not only on the basketball court but everywhere he goes.
"Here in Tunisia, they call me the goggles player. It's funny the way people address me in the streets. I have been wearing eyeglasses since I was a little boy due to eye health issues. I can’t play without wearing them."
And speaking of his growing popularity in Tunisia, Lahiani looks at it as a result of his determination to take his country' basketball to a higher level and make their fans proud.
In one of his best showings with the Tunisian jersey, Lahiani two months ago destroyed Egypt's defense with a sequence of dunks, sendings locals fans into a fenzy.
"Playing for my national team is always great. You can ask me what it means to me, and how I feel about playing for Tunisia, but I wouldn’t be able to translate that feeling into words because it’s something really special.
It’s not the same thing as when you play for your club, for example. Playing for the national team is about pride, it’s about bringing all the positives you have and help your country to be successful."
Tunisia will resume their World Cup Qualifiers later this month in Angola.