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New faces hoping to see action in second window of Asian Qualifiers
MANILA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - In a couple of weeks, a host of players will make their FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers debut when the second window tips off.
Many of these players are already household names for their respective national teams, but for one reason or another, they missed the first window. A few, however, are bona fide fresh faces who will see action at this level of continental basketball for the first time ever. Take note that though these players are in the official 24-man pools their respective countries submitted to FIBA Asia, they may yet miss the final cut.
Iran: Hamed Haddadi and Samad Nikkhah Bahrami
Haddadi missed the first window due to rest, while Bahrami hasn't played on Team Melli since the FIBA Asia Cup 2015. Iran's 1-win, 1-loss performance in November 2017 was far from ideal, however, and that probably prompted the return of the two Iranian hardcourt icons back to the fold. The Iranians are, of course, heavily favored to top their group, and the only way they'll secure that is if they sweep their remaining games, including the two fixtures they have this month.
Lebanon: Gerard Hadidian
Hadidian was one of Lebanon's brightest young stars in their youth ranks, but it seems he fell off the radar in the past few years. The last time the 6ft 7in (2.01m) big man played for the Cedars was in the FIBA U18 Asia Championship 2012, playing alongside current star Wael Arakji. If they revive their tandem at the senior level, we may be seeing a glimpse of the Cedars' bright future.
Syria: Justin Hawkins
The Syrians will parade a new naturalized player in the second window, and he will be 6ft 8in (2.03m) American-born swingman Justin Hawkins. The 32-year-old currently plies his trade for Al Ittihad in Saudi Arabia, but before that he saw action for Lebanese club Champville, where he put up strong numbers - 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Hawkins should add much needed depth to Syria's wings and frontline, given his skill-set and size.
Qatar: Yehia Abdelhaleem & Trey Johnson
Sweet-shooting young slotman Abdelhaleem was noticeably absent from Qatar's first window fixtures, but he should make Al Annabi a tough nut to crack in the second window with his size and sniping. Johnson, meanwhile, has always been a boon for Qatar. It seems like in every tournament he plays, the GCC champs just play a notch better than usual. He is already 33 years old, though, so it'll be interesting to see if he can still be as effective as he was a few years ago.
China: Guo Ailun & Hu Jinqiu
China came out unscathed in the first window despite not really having most of their top tier players. For the second window, they may potentially have Guo Ailun, Hu Jinqiu and maybe even Yi Jianlian, which will be bad news for their opponents New Zealand and Hong Kong. If, indeed, China will be carried by the dynamic duo of Guo and Hu, nobody should be surprised if Team Dragon continue to dominate in their group.
Korea: Ricardo Ratliffe & Doo KyungMin
Ratliffe is Korea's new naturalized player and Doo is their new marquee sharp-shooter. Korea were ecstatic when they prevailed over the Tall Blacks in the first window, but all their splendor shrank when they fell to China at home. This time, coach Hur Jae will not be holding back, and this new inside-outside combo should make the Koreans that much tougher to handle.
Japan: Yuta Tabuse & Hyu Watanabe
Coach Julio Lamas isn't just aiming for their first win in their group, he's aiming for payback against the Philippines, which defeated them on the Japanese's own home soil. With Tabuse's speed and smarts and Watanabe's size and length, Japan have the potential to be quite dominant against Chinese Taipei and should give the Filipinos a stronger challenge in Manila. Also, this may as well be one of the very last times we will see Tabuse in a Japan kit while, ironically, this will be the first of many jousts for Watanabe.
Chinese Taipei: Chen Ying-Chun & Tseng Wen-Ting
Chen finally makes it to Taipei's top level after leading their B Team these past few years. He should form a potent backcourt combo with Chou Yi-Hsiang, Liu Cheng and Chiang Yu-An. As for Tseng, the oldie but goody returns to the national team to try and beef up their frontline and give Quincy Davis a more experienced and more viable back-up in the middle. Will their entry translate into wins? That remains to be seen.
Philippines: Mac Belo
Belo was a scoring juggernaut for the Philippines in the FIBA Asia Challenge 2016, but injury prevented him from playing in 2017. The 6ft 3in (1.91m) forward has returned to the Gilas Pilipinas national pool this year, though, and that's a very good sign for coach Chot Reyes and his wards. Belo is a terrific two-way player who can make a significant impact for the Philippines, especially with "The Beast" Calvin Abueva not joining this time around.