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Arakji versus Yakhchali is a rivalry to watch
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on my Mind) - Lebanon and Iran were embroiled in a hotly contested game yesterday, and no pair embodied that more than opposing guards Wael Arakji and Behnam Yakhchali. In one sequence in the second half, things got testy between the two players who have been bitter rivals since their days in the FIBA Asia U18 Championship five years ago.
In that tournament, Arakji's Lebanon and Yakhchali's Iran met in a knockout match in the Quarter-Finals, with Iran winning easily, 84-47. Arakji was thoroughly outplayed in that outing, scoring a paltry 3 points on 1-of-6 field goal shooting, while Behnam Yakhchali waxed hot with 17 points, hitting 7 of his 12 field goals.
As lopsided as that match up was, though, Arakji and Yakhchali had comparable averages for the tournament. Arakji had 20.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game, while Yakhchali recorded 17.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.2 steals per contest while also hitting 43.5% of this three-point shots.
Lebanon and Iran did not meet in the FIBA Asia Championship 2015, but both Arakji and Yakhchali played significant roles for their respective sides.
Arakji was practically Lebanon's lead point guard in that tournament, averaging 26 minutes per game and playing alongside Jasmon Youngblood and Amir Saoud. Arakji had some notable outings in that campaign, specifically his breakout game against Qatar in the classification round. In that encounter, the 1.94m player shot 8-of-11 from the floor to finish with 21 points, his personal tournament high. In nine total games, Arakji normed 9.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Not to be outdone, Yakhchali gave a glimpse of his potential, too. In just around 11 minutes per ballgame, Yakhchali was ale to contribute 4.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. This was mainly because of his role as back-up to either Samad Nikkhah Bahrami or Hamed Afagh - veterans who are no longer part of the national team. 2016, however, was when Yakhchali really broke out of his shell and stepped out of Bahrami's and Afagh's shadows. He actually led Iran in scoring in the FIBA OQT 2016, averaging 16.0 points and hitting 5 triples per game. He also impressed in the FIBA Asia Challenge 2016, putting up 12.2 points and 2.1 three-pointers per contest. Many are tagging him to be Iran's main man for the next few years, especially with legendary big man Hamed Haddadi also possibly hanging his sneakers sooner rather than later.
Right now, these two rivals from the same generation of talented Asian hoopster are nearly mirroring each other in terms of production. In 3 games, Arakji has recorded 13.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 triple per game. For his part, Yakhchali is producing 14.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.7 three-pointers per outing.
Both hare certainly no longer just budding stars, but they've become bona fide leaders of their respective squads.
What I love about their head-to-head is that they play differently from each other. Arakji has been called "Asian Dragic" thanks to his being a lefty and his daredevil drives to the basket. Yakhchali, on the other hand, is like a smaller version of Bahrami. He can score from inside and outside, can put the ball on the floor and can even find teammates in easy spots to score. At his sharpest, Yakhchali is a combo of all the best traits of Bahrami, Afagh and maybe even Mahdi Kamrani. Now that is saying a lot.
It will be quite a bit more time before Asia hoop nuts can debate on who is ultimately the better player, but one thing is for sure - it will be very fun, entertaining and intriguing to see Wael Arakji and Behnam Yakhchali continue to go at each other as their teams inevitably play each other often in the foreseeable future. We have a brewing, budding intense rivalry, folks, and that is just what I need right now - a semblance of the good old days of this game.
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