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Armenia surprise in World Cup European Pre-Qualifiers
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - If you've been on the beach for the past week and doing all things sand, seashells and swells, you might have missed the waves created in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Pre-Qualifiers by Armenia.
A team that won the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries last year is now showing it can compete at a much higher level. If they finish in the top two of a four-team Group A in the Pre-Qualifiers, Armenia will play in the World Cup European Qualifiers that tip off in November.
On Wednesday, led by Croatian coach Niksa Bavcevic, Armenia romped to a 75-61 triumph over the Slovak Republic and then on Saturday against Sweden, they pulled away in the fourth quarter for an 82-69 success. Both Armenia wins were on home soil in Yerevan, the capital.
The late Jerry Tarkanian is surely looking down from heaven and smiling. 'Tark the Shark', an American college basketball legend and former coach of the UNLV Running Rebels, was born in Ohio in 1930 to Armenian immigrants.
The Armenia juggernaut, one that no one saw coming, owes a lot to American influence. Eleven of the 19 players called up to the preliminary squad were born in the U.S.A.
The stars of the team so far have been a naturalized point guard, Ryan Boatright, and Americans of Armenian extraction.
Boatright is averaging 19.5 points and 4.5 assists in the two wins. Shabazz Napier may have gotten most of the headlines when the University of Connecticut won the NCAA title in 2014 but the 1.80m (5ft 11in) Boatright was every bit as important.
He's been terrific in both wins for Armenia, including in the second against the Swedes when pouring in a game-high 23 points. Andrew Chrabascz and Luke Fischer are big-time contributors, too.
Former Butler Bulldog Chrabascz is causing a stir in the Pre-Qualifiers
Chrabascz, whose hometown is Portsmouth, Rhode Island, played college basketball for the Butler Bulldogs in Indiana. He had 18 points against the Swedes, including the go-ahead basket early in the fourth quarter, and 8 rebounds.
The 23-year-old forward showed his class when the game was on the line. He scored to put his team in front for good at 61-60 with 8:23 remaining and then made two more shots over the next three minutes.
The 22-year-old Fischer, who hails from Germantown, Wisconsin, and played college basketball at Marquette, has the highest average efficiency per game for Armenia at 20.5. The 2.11m (6ft 11in) center, who will play for Spanish Liga Endesa said Gran Canaria in the 2017-18 campaign, had 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Swedes.
Armenia have a lot of weapons. In their opener against the Slovaks, Allyn Hess and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan had huge games. The 21-year-old Mkrtychyan, whose hometown is Portland, Oregon, and plays for the University of Idaho, caught fire when his team was trailing, 24-18, early in the second quarter.
He poured in 12 points in that spell, with 6 coming from three-balls. When he'd finished, Armenia had a 30-27 advantage. The hosts then outscored the Slovakians, 16-3, over the last five minutes of the second quarter to seize control for good.
Hess, who hails from Arizona and played last year for the South Dakota Jackrabbits, was 4 of 7 from the arc against the Slovakians and finished with 22 points.
There is also a key man from last year's team, Russian-born Artem Tavakalyan, who not only made the cut for this souped-up version of Armenia but is playing big minutes. A player at Delaware State in American college basketball, the 1.98m (6ft 6in) shooting guard had 12 points against the Swedes and is averaging 8ppg and 5rpg.
Wearing No. 24, Tavakalyan brought out the gun show in a photo that went viral after the win over the Swedes.
All of the outstanding performances add up to a 2-0 record and first place in Group A. That, rest assured, is not something that Bavcevic is concerned about at this stage.
"I don't think about myself and I have forbidden my boys to think about it, to think about the place in the group table," he said. "After each game and victory, we have to think about the next game. We should not think of anything else."
For those needing a geography lesson, Armenia, a former Soviet Republic that now has a population of just under 3million people, is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east and Iran to the south.
You know all about the prowess of Turkey, Georgia and Iran when it comes to basketball, so Armenia, fueled by their American connection, is poised to become the latest in the region to make waves in the sport. If Armenia keep up the excellent play and do finish in the top two of Group A, they'll create a tidal wave of sorts with the World Cup Qualifiers hopes of at least two other teams going under.
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