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FIBA’s New Competition System means Asian teams must upgrade, says Lebanon's Saba
BEIRUT - The basketball world is excited in anticipation of FIBA's New Competition System coming into effect in 2017.
One man looking forward to it is Lebanon's senior men's national team head coach Patrick Saba.
The 45-year-old, widely perceived as one of the best coaches the country has produced in recent years, sees the new calendar as the dawn of an exciting era for international basketball.
"The new competition system is different," Saba said. "We need to get accustomed to it, but the beauty of it lies in its high competitiveness and high level of excitement."
What will add to the excitement is Australia and New Zealand joining the Asian giants as direct competitors. Their participation will make it a lot tougher to get a place on the podium, but Saba welcomes the challenge.
"The 2017 competitions will see a very high level of competition with the participation of the two Oceania countries, especially if they choose to play at full strength," Saba explained. "I hope they enter the competition in full power because that way the rest of the Asian national teams will have to upgrade their level."
Sixteen national teams from Asia and Oceania will participate in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers, playing home and away games during six windows - in November of 2017, February, June, September and November of 2018 and February of 2019.
At the end of those windows, the top seven teams - in addition to the hosts China - will qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 as Asia's representatives.
"Playing regularly throughout the year, instead of waiting for a certain summertime event is very healthy for national team players because it raises their level of commitment and passion for their country," Saba enthused. "To create a healthy national team that is capable of winning games, the national league will have to adjust to the timetable to make sure the players are always available and fit."
Lebanese fans are always in their thousands when it comes to supporting their teams in the Lebanese Basketball League, and in even bigger numbers when it involves their national team. Saba knows how important it is to give those fans good games at home.
"Lebanon hasn't hosted a continental nor an international basketball event for some time now and you can feel how thirsty the fans are to surround and support their national team again," he said.
To make it to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers, Lebanon will first have to participate in the West Asia Basketball Association (WABA) 2017 Championship and grab one of the top five spots in the sub zone.
However, the WABA Championship, isn't a source of pleasant memories for Saba.
"Unfortunately our last West Asian participation wasn't a good one and we couldn't make it to the FIBA Asia Challenge," he recalled. "Hopefully, with early planning and the efforts of the many talented local players, Lebanon will have high chances of qualifying to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019."