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My Asian Qualifiers Awards
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on My Mind) – The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers were incredibly captivating, and it's in no small part because of the myriad brilliant individual performances.
Here, I'll name the players who left a tremendously impressive mark not just on me but also on their respective teams, opponents and fans.
Here are my personal picks for the very best of the Asian Qualifiers.
Most Valuable Player - Ra GunA (Korea)
Where would Korea be without the dominant inside presence of Ra? Would they still win as many games as they did? Would they have been able to qualify to the World Cup? All those would be up in the air, and that is a testament to Ra's deep value to the national team. We're talking about a guy who averaged around 27 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while shooting 60% from the field. He had 8 double-doubles in just 10 games, which was just amazing.
Rising Star Award - Rui Hachimura (Japan)
Speaking of amazing, how about the impact of Rui Hachimura not just on the national team but on Japanese basketball in general? At just 21 years old, Hachimura has become not just a superstar in Japan but an icon. He carries on his shoulders the hopes of an entire nation, and he showed amazing potential in four Asian Qualifiers games, putting up 22 points, 6 boards and 2 steals while making close to 58% of his shots. There is little doubt he will be the future face of Asian hoops.
Oldie But Goodie - Zaid Abbas (Jordan)
🏀 Veteran Zaid Abbas drops 💁♂️ 1⃣4⃣ points as #Jordan 🇯🇴 leads at half time 48 - 30 against #FIBAWC host China 🇨🇳 @jbf_jo #ThisIsMyHouse— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) February 22, 2019
👉 https://t.co/6BBBf67dk5 pic.twitter.com/IDsW5Wpqxa
You have got to love how a 35-year-old is still able to compete with athletes who are 8-12 years younger and still record big numbers. Abbas is one of a select few Jordan players who were around when the Falcons saw action in the FIBA World Cup 2010, and it's remarkable how he remains a vital cog of the national team nearly a decade later. Abbas should be part of Jordan's squad in China later this year, and it'll be interesting to see how he'll help his team make noise at the World Cup.
Asian Qualifiers First Team
Nick Fazekas (Japan) - Japan were the hottest Asian team by the end of the World Cup Qualifiers, and Fazekas was a big reason why. The 6ft 11in (2.10m) center was the double-double machine that the Akatsuki Five have missed for a very long time, giving the team a solid inside operator who could dominate the game.
Ra GunA (Korea) - We cannot overstate how good Ra was for Korea. Not since the days of Seo JangHoon have the Koreans had a low post presence who could carry the national team on his broad shoulders all by his lonesome, but that's exactly Ra has done.
Rui Hachimura (Japan) - To say that Hachimura has rejuvenated Japanese basketball is an understatement. In some ways, Hachimura is Japanese basketball right now, and much of it is due to how he sparked the country's phenomenal Cinderella run in the Asian Qualifiers.
Mitch Creek (Australia) - Many rejoiced when Creek debuted for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA. Ever since bursting onto the FIBA Asia scene at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017, Creek really has been among the cream of the elite in Asian hoops. He showed that again in the Asian Qualifiers, where he he was a picture of efficiency for the Boomers with around 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per contest.
Dar Tucker (Jordan) - Tucker appeared in all but one Asian Qualifiers contest for Jordan, and in nearly every appearance, he was a formidable presence. He was one of the best rebounding guards in the entire competition, and was a great scorer for the Falcons, dropping 20 or more points in 7 games.
Asian Qualifiers Second Team
Yi Jianlian (China) - 31-year-old Yi may no longer have the same spring in his step, but he is still a commanding presence for the Chinese. His size, instincts and skill-set continue to make him a near-unstoppable frontliner for the East Asian powerhouse. He played just 4 games, but he made a big impact in each one, averaging close to 20 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 block per outing.
Andray Blatche (Philippines) - This former NBA journeyman may no longer put up 20+ points on a regular basis for the Philippines, but we have to credit him for still being able to stamp his class in different ways. He remains an elite rebounder and rim protector while also showing an improved touch from long range. At 32 years old and still norming 16 points, 12 boards, 2 steals, 2 blocks and nearly 2 triples per game, Blatche continues to be an important piece of the puzzle for Team Pilipinas.
Ater Majok (Lebanon) - The Lebanese may have fallen short of qualifying to the World Cup, but it's not for Majok's performance. The 6ft 11in (2.10m) big man was actually one of the Cedars's best performers in the Asian Qualifiers, averaging 10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 rejections per game while also shooting 67% of his field goals.
Makoto Hiejima (Japan) - Much has been said of Japan's success because of Nick Fazekas and Rui Hachimura, but one guy who has also really stepped up in a huge way for them has been the soft-spoken Hiejima, who recorded around 14 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 steal per game while sinking 61% of his field goals, including more than 55% from beyond the arc.
Wael Arakji (Lebanon) - Perhaps had Arakji not suffered an ACL tear midway through the Asian Qualifiers, Lebanon would have been in a stronger position to qualify to the World Cup. The 24-year-old, after all, was nothing short of spectacular for the Cedars. In 6 games, he averaged around 16 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals while also making more than 42% of his threes.
Asian Qualifiers Young Guns Team
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Isaac Fotu (New Zealand) - Fotu didn't see action in the last two windows, but when he was around for the Tall Blacks, he could hardly be kept down. The 25-year-old was rock-solid with 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game while also shooting 53.2% from the floor.
Abudushalamu Abudurexiti (China) - Everyone in China knows about Yi, Guo Ailun and Zhou Qi, but the next potential household name for hoops could be this kid. Abudurexiti is just 22 years old, but he has already been ultra-impressive. He throws his weight around like nobody's business and was just a standout player for China in the Asian Qualifiers with 11 points and 7 rebounds per game while also making 55% of his field goals.
Rui Hachimura (Japan) - This is the third time that Hachimura's name has appeared in this piece, which, again, just proves how important he is not just to Japanese basketball but to Asian hoops as a whole. He will be to Asian basketball what Giannis Antekounmpo has become for European hoops.
Behnam Yakhchali (Iran) - With Samad Nikkhah Bahrami not playing in the last two windows, much of Iran's scoring burden fell on the lap of young buck Yackchali, who didn't shy away from the challenge. Despite being just 23 years old, the versatile 6ft 3in (1.91m) Iranian guard was terrific, putting up averages of around 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 triples per game.
Wael Arakji (Lebanon) - Arakji rounds out the Asian Qualifiers' Young Guns quintet, which is evidence of his growing importance for Lebanese basketball. Whereas Hachimura is the poster boy of the Akatsuki Five, Arakji is undoubtedly the poster boy of the Cedars.
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