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Fadi EL KHATIB (Lebanon)
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Teams take aim at WABA success

AMMAN (2015 FIBA Asia Championship) - Three berths to the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship are there for the taking at the WABA Championship, which tips off on Friday in Amman, Jordan.

Hosts Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Palestine are competing at this weekend's event, with the first two of the countries prohibitive favorites to claim qualifying places for Changsha-Hunan, the sight of the Asia Championship (23 September to 3 October).

The main aim in  WABA is to qualify for the Asian Championship, the second is to win the title -El Khatib

That is true even with a small amount of preparation time, at least for the Lebanese, according to their captain Fadi El Khatib, a player that has competed in the major tournaments since the 2002 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"Preparations were very short because the league ended late and there are a large number of players hurt," El Khatib said in the local media.

"...the team should be strong and able to win the title."

Expectations are very high for Lebanon's national team, which is now led by Veselin Matic.

As the former coach of Iran, Matic knows the lay of the land.

He steered the Iranians to the 2009 FIBA Asia Championship and after coaching them at the 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Istanbul, Matic coached Iran again at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship.

Khatib is sure to be an important factor for the Cedars.

He was a huge presence in the Lebanese domestic league playoffs for champions Al Riyadi.

In the Game 5 that Al Riyadi won against Byblos to clinch the title, he poured in 36 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

A star in Byblos team, Jay Youngblood, is the naturalized player in the Lebanon squad for the WABA tournament.

Elias Rustom, a 28-year-old shooting guard who played in the Lebanese squad with El Khatib that beat Canada on the opening day of the 2010 FIBA Basketball World Cup, is just happy to be putting on the national team shirt again.

"I missed playing with the Lebanese team, especially after the international suspension," he said.

Lebanon were supposed to host the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship but the federation was suspended by FIBA and the team was not allowed to compete at the event after it was moved to the Philippines.

"I hope to represent Lebanon in the best possible way in West Asia and I am very optimistic about the ability of the team to win the title there," Rustom said.

"Then we will have enough time in the summer to prepare for the Asian Championships."

If expectations are high for Lebanon and their national team coach Veselin Matic, Jordan's solid performances on their tour of Serbia have bolstered hopes that the WABA Championship hosts will have a good tournament.

A crucial factor this summer will be the performance of Alex Legion.

Rajko Toroman, the Jordan coach, likes what he has seen in the naturalized player from the United States so far.

"He's a very talented player and suits us perfectly," he said to FIBA.com.

Iran, by virtue of their FIBA Asia Cup triumph last year, qualified for the FIBA Asia Championship and have decided not to send a team to the WABA Championship.

Iraq, Syria and Palestine do not have a track record of success and the social and political problems in the region have not helped these countries in their aim of developing basketball, nor in their preparations.

Of the three, Syria were the last to compete at a FIBA Asia Championship, doing so in 2011.

That side finished ninth out of 16 teams.

Iraq have not had a team at a FIBA Asia Championship since 1987, when they came in ninth in the 15-team tournament held in Thailand.

Palestine have never played at a FIBA Asia Championship.