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Welcome Iran’s next generation of stars
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on my Mind) - In 2015, for only the second time in the past 10 years, Iran wasn’t able to hoist the FIBA Asia Championship. Even with stalwarts Hamed Haddadi, Samad Nikkhah Bahrami and Mahdi Kamrani — all of whom have earned their places in the annals of Asian basketball’s icons — Team Melli wasn’t able to repeat the feat they achieved in 2013. The West Asian powerhouse suffered a loss in the second round to the Philippines that eventually led to their Semifinals match-up with home team China. The Chinese proceeded to knock Iran off from contention and eventually upended the Philippines in a hotly-contested Final.
With that result, Iran failed to qualify directly to the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics, repeating their shortcoming in 2011, when they also fell short of winning the Asian diadem and, consequently, didn’t qualify to the 2012 London Olympics.
Iran still has a chance, though, what with the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT) taking place in July.
Without a doubt, the terrific trio of Haddadi, Bahrami and Kamrani should still be around to lead the charge for the Iranians, but, given their relatively advanced ages, this may as well be the last chance for those three to return to the Olympic stage (Iran last played in the Olympics in 2008).
This begs a very important question — who will inherit the leadership mantle once Haddadi, Bahrami and Kamrani have finally hung their sneakers?
All of those guys have an average age of just 23, but don’t let that fool you. They aren’t as green as you may think. All of them have actually served in Iran’s senior team, and, in fact, all were on the roster when Iran played in Changsha-Hunan last year.
It was the first time for the 2.05m/6ft 9in Hassanzadeh, who broke out in a big way, averaging 9.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. Given his size and skill-set, this bull-strong frontliner has the makings of the team’s next dominant big man. He will, of course, have to supplant incumbent starting power forward Oshin Sahakian and NBA hopeful Arsalan Kazemi for that to happen, but he has certainly earned his stripes under coach Dirk Bauermann.
As for the backcourt duo of Yakhchali and Mashayekhi, they have been together since their days on Iran’s youth teams, helping lead the squad to their first ever podium finish in the history of the FIBA Asia Under-18 Championship when the tournament was played in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in 2012. Since then, Yakhchali and Mashayekhi have both seen significant time with the senior team, playing in the 2014 FIBA Basketbal Word Cup, 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, 2014 Asian Games and 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. It only stands to reason that both will be main fixtures of the team this year and in the foreseeable future. Now if that isn’t an indication that they’re being groomed to be among Team Melli’s future leaders, I don’t know what is.
Lastly, there’s talented swingman Mohammad Jamshidi, who has been on Iran’s senior squad since the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup. The 1.99m/6ft 6in small forward has long been held as the heir apparent to Bahrami’s role as the team’s main perimeter scorer, and he has certainly shown flashes of brilliance these past few years. The native of Shahrekord City in Iran shone brightest in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China, where he averaged 13.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per contest as the Iranians swept the competition en route to the title. Of the four mentioned here, he is certainly the one with the most upside, and his role on the team should only grow as they continue to transition into a new era.
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