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Julio Chitunda's African Message
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Who gets Egypt's coaching job?

SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda's African Message) - The most frequently asked question of the moment in Egypt basketball circles is 'who will get the country's national team head coach job?', after the agreement with Spaniard Josep 'Pepe' Claros was terminated last week.

Late last year, Claros had agreed to coach the North African nation at the upcoming AfroBasket 2015, which will take place in Tunisia from 19 to 30 August.

But he is currently coaching Canadian side Halifax Rainmen, and would only be available for the Egyptians from 25 April.

"That's too late to start working with the national team," the Egyptian Basketball Federation told me.

Judging by local media reports, Claros' appointment did not get consensus among members of the federation board.

Four locally-based coaches, including Sayed Mostafa (Al-Ahly), Tarek Selim (Gezira Club), and former Olympians Amr Aboul Kheir (Al Ittihad Alexandria) and Ahmed Marei (Sporting Alexandria) are now the front-runners to get the job.

According to the federation, the new coach "will be announced next week."

Whatever the reasons for Egypt moving on without Claros, the new tactician will have his work cut out in taking up the challenge of maintaining or improving on Egypt's second-place finish at AfroBasket 2013 in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.

But, more importantly, Egypt target to return to the Olympics for the first time since the 1988 Seoul Games, where Aboul Kheir, one of the four candidates for the job, sparked Egypt with 7.7 points and two assists per game.

If appointed, 1984 Olympian Marei will have a chance of coaching his son Assem Marei, who played a leading role for the Egyptian team in 2013.

Meanwhile, a closer look at the list of recent head coaches of Egypt makes me think that Claros was a victim of current circumstances in Egypt basketball, regardless of his impressive background.

I am not sure whether the language factor had any influence in this, but in recent years foreign coaches have not delivered what Egypt expected, while Egyptian coach Aboul Kheir qualified the country for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which was their first appearance on the world stage in two decades.

Serbian Zeljko Zecevic led Egypt at AfroBasket 2009, but a 2-6 record resulted in a 10th place-finish.

Two years later, at AfroBasket 2011, Egypt tasked Serbian coach Miodrag Perisic in helping the country qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, but the Pharaohs lost three of their five games, finishing a disappointing 11th.

In Abidjan, Aboul Kheir and his young Egypt side emerged out of nowhere to stun then reigning-champions Tunisia (Eighth-Finals) Cape-Verde (Quarter-Finals) and Senegal (Semi-Finals) on a run to the Final of AfroBasket 2013. By reaching the title game, they booked their place for Spain 2014, where they went winless (0-5).

In the past few years I have been talking to Egypt basketball officials and they all believe that 2015 should be the year of their come-back and confirmation in African scene after a number of sluggish years.

They always made the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics their main priority.

Now that the national team coaching position is a local affair, Egypt's Basketball Federation said: "We would like to thank coach 'Pepe' Claros for his professionalism and interest in working with us."

"Pepe followed the national team in the past couple of years. He knows a number of Egyptians playing college basketball, and he would have made a big difference for us, considering his international experience."

When I asked coach Aboul Kheir to share his impressions about the prospect of coaching Egypt again, he said: "Right now, I am focused on the working with my club."

Julio Chitunda


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Julio Chitunda

Julio Chitunda

Julio Chitunda, a University of Sheffield alumni and former semi-professional player, has worked for a number of Portuguese media outlets as well as The Press Association and covered international basketball for over a decade. Through his column, he offers an insight into basketball on the world's second biggest continent.