Who were the U16 alumni that made the leap to play at World Cup 2023?
DOHA (Qatar) - The FIBA U16 Asian Basketball Championship can be perceived as the "starting point" for Asia and Oceania's stars of tomorrow in the international circuit.
That was certainly the case for some of the best talents that were putting their skills on display at the recently wrapped up FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023. In total, a number of 20 players who had previously played for their national teams at the U16 Asian Championships were shining for the senior national teams at FIBA's flagship basketball competition.
Before we get to find out about the stars of the future at the U16 Asian Championship 2023 in Doha, Qatar from 17-24 September, let's take a quick look at those 20 World Cup 2023 players who took their early steps at this stage.
The first batch of talents from the 2009 edition of the competition are now among veterans with their respective national teams.
|Player||National Team||Key statistics from U16 (2009)|
|Sajjad Mashayekhi||Iran||6.4 points per game|
|Kiefer Ravena||Philippines||17.6 points per game|
|Malek Kanaan||Jordan||16.0 points per game|
|Ahmad Al Dwairi||Jordan||2.8 points per game|
Mashayekhi is now considered a key part of Iran's guard rotation. In 5 games at the World Cup, he averaged 18.2 minutes and also recorded 5.2 points and 2.6 assists per game. The 29-year-old has now played in 2 World Cups and 3 Asia Cups.
Ravena was a "phenom"-enon in his introduction to FIBA basketball in 2009. He took over a more veteran leadership role at the guard spot in his recent second World Cup appearance, highlighted by 8 points scored against Italy.
Jordan's World Cup squad featured two players who played for their U16 team in 2009, the inside-outside combination of Kanaan and Al Dwairi. It was the guard Kanaan that shined a bit more brightly at the youth level, but recently it has been Ahmad Al Dwairi's time to shine with the national team. Big man Al Dwairi was a constant double-double threat and averaged 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for the Falcons at the World Cup.
The class of 2011 was a special one and it is reflected in how outstanding these talents were and have been for their squads.
|Player||National Team||Key statistics from U16 (2011)|
|Zhao Jiwei||China||10.1 points per game|
|Zhou Qi||China||17.6 points per game|
|Yudai Baba||Japan||16.0 points per game|
As champions in 2011, Zhao Jiwei and Zhou Qi were the dynamic duo for China and they still continue to be that at the senior level as well. Zhao led the team in assists with 4.0 per game, while Zhou was second on the team in EFF (12.8) while scoring 8.4 points per contest on a blistering 76.2 percent field-goal shooting.
Meanwhile, Yudai Baba was a key piece of Japan's inspiring run in the World Cup. He was one of their best perimeter defenders and averaged 6.4 points and 1.4 steals per game in Okinawa.
Carrying the tradition (2013)
China are proud of their tradition of grooming big men all the way from their youth national team programs. Their 2013 class made sure that kept on going.
|Player||National Team||Key statistics from U16 (2013)|
|Hu Jinqiu||China||20.6 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.2 blocks per game; 69.6 field-goal percentage|
|Fu Hao||China||12.4 points, 10.8 rebounds per game|
Hu was unstoppable at the youth level and can continue to be a problem at the senior national team level as well. He was the second leading scorer for China at 9.3 points per game, including a 20-point outing against Angola where he shot 8-10 from the field.
Fu Hao also had a productive game against Puerto Rico where he scored 11 points and grabbed 4 rebounds for China.
Waiting in line (2015)
You can feel it. These stars from the class of 2015 are just waiting for their turn to shine.
|Player||National Team||Key statistics from U16 (2015)|
|Yudai Nishida||Japan||18.2 points, 5.3 rebounds per game|
|Soichiro Inoue||Japan||2.1 points, 2.4 rebounds per game|
|Karim Zeinoun||Lebanon||22.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 4.6 steals, 2.3 blocks per game; 26.1 EFF|
It's not a secret that Zeinoun could be the next big thing in Lebanon basketball. He's been showing that potential ever since his unbelievable run in 2015. Now, he's been able to produce more consistently with the senior national team, including two double-digit scoring outings at the World Cup.
Nishida and Soichiro currently had smaller roles with this World Cup squad, but coach Tom Hovasse has trusted in this pair throughout the entire qualifiers, which is a positive sign for their future in the program.
You have to be quite special to already be playing at the World Cup after only 5 years removed from playing at the U16 level. And these talents are certainly special.
|Player||National Team||Key statistics from U16 (2018)|
|Jalal Agha Miri||Iran||12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds per game|
|Matin Aghajanpour||Iran||23.2 points, 8.4 rebounds per game; 20.4 EFF|
|Piter Girgoorian||Iran||1.8 points, 2.3 rebounds per game|
|Mohammedsina Vahedi||Iran||12.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.8 steals per game|
|Kai Sotto||Philippines||16.8 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game; 21.5 EFF|
|Yuki Kawamura||Japan||5.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals per game|
|Keisei Tominaga||Japan||17.5 points, 3.5 three-pointers made per game; 42.2 three-point percentage|
Iran's stars are still playing at a high level, but they are already preparing for a new wave to take over. There was no sign clearer than the fact that they have 4 players on their World Cup roster who played at the U16 in 2018. Agha Miri, Girgoorian, Vahedi, and Aghajanpour don't have big roles yet with the senior team, but you can be sure that they are soaking up as much as they can from the likes of Hamed Haddadi, Arsalan Kazemi, and Behnam Yakhchali.
For the Philippines, it was clear from the beginning that Sotto was going to have a bright career with the senior national team at a young age. He's already proven himself in several senior national team events, including this World Cup at home where he put up 12 points and 6 rebounds in an important win over China.
However, it's possible that no other U16 Asian Championship alumni shined as bright as the tandem of Yuki Kawamura and Keisei Tominaga. Sharpshooting Tominaga was the fourth leading scorer on the team (11.4 points per game) with important scoring outbursts against Finland (17 points) and Cape Verde (22 points) which helped Japan clinch a spot at Paris 2024.
The revelation was Kawamura, who not only scored 25 points against Finland and was third in the team in scoring (13.6 points per game), but was also third among all players in assists with 7.6 dimes per contest, highlighted by 11 assists against Venezuela.
Keisei Tominaga & Yuki Kawamura
If you thought that Iran having four players from the U16 Asian Championship in 2018 was impressive, you must not have heard about Mohammad Amini yet.
|Player||National Team||Key statistics from U16 (2022)|
|Mohammad Amini||Iran||22.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 4.6 steals per game; 24.8 EFF|
At just 18 years old, Amini is not only the youngest player on Iran's World Cup team, he was also the second youngest player in the entire World Cup. And he led the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game. On a team with Haddadi and Yakhchali, that's quite impressive. To do so with a 22-point outing against Lebanon and a 19-point against Spain, that's certainly going to turn some heads.
Who will be the next U16 stars to step up for their senior national teams… maybe even from this upcoming competition to World Cup 2027 which will both be played in Doha?