Al-Zuhairi ready for exam in helping Iraq in second U18
TEHRAN (2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship) - Ihab Al-Zuhairi has a different kind of exam starting with the tip-off of the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship as the forward will be playing his second U18 tournament and wants to help Iraq with that experience.
Al-Zuhairi averaged 7.3 points and 8.3 rebounds as a 16-year-old at the 2014 FIBA Asia U18 Championship in Doha.
"Now it's like an exam for me, and I will fight for my country to win." Al-Zuhairi
"Since this competition I have fixed my mistakes. All i wanted from that competition was the contact with older players, and I was unhappy on my performance," said the Babylon native, who did collect 14 points, 14 rebounds and 2 assists in the 2014 game against Hong Kong.
Al-Zuhairi recently used that experience at the U18 Arab basketball youth championship in Egypt.
"I helped the team so much, and I was able to be one of the best players in this Arab championship," he said. "But now it's like an exam for me, and I will fight for my country to win."
Iraq are back at the FIBA Asia U18 for the third time in the last four editions after not making the tournament between 1989 and 2010.
"This championship is very important for this country because it's one of the most difficult championships in this zone," Al-Zuhairi said. "It contains very strong teams and also the contact between us and them is very important."
The Iraqis are drawn into Group A with China, Philippines, Thailand, India and Chinese Taipei, to which Al-Zuhairi said: "This is a hard group, but I think we will win two games."
After not playing the first game, Al-Zuhairi came up with a huge performance in Iraq's second game with 39 points, 24 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks in a loss to the Philippines.
Iraq are without one of their top players as Abdullah Abdullah, who was the leading scorer at last summer's FIBA Asia U16 Championship, is unavailable for the competition. Al-Zuhairi said it’s a major loss.
"He is one of the best guards in Asia and no player can fill his place," the veteran said. "But we can fill the place together with co-operation between us all."
Ali Fadhil will use his experience from the 2015 FIBA Asia U16s in Tehran.
Iraq have one of the younger teams in Tehran with four players who born in 1999 and one 2001 born. But three of those 1999 born players - Ali Fadhil, Muntadher Jassanee and Sajjad Al-Saedi - as well as the 15-year-old Mohammed Almahdi Abbas were part of last summer's U16 team that finished ninth with four victories.
"Those four players have very useful experience, and they are also very effective in this team," Al-Zuhairi said. "Through them we can create a new generation that can compete against good teams."
And Al-Zuhairi believes Abbas, who doesn't turn 16 until next January and is the youngest player in Tehran, has a promising career.
"He has a bright future. If he trains hard, I think he will be one of best playmakers in this area," Al-Zuhairi.
The game is in general picking up in Iraq according to Al-Zuhairi.
"Basketball in Iraq is starting to grow up and make new generations of players - if they continue the right way of practicing," Al-Zuhairi said.
Practicing for later exams of their own.