Nouri’s team full of positivity for Final
TEHRAN (2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship) - The Final of the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship will feature two unlikely protagonists, at least based on their performances in group play. Japan and Iran finished third and fourth respectively in Group B behind top teams Lebanon and Korea. Japan were not favored in their match up with fellow East Asian side Chinese Taipei in the Quarter-Finals, and the same was true for Iran, which squared off against erstwhile undefeated China. Despite the odds stacked against them, both the Akatsuki Five and Team Melli were successful in upending their more ballyhooed foes en route to this titanic tussle for the tournament title.
What makes Iran’s situation vastly different from Japan’s, however, is one glaring fact — coach Mohammadreza Nouri’s wards are playing in front of their home crowd. That alone creates a set of expectations that can weigh heavily, but Nouri believes his wards are up to the task in spite of their early struggles.
“At the beginning, the inexperience of our players was noticeable,” Nouri said after Iran’s Semi-Final win over Korea. “But game after game, we managed to discover more about ourselves and fortunately keep our winning streak going.”
Another reason that streak has been going is because of some outstanding play from some of coach Nouri’s steady young talents. When Iran went down to Korea, 86-83, on Day 4, they were staring at a 2-win, 2-loss slate, and were headed to the next round as the bottom seed from the group. Still, several players were able to raise their level to help the hosts meet the challenge head on and achieve favorable results.
“Mohammad Jafari, Ehsan Samadi, Mehran Rezaei and Amirhosein Khandanpoor,” enumerates Nouri. “They have really stepped up for Iran.”
Jafari, Khandanpoor and Samadi are Iran’s top scorers so far, while Rezaei joins Khandanpoor as the squad’s top rebounders. They have all come up big in Iran’s last three games — all wins — especially against the mighty Chinese, who won all five of their Group A games before getting toppled by the Iranians.
Jafari, Samadi and Rezaei each hit three triples for Iran in that contest, while Khandanpoor was a tower of power in the paint, putting up 10 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks aside from holding Chinese giant Taruike Jianiyou to just a solitary point in 24 minutes of play.
“Well, our game against China was definitely a charger for us,” says Nouri. “It helped us clear our mind's negativity and keep ourselves focused for our upcoming games.”
That result buoyed Iran’s chances in the Semi-Finals yesterday, where they succeeded in getting payback on Korea, 87-65. Khandanpoor came up huge anew with 17 points and 21 boards.
“As we continue with our winning streak,” adds Nouri. “We are now full of positivity heading towards the Final.”
The initial goal of Iran was to qualify to the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship, and with that target in the bag, coach Nouri has trained his team’s sights on winning their third U18 title overall. Without a doubt, doing it on home soil would make the triumph much sweeter.
“It’s crystal clear that winning the championship would have such an impressive effect on Iran's basketball,” says Nouri. “The vision for Iran basketball would be changed by our upcoming national stars.”
This resonates on a whole new level as coach Nouri identifies several other young stars from other teams whom he envisions to eventually take over the mantle of leadership from their respective men’s teams.
Amidst such an impressive collection of talented youngsters, coach Nouri relishes in this rare chance for his team, armed with positivity, to hoist the U18 trophy above everyone else.