Marei is chasing that special feeling of qualifying for the World Cup again
MONASTIR (Tunisia) - For Egypt's Assem Marei there is nothing like the feeling of qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and this is keeping him highly motivated throughout the African Qualifiers.
With a 7-2 record and three games left in the African Qualifiers, Egypt emerge amongst the frontrunners to secure one of the remaining four tickets for African teams for next year's World Cup in Indonesia, Japan and Philippines.
"THE BEST FEELING I HAD IN MY CAREER IS THAT SEMI-FINAL AGAINST SENEGAL TO PLAY THE FINAL AGAINST ANGOLA NINE YEARS AGO. I AM TRYING TO GET THAT FEELING AGAIN."
When Marei reflects on how he - as a 21-year-old - inspired underdogs Egypt in 2013 to secure one of the three African tickets for the 2014 World Cup in Spain he sums it up as "The best feeling I had in my career."
Back then, Egypt arrived in Abidjan for the AfroBasket - which served as a World Cup qualifier - with a young and short-handed squad. And to make matters worse, they lost all three games in the Group Phase.
Assem Marei played a huge in Egypt's second place at AfroBasket 2013
However, in a turn of events, and against all the odds, Marei and his teammates caused the biggest upset in the tournament by eliminating then reigning champions Tunisia in the Round of 16.
It was Marei's second straight AfroBasket appearance in two years, but he led his team like a veteran. Yossef Aboushousha, Anas Mahmoud, and assistant coach Wael Khedr - members of the current Egypt squad - were part of that 2013 historic group of players.
Assem Marei was named to the 2013 AfroBasket All-Tournament team
And by the time Egypt reached the Semi-Final against favourite Senegal - a team they had lost to early in the tournament - Egypt were no longer underdogs.
The former African champions not only controlled the game with a suffocating aggressive defense, but they also were unstoppable offensively to get away with a 70-63 victory, which ensured them automatic qualification for Spain 2014. Senegal would qualify too by beating hosts Cote d'Ivoire in the Third-Place game.
Eventually, Marei would sit out the World Cup. Now, it feels like an unfinished business for Marei.
"I want it [play in the World Cup, badly], of course, but I feel like, the best feeling I can get is to help qualify the country," the 30-year-old observed when asked about the meaning of the World Cup.
Marei, who last season played for South Korea's outfit Changwon LG Sakers, has been a valuable asset for Egypt, averaging 13.2 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds in six games in the African Qualifiers. With him in the squad, Egypt are 5-1 in race for the World Cup.
"When we qualify I feel like the goal is done," Marei stressed, before adding: "Obviously, we have to represent our country to best of our ability when we go to the World Cup, and I would love to play there."
"The best feeling I had in my career is that Semi-Final game against Senegal to play the final against Angola nine years ago. I am trying to get that feeling again."
Looking at Egypt's current squad, the 2.06m (6ft 9in) forward notes that they "have a lot of people coming off the bench bringing a lot of positive things to the team."
Canadian Roy Rana, who has been at the helm of the Pharaohs for the past twelve months, is often credited for bringing an aggressive and new mentality to the team.
"We've been a really resilient and tough group the whole way through," Rana acknowledged.
"They know that. That's the game. You just have to stay in it mentally and play possessions and that's what we have done up until this point in time in all of our games - aside from the first game in Dakar against Senegal. I think we've been pretty good that way. Not unexpected for me."
Marei's has registered two double-doubles in six games, and ranks second with a 57.7 Field-Goal shooting, which makes him one of the most productive players in the African Qualifiers so far.