09 - 15
June 2024
16 Wael Arakji (RIY)
14/06/2024
News
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Wael Arakji: Losing is not an option for me

DUBAI (UAE) - In the end, basketball is a game. And games are supposed to be fun.

There might not be a team that is having more fun on the court right now in Asian basketball than Al Riyadi at Basketball Champions League Asia (BCL Asia) 2024.

When I see smiles, as a point guard, on my teammates' faces, that is everything because this is my job."

 

When you are blowing away all teams by averaging 112.3 points per game and scoring over 100 points every game, it's fun. When you are shooting 61.3 percent field-goal shooting and 47.7 percent three-point shooting, it's like pumping endorphins straight to your brain.

And they make sure to let everyone know they are having a lot of fun, too.

You see it when Wael Arakji went on a Fastbreak attempt and instead of laying the ball in as he usually does, he lobs it perfectly off the backboard to Thon Maker for the emphatic slam.

 

You see it in Thon Maker imitating Dikembe Mutombo when he swats away shot attempts (9 blocks so far) deep into the stands by wagging his index finger with Arakji joining in a synchronized celebration.

You see it when Karim Zeinoun nails another heat check three-pointer and immediately pulls out the air guitar to the delight of Riyadi faithful fans.

 

"The air guitar started a few years back in the Lebanese league and it was kind of an interaction between me and the fans and it’s stuck with me ever since," he said. 'I just do it to keep the fans involved during the game.

"It was to get them hyped back up."

All of this is fun for Riyadi, but they don't let it get to their heads.

"It's just a celebration for a second, but we don’t lose our focus. We stay focused on the game and that’s about it."

It's rare for a team to be playing so loose while also maintaining that competitive edge to stay focused while being up ahead. Riyadi has done just that so far and the key has been Arakji's elite level of play. His most recent masterpiece is a 17-point, 14-assist classic in the Semi-Finals in a 121-89 win.

Of course, being the star that he is, Arakji is quick to deflect and credit this current run as a team effort.

"It's amazing," said Arakji of the form that Riyadi are in. "All the team is contributing and when I see smiles, as a point guard, on my teammates' faces, that is everything because this is my job. Although I'm a scoring point guard, being able to get 14 assists is great for me."

So when the team is having fun and happy and smiling, Arakji knows they are in a good place.

"The most important thing for me is that we're running, everyone is contributing, everyone is happy. That's the most important thing as a leader. Sometimes, you have to put yourself second and make sure your teammates are doing well and that's what we've all been doing. As superstars on this team, we're putting our egos aside and we're playing as a team.

"It's not only about me. I'm playing with great players such as Amir [Saoud], Hayk [Gyokchyan], KZ [Zeinoun], Thon [Maker], Zach [Lofton], and Kika [Elmedin Kikanovic].

"We're all making sure that the team is first and then our statistics. This is why we’ve been having a great season this is why we're succeeding this year and, hopefully, we keep on doing the same and finish the job."

RIyadi are having fun now, but Arakji - as well as Saoud and head coach Ahmad El Farran - know too well, how unpredictable tournaments like these can be.

Most of the times, like in Chenzhou at the Asia Champions Cup 2017, you can run through the competition undefeated to the title as Akraji, Saoud, and El Farran did.

Other times, you can make your way through to the Final undefeated and convincingly, only to lose that final game and leave on a sad note like the long-time Riyadi trio did in 2016 and 2018.

"I've lost two finals and won one, so it's tough," said Arakji of how competitive this competition can be.

"When you win, it's nice. When you lose, It sucks."

But, Arakji likes to have fun. To see the smiles on his teammates' faces.

To win.

The alternative is not even an in consideration for Arakji.

"Losing is not an option for me. Losing is part of the game, but for me, it's not an option, you know? I get so frustrated when I lose. And this is the DNA of this club, too. It's not only about me.

"So hopefully we won't go through [that losing] this year.

"Hopefully, we're going to be on the winning side."

And fans can be sure that if Riyadi do end up being on the winning side when it's all said and done, they are going to have a whole lot of fun.

FIBA