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2022 was year of the Cedars

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Some years are just better than others. Sometimes you find the love of your life, you get your dream job, or you just finally get to cross something off your bucket list - and if you’re lucky, sometimes that all happens in the same year.

That seems to have been the kind of year Lebanon basketball had in 2022 with the relative success they had across several teams.

Baby steps

It all started early in the summer in June at the FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2022 in Doha, Qatar. Early on, it didn’t seem like it would be a memorable run for the young Cedars in the event. They suffered a convincing loss to Iran, an opponent that they had been struggling against, and were then the underdogs in a Quarter-Finals matchup against Korea.

But against those odds, Lebanon beat Korea to advance to the Semi-Finals and, more importantly, qualify for their first ever appearance in the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup.

"Our only target was to get to the U17 World Cup," said 16-year-old star center Karl Zamatta. "With all the struggles we went through, we didn’t give up. We stood side by side one team, one family, one goal."

"Making it to the U17 world cup is a huge step for us. We worked hard, and never surrendered. We all came for one cause, representing Lebanon worldwide."


"Making it to the U17 world cup is a huge step for us. We worked hard, and never surrendered. We all came for one cause, representing Lebanon worldwide."

In the context of competitions, this was a baby step for Lebanon, as the U17 World Cup is the youngest age group in global competitions. But maybe it was this run by this young team that would light a fire in their seniors in the coming months.

Rewriting History

Next in line for Lebanon basketball was the FIBA Asia Cup one month later in July. The team was considered among one of the top teams in the competition, but there were many tough obstacles to overcome.

They had never beaten New Zealand before this Asia Cup. So they went out and convincingly beat the Tall Blacks in the Group Phase.

They had never defeated China in the Asia Cup and haven’t made it to the Semi-Finals in over 10 years. So they went out and claimed a clutch victory over China and made it to the Final Four stage.

They had not made it to the Final in 15 years. So they made it to be the Final in an exhilarating win over rivals Jordan.

Australia had convincingly won all Asia Cup games by double-digits save for the one Semi-Finals clash against New Zealand. So Lebanon took it straight to the defending champions and threatened to pull off an upset in a two-point loss.

Lebanon would have obviously preferred to have ended the Asia Cup with a win, but the level of play they put on display throughout the entire tournament in Indonesia was definitely uplifting.

"I think where we come from, what we did so far, is very extraordinary…" said star guard Sergio El Darwich.

Continued Success

Fresh off playing both the U16 Asian Championship and U17 World Cup, Karl Zamatta was back at it again with Lebanon at the FIBA U18 Asian Championship in August.

Again, they had some early struggles, losing to Japan and escaping with a close win over Iran. And once again, Lebanon pulled through by beating the Philippines in a Quarter-Finals matchup to qualify for the U19 World Cup in 2023.

"It’s a dream of every player to reach the World Cup, and I’m so honored to be a part of this huge achievement," said team star Karim Rtail.

"It feels great. But we still have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do."


Lebanon’s run at the U18 Asian Championship would end at 4th place in the Final Standings, but at that point, they already had the U19 World Cup to look forward to in the coming year… and that was not all that the national team programs would celebrate this year.

It’s been a while

By late August, only a few days after Lebanon’s U18 squad qualified for the U19 World Cup, the senior men’s national team were on a tear. Their only losses in Asia basketball competitions at that point were an away loss to Jordan early in February and the Asia Cup Final.

Other than that, everything seemed to be clicking. Wael Arakji, who had been named the Asia Cup 2022 MVP, had fully developed into the megastar leader he seemed destined to be. The veterans were embracing their leadership roles and the youngsters were providing the energy.

Fresh off their Asia Cup run, Lebanon welcomed the Philippines - bolstered by NBA guard Jordan Clarkson - to their home for Window 4 of the Asian Qualifiers and took them down in an entertaining game from start to finish on August 25.

It felt like a big win and it was a big win, but the team knew it wasn’t the time to officially celebrate just yet. That had to wait until the final buzzer of their next game against India on August 29, if they were able to win and if the Philippines were able to beat Saudi Arabia.

When that time came and with both of those requirements fulfilled, Lebanon were finally able to officially celebrate their return to the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time since 2010.

After all of the relative success that the national team program had achieved through 2022, qualifying for World Cup 2023 - while this was always the ultimate goal - was the definite icing on the cake.