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June 2023
01/06/2023
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Road To WASL Final 8 2023 Dubai: Al Riyadi

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - When the fans see the blue and yellow jerseys of Al Riyadi on the court, there’s a spark of excitement. When the opponents see those same jerseys on the opposite side of the court, it lights a burning competitive fire inside.

That’s the impact that the “Yellow Castle” club has and that is what is expected when they take the court in Dubai at the WASL Final 8.

HISTORY

Al Riyadi’s legacy in basketball is a lengthy and rich one. The club has been around for 80 years (since 1943) and while it also competes in a variety of sports from ping-pong to martial arts, they are best known for its basketball program.

PAST SUCCESS

Al Riyadi basketball are well-known for a reason: they have always been really, really good. The level of competition in the Lebanese Basketball League is always high, making it hard for a team to win a title in each season, but Al Riyadi have seemed to make a habit out of it.

Counting their most recent win in the 2022-23 season, Riyadi have won 2 titles in the 2020s. They won 6 titles in the 2010s. Before that, it was 6 more in the late 2000s. They “only” won 3 titles in the 1990s after the league was reformed in the 1990s, bringing the grand total (since 1992) to 17.

Of course, the winning is not only reserved for local play as they are one of the most successful clubs in the Arab Club Basketball Championship with 5 titles.

More impressively, they are one of the most decorated clubs in the history of the prestigious FIBA Asia Champions Cup, the flagship club competition of the region. Having gone up against some of the best clubs in Asia, Riyadi have compiled 3 third-place finishes, 3 runners-up finishes, and 2 titles won in 2011 and 2017.

They came close to winning the most recent edition of the event in 2019, falling just short to Alvark Tokyo in the Final.

HOW DID THEY GET HERE?

Of course, who can forget another recent success of Al Riyadi basketball - winning the inaugural WASL-West Asia - which earned them a spot in Dubai among the clubs as WASL Final 8.

Unlike Kuwait Club, the champions of WASL-Gulf, Al Riyadi had their struggles early on. Whether it was the early loss to Iraqi club Al Naft (100-87) or losing a late-season grudge match to Gorgan (75-62), there were some concerns and reasons to doubt the Lebanese powerhouse.

Even in the early stages of the Final Phase, Riyadi had some difficulties fending off a determined Orthodox Amman side, seeing the series go the distance to a third game.

Once they got that thorn out of the way, it was all smooth sailing for coach Ahmad Farran’s team. They started by handling local rivals Beirut Club in a sweep of double-digit wins (104-77 and 109-92) in the Semi-Finals, accomplishing the mission of qualifying for WASL Final 8.

Then, the clash against Iranian giants Gorgan in the Finals proved to be as intense as advertised and previewed in the regular season. Still, Al Riyadi were able to prevail against their strong foes.

Here they are, now in Dubai, aiming to conquer once again.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

It would be easy to highlight the FIBA Asia Cup 2022 MVP Wael Arakji as the Player to Watch for Al Riyadi, but that would also be pretty lazy and it leaves out a lot of context as to why Al Riyadi have be able to advance as far as they have.

The team is also built around other Lebanon national team standouts, whether it’s Hayk Gyokchyan, Amir Saoud, Ali Mansour, and Karim Zeinoun. Whether it’s versatile scoring, timely shooting, or pure defense, each knows what they are good at and are ready to bring that to the table.

Then you have the legendary veteran Ismail Ahmad, who not only provides veteran leadership but is also capable of being a solid big body down low. Coach Farran does not have to worry about overworking his 46-year-old center, however, as the team made a late push to add Olympian and Australian Boomer Duop Reath to the team which added a lot of muscle in the paint.

Last but not least, you have super scorer Kevin Murphy. Not only does he stand out for being a walking bucket, Murphy also is the only player that can claim to have played in both WASL-West Asia and WASL-Gulf (with Kazma) in the same season. Which is pretty cool.

FIBA