19 December, 2022
23 May, 2023
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How embracing responsibility enabled Manama to tap full potential

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - It all began with one simple change.

"I think just listening," said Lamont Jones.

The veteran guard reflected as much shortly after Manama swept Al Hilal at home last Monday to book the first ticket to the WASL-Gulf Final, in awe of how much his team has grown compared to what he saw from his first day with them.

Not one to sugarcoat things, 'Momo' disclosed that accepting responsibility was among the key issues he immediately noticed upon joining the reigning Bahraini Premier League champions midway into the season.

That issue appeared non-existent, since the club was in a good spot in the Gulf League back then. He joined a team that was at second in Group B toting a 3-1 record, which they collected before the long break back in February.

But then, Jones saw otherwise, and it appeared to have reared its ugly head when Manama absorbed a harsh 106-78 beating at the hands of Kuwait Club in their campaign's resumption last March 13 -- their worst WASL loss to date.

"When I first got here, from what I saw, guys [were] not listening. Not being together, so to say," said the 10-year pro, whose league debut unfortunately coincided with that humiliating loss. "There's no responsibility."

Jones not only trouble-shot the problem accurately but did what he could as well in addressing that -- both on and off the court. However, it wasn't all him alone who constituted the kind of change that's best for the entire team.

One, there's head coach Pantelis Gavriel, who found his way back to the very same team he steered to a sweep of both the Premier League and the BBA Cup back in 2022. He reprised the role from Alen Abaz,.

Then, there's young forward Travin Thibodeaux, who was signed to take the place of Steve Taylor Jr. heading into their Qualification to Semi-Finals series versus Kazma and quickly fit into the squad through his hustle on both ends.

Sooner, change began taking place.

"We started to form an identity," said Jones.

Manama would grow into an even more dreaded contender through their grit-and-grind mantra, and they couldn't have chosen a more opportune time to show their potential than in the ongoing Final Phase.

After losing Game 1 of their QSF battle with Kazma, they went on to win the next two games, eliminating a Kuwaiti side that went on a tear of their own entering the playoffs with Afrobasket legend Salah Mejri leading the way.

Then came the sweep of Hilal, booting out one of the first Semis entrants that was among the title favorites since earlier in the season due to their fine play bannered by the towering tandem of Mo Alsuwailem and Clint Chapman.

"I think day by day, we've begun to listen more, we've begun to come together more, and we've begun to accept responsibility more," said Jones. "When I first came in, there's no responsibility. Now there's a lot of responsibility."

Their Final Phase run thus far has also seen the emergence of players outside Jones and usual providers such as Thibodeaux and Elijah Robinson, who has been with the team since the start of WASL last December.

Mohammed Hamooda and Ahmed Haji became a solid 1-2 punch especially in their series comeback against Kazma, with the two combining for 39 points in the crucial Game 2 triumph that swung the momentum in Manama's favor.

Both men would continue their fine play in the Semis although it was Mustafa Rashed who served as a huge spark against Hilal as 'Mosti' finally regained his groove -- and, more importantly, his confidence.

From going into a harrowing scoreless stretch, the diminutive guard fired 13 points with 3 triples in 21 minutes in their 82-78 overtime win in Game 1 before submitting 10 markers in their 86-71 clincher to finish it off.

Jones is, of course, proud.

"We have a team of great players. Most of the guys are on the national team. They know how to play. They represent their country, they represent Manama. And I think at any given point anybody can go off like Mohammed, Haji, Mosti."

So, he only hopes that they could carry and sustain all that moving into the best-of-3 Final, where they're bound for another battle against the undefeated Kuwait Club (8-0) in a meeting between two of the league's hottest teams.

The series between two early WASL Final 8 entrants starts on May 9.

"I think for us, it's just the consistency, the night-in-and-night-out basis that anybody can perform," said the 32-year-old Jones, who has been averaging 21.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and a Gulf-leading 7.6 assists per outing.

"We can have somebody off the bench perform, we can have a starter perform, we can have somebody that may not have played a lot tonight coming in to fill the void when we need him. I think that's a good quality to have."