19 December, 2022
25 May, 2023
to read

5 things to look out for as WASL returns

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Finally, the West Asia Super League's return is upon us.

It has been a while since the last time we tasted action from the premiere club competition in the region -- 39 days, to be exact -- and definitely, there's much excitement entering the second half of the season.

That's mainly because the race to the playoffs is expected to become much more intense, with all participating teams looking to make one last push for a spot into the next round in the final three weeks of the pool stages.

And just a reminder, something bigger is at stake here: the two best teams by the end of the cage wars will qualify for the FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2023 -- a road to the Intercontinental Cup, FIBA's highest club competition.

But before we have our sights far ahead, let's take a look first at what to anticipate in WASL's return this Monday.

1. Will Shabab Al Ahli-Dubai, Kuwait Club remain perfect?

In all of WASL, Shabab Al Ahli-Dubai and Kuwait Club are the only unbeaten teams, so it would be interesting to see if they can keep it that way.

Behind a great balance of contributions from their reinforcements and locals, both ball clubs are leading their respective groups with identical 4-0 records, making strong cases as possible shoo-ins for the playoffs.

Shabab Al Ahli currently rule Group A, registering their fourth win at the expense of Al Bashaer, 92-61, last January 17 at home -- easily their most convincing W to date after tight results versus Al Bashaer, Kazma, and Al Hilal.

Kuwait Club, on the other hand, tallied win no. 4 following a repeat over Al Sadd, 94-84, last January 23, their second straight double-digit win after obliterating the visiting Al Nasr Riyadh by 17 points, 106-83.

2. Will Gorgan, ZobAhan sustain their hot streaks?

While WASL-Gulf has two unbeaten sides, WASL-West Asia features two squads coming into the resumption in the midst of hot streaks.

After losing their first assignments, Iranian teams Gorgan and ZobAhan would go on to win their next three matches towards good spots in their own groups -- the former is leading Group A while the latter is at no. 2 in Group B.

Some players of both teams are rejoining their clubs with sky-high confidence after helping Team Melli book a spot in the FIBA World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers back in the recently-concluded window.

Yes, we're looking at guys such as Mohammad Jamshidi, Behnam Yakhchali, Sajjad Mashayeki, Arsalan Kazemi, and Sajjad Pazrofteh, to name some.

3. How will Kazma move on from Kevin Murphy?

Kazma will now have to resume their WASL journey without Kevin Murphy as the two camps mutually agreed to part ways last month.

Not only did it end a partnership that yielded a title run in the 2022 Kuwait Super Cup but the club has also let go of one of WASL's top players, who averaged a Gulf-leading 28.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three games.

It sure is a tough blow for Kazma, since they're trying to rack up as many wins as possible -- they're sitting at no. 3 in the Group A rankings with a 1-3 card.

And they will have their work cut out for them upon returning as the crew will be taking on group leaders Shabab Al Ahli on the 8th in Kuwait City.

4. Al Riyadi versus Al Naft: another brewing rivalry?

WASL's first week of resumption will be concluded by a rematch between Al Riyadi and Al Naft at the former's home turf in Beirut on Thursday.

And it will surely be an opportunity for the Lebanese side to exact vengeance against their Iraqi counterparts after what happened in their first duel.

Last December 28, Al Riyadi flew into Baghdad aiming to follow up their 81-74 win over Gorgan for a quick 2-0 start, but former stalwart Edgar Sosa and the home team had other plans as they came out with the 100-87 romp.

5. Can these Gulf stars keep their fine play?

Mohammad Alsuwailem and Mosti Rashed have both proven their cases as two of WASL-Gulf's best, and so it would be exciting to see them again showcase their wares for Al Hilal and Al Manama, respectively.

There surely won't be any rust whatsoever as they are coming off stints with their respective teams in the recent World Cup Qualifiers.

Rashed, for one, only played once when Bahrain took on Japan last February 26 but he made sure to make the most out of it, providing one of the silver linings for his team with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal.

Alsuwailem, on the other hand, starred in Saudi Arabia's strong conclusion to their campaign last February 27 as he dominated with 27 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks in their 71-60 win over India.