25 May, 2024
01 June
Pantelis Gavriel (MNM)
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Back-to-back far from Manama's minds - for now. Linos explains

DOHA (Qatar) - Manama head coach Linos Gavriel acknowledges how arduous their journey could be in the upcoming FIBA West Asia Super League (WASL) Final 8 2024.


...let’s be realistic here. Despite the fact that we are the defending champions, the opponents have bigger budgets, bodies, and individually, they are very talented.


So much so that none from the reigning champions are thinking of anything related to defending their throne and whatnot as kings of the pan-regional competition - for now.

"Our minds are not on the back-to-back right now," said the seasoned mentor days prior to the May 25-June 1 tilt in Lusail. "It is in the first possession of the first game."

The game he's referring to is their campaign opener versus Sagesse SC on the 25th set at 21:00 local time, which will serve as the nightcap of a triple-header offering.

Gavriel surely has reasons to worry about the Lebanese side alone. A team that came in as a last-minute replacement for Dynamo Club, the Green Castle overcame a shaky start iand went on to make mark this season by finishing at third place in the West Asia League.

Sagesse are keen on making noise in this Final 8 as well, with their recent loss to long-time rivals Al Riyadi serving as an added motivation for the squad in the tilt ahead.

But it's not just the team of Coach Jad El Hajj that Manama are wary of. The Bahraini side are situated in Group A, which fans and pundits alike are seeing as the 'Group of Death.'

After locking horns with Sagesse, they will be taking on clubs that they have already crossed paths with in the inaugural Final 8 in Dubai - BC Astana and Al Riyadi.

The squad actually has the number of the Central Asia representatives. It's the same team they beat in the Semi-Finals, 91-81, to reach the Big Dance and eventually win the trophy. But that does not make them less concerned, since they will still be up against a contender.

Astana, for starters, beat the injury-riddled Yellow Castle in the Third-Place Game last year by way of a narrow 94-90 escape, joining Manama and Kuwait Club on the podium.

That stinging loss makes Al Riyadi all the more motivated in the coming Final 8, where they are one of the favorites given their recent success. After a successful West Asia title defense bid, they went on to secure another back-to-back in the Lebanese Basketball Championship.

Manama is scheduled to face Coach Ahmad Farran's side in the final game of the Group Phase on the 29th, with the bitter memories of last year to be brought back, surely.

It could be remembered that they lost their first game of the tournament by way of a crushing 112-84 result and so, the mental edge is on Al Riyadi heading into that rematch.

It is worth noting, too, that they will be battling the Lebanese powerhouse with another familiar figure on Thon Maker, who was part of the Kuwait Club team they fought in last year's Final.

"Our group is extremely tough," acknowledges Gavriel. "And, let’s be realistic here. Despite the fact that we are the defending champions, the opponents have bigger budgets, bodies, and individually, they are very talented. And I say this for all those three teams."

Those three, in his book, are among the favorites in this year's edition, and that is why Manama are taking it one game at a time before they could all think of the bigger picture.

"If we deserve to win back-to-back, it will happen. If not, then one of the favorites will do it, and I speak mainly about Kuwait Club, Al Riyadi, Sagesse, and BC Astana. But that's without underestimating the other teams," offered the Cypriot-Greek coach.

Definitely, Gavriel and Co. respect all, but fear none. Manama themselves have their strong case as well in this Final 8. Just before the tourney, the team ruled the Zain Basketball League anew at home to secure a three-peat, beating Al Ahli, 3-1, in the best-of-5 finale.

"For us, it is important that we continue to dominate the league because it is a result of hard work and teamwork that characterizes the Manama organization in general," he said.

The fact, too, that they lost to Kuwait Club in the Gulf League Final for the second season in a row should serve as an added push - and make them a dangerous unit even more.

"We are the champions, and we will fight for every possession in every game. This is something that I am definitely sure of with our guys. We are proud of our team, so we will be a tough team to beat," said Gavriel. "We're gonna play like a champion the whole tournament."