FIBA WASL Season 2 West Asia League: Group B preview
BEIRUT (Lebanon) - The defending champs are back to protect their throne and they'll be facing some new challengers to start things off in Group B of WASL-West Asia.
Will Al Riyadi make their way back to the top? Or will they be stopped by the newcomers?
The favorite: Al Riyadi
It was a successful debut in the inaugural WASL-West Asia for Al Riyadi as they went on to win the title by sweeping a strong Shahrdary Gorgan in the Final. There's no reason to not believe that can have a similar campaign in this second season.
There's no easy way to replace a talent like Duop Reath, the Australian Olympian who has went on to play at the World Cup and signed to play with the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA ever since winning WASL-West Asia last season, but that might not be as big of a concern for the Yellow Castle crew.
The top contributors from Wael Arakji, Karim Zeinoun, Amir Saoud, Isamail Abdel Moneim, Ali Mansour, and Hayk Gyokchyan are all returning to form a core as strong as any you can find. In particular, Arakji was one of the best players in the league - as expected - after averaging 17.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game.
That's before taking into account the new pieces fitting into the puzzle this year whether it's Manny Harris and Sani Sakakini. Harris is a highly experienced veteran who was once the MVP of the Basketball Champions League (BCL), won the FIBA Intercontinental Cup in 2018, and has played multiple seasons in the NBA. Sakakini is a well-known star in Asia whether it's from his time with the Palestine national team or playing professionally in China, Jordan, UAE, and Chinese Taipei.
At this immediate point in time, Al Riyadi are the clear-cut favorite to take the top spot from Group B.
The underdog: Al Shorta SC
When you are grouped with the defending champs, it's easy to get overlooked - and maybe that's right what Al Shorta SC wants.
The Iraqi league runners-up could be trouble for any team they face, though, with the combination of talents they have on their roster. National team veterans like Mohammed Al Khafaji, Ali Ismael, and Hassan Abdullah are no pushovers, especially Abdullah was has been one of Iraq's top scorers in recent events.
Al Shorta SC will also have Lamont "Momo" Jones, who boasts experience in being a WASL contender, having gone to the WASL-Gulf Final with Manama last season. The scoring guard logged 20.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.9 rebounds per game.
They are a new team in WASL-West Asia, so there's some uncertainty in terms of what to expect, but there's potential for Al Shorta SC to be a surprise moving down the road.
The pivotal game: Al Shorta SC vs Al Wahda SC
The first game of Group B play will be an exciting one as both newcomers - Al Shorta SC and Al Wahda SC - go up against each other in Damascus.
No matter what happens, one of these new teams will come away with a win in their very first WASL-West Asia game and no one will ever take that away from them. It will do wonders to their confidence moving forward, which is much needed as they will both have to go through Riyadi in the later games.
The open question: Who will be the first to get into form?
As mentioned above, the first new team to win will get a good head start which is important in a competition like WASL-West Asia. There's not a lot of margin for error. And it's not like the lone-returning team Al Riyadi are known to be quick to come out of the gates as well. They started last season with a loss to Al Naft before building steam and rallying towards the end of the season.
Whichever team that gets in form first could end up getting the advantage at season's end.