Expert Panel: History making female commentary duo make their podium predictions
AMMAN (Jordan) - For the first time in FIBA Women's Asia Cup history, the commentary team for the event are both female and with crunch time approaching, they have given their expert insight into how the last days might unfold.
Despina Barton from Orlando, USA has been commentating on basketball in the States for more than a decade, including covering Orlando Magic in the NBA. Earlier this year, she was the lead commentator at the FIBA Women's AmeriCup in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She also works in media and communications for Orange County, Florida.
Siobhan Prior from Nottingham, UK has played international basketball for Great Britain. As well as commentating for FIBA, she is currently Director of Nottingham Wildcats Basketball Academy and studying for a masters degree in Management and Psychology.
What does your podium for the event look like and why?
Despina: I think gold will go to Japan and they are going to go five in a row at the event. They have the pedigree and no matter who is on the floor, they will not be intimidated by the height China has. They never take a play off - you will never catch them sleeping and I am backing them being close to perfect. China will finish second again because they are simply more prone to making errors than Japan. I think Korea will take bronze and can make their big return to the top three again. It will repay their decision to put a new coach in place. The players look really hungry and their longer term rebuild starts here.
Siobhan: I think China will win the title because of Yueru Li and Xu Han. They have got some really good guards and depth as well. They have not won this competition for 10 years and they really have a point to prove. They can also beat top teams, since they won against the likes of Belgium at Tokyo 2020. Japan stick to their plan whoever is in the game and will play their usual way. It's a difficult choice, but I think China are a little better at this moment. The bronze medal will go to Australia because they have such a leader in Sami Whitcomb. They have a lot of heart, they can gang rebound and they will also do those hustle plays that can get you onto the podium. Although it will depend on who comes up big offensively to support Whitcomb.
Who are your MVP picks and why?
Despina: Sami Whitcomb of Australia because of her relentless work ethic. She can facilitate from anywhere on court and her leadership is not matched by anyone in Amman. She has confidence and quality and you really have to plan to shut her down, since she is the head of the snake. Isaem Choi of Korea maybe came into this tournament with a chip on her shoulder after not being included on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic roster. She had a standout performance against Japan that caught my attention. I think she is the key to Korea finding their way back to the podium and has so many different tools.
Meanwhile I had not seen China play in person and yes, Xu Han has got the height, but it is her love for the game that really comes out. When she goes onto the court, her passion shows. Seeing her having fun takes me back to my own childhood, Basketball can take you around the world, but if you don't enjoy it, then what it is all for? There is this beauty about how much she just loves it. She cares for the game and for her teammates. Honestly, watching her just makes me smile a lot.
Siobhan: Sami Whitcomb leads the tournament in both efficiency and scoring and I would agree with all of those points that Despina has made, plus she is also third in assists. She is clearly one of the best players in the tournament. When you get to watch her up close, you really appreciate the dedication and work that she puts into her body and being in the best possible physical shape. It is really appreciated because she is super strong and she approaches every single second with so much focus. In fact, even when she is not on the court, she always looks like she is learning and teaching - you really get the sense of her competitive nature.
Whilst I really appreciate the impact Choi has had for Korea as Despina says, I think Hyejin Park has been an even more consistent force for the team. She has shown her experience and she has been so solid and consistent all the way through. From a scoring perspective, she has always been in double-digits and had one of her best games in the Qualification to the Semi-Finals. I think we have been surprised by how much she had to do against Chinese Taipei, but it says a lot she was able to do it and get her team over the line.
My third pick is Xu Han and I appreciate that she is not just tall, because she is agile and has really good footwork. She has great hands and she can shoot with a hand in her face and finish through contact inside. She is there to be part of the team and will put the team first. Her approach to the game is refreshing and she has such a positive outlook on every single play.
Which teams have surprised you at the tournament?
Despina: Philippines came out flat and unravelled a few too many times and didn't play as well as they could, but managed to get it together in their last game against India. They are soaking up every opportunity and so to stay up in Division A was a big recognition of their ambition. There will be even more interest if they can keep doing right things - they have a lot of heart and passion - just like their fans. Chinese Taipei have really impressed me too.
Siobhan: Despite being relegated to Division B, India really tried to play the right way and have got a lot of young players still learning. They have got some good length and athleticism and you can see the potential. I really like Pushpa Senthil Kumar. They are still developing as a basketball nation, but it's nice to see that they have got individual skills sets offensively they can work on. I also enjoyed watching Chinese Taipei as they have a really good skill level. I was a bit disappointed that Australia were not able to bring more star players to the tournament, but I am actually surprised at how much I have still enjoyed watching this team and like I said, especially Sami Whitcomb.
Finally, what have your both learned from your first FIBA Women's Asia Cup so far?
Despina: Japan and Korea going toe to toe, was so captivating. The resilience of some of these players was so impressive and overall I have found all the players in the competition so approachable. It's good within a bubble environment to still be able to have some personal interactions. Meanwhile despite those bubble circumstances, I have really tried to learn things about Jordan and its people best I can every day. It's a treat in these uncertain times with the pandemic to be here and I have really enjoyed working alongside Siobhan and this particular FIBA team for the first time.
Siobhan: I have seen how amazing the top end of FIBA Asia in particular can be. Japan an Korea have shown especially how women's basketball should probably be played. From a personal standpoint, I have learned a lot more about FIBA, in terms of how it works and runs. Importantly, I have also learned even more about the 'Her World., Her Rules' campaign. I knew it was big in Europe, but did not know it was so global. Also, I am learning a lot from working alongside Despina.