National team faces turmoil

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The wealth of competitiveness and talent showcased in this year’s Lebanese basketball league should signify great times ahead for the country’s national team.

Enormous potential lies in the combined skills of veteran players and young ones, who could together emerge to form a great team capable of returning Lebanon to the top.

However, optimism that such a team will evolve has vanished. Players, after a long, tough season, have begun to reject the national call, claiming injuries and fatigue, and leaving head coach Ghassan Sarkis with a depleted roster as the West Asian qualifier tournament looms.

The tournament takes place June 11-15 in Amman, and only the first top two teams will receive tickets to the FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo in mid-September.

This mess the national team finds itself in is the result of shortsighted vision and lack of planning, and the federation – in an attempt to resolve things quickly – has threatened to ban the players for no less than a year if they don’t join, unless a legitimate excuse is given.

Sarkis, at at time when every practice session is vitally important, was obliged due to a lack of players to call off no fewer than three training sessions.

“We are working in really hard conditions,” the head coach said.

“I really understand the players when they ask for some rest after such a long and tough season, but I also think they have a national duty that we should all respect. They can’t act with such irresponsibility,” Sarkis added.

The coach invited 19 players to join the team, which he aimed to reduce to 12 two days before the departing for Jordan. But only four players showed up at the first day of training and six at the second.

“With this situation, I have been obliged to call other players to fill the gap while I wait for a solution, but even if this situation is resolved, we are still behind in practice and preparations,” Sarkis said.

Sarkis invited his son Karl Sarkis, along with Nadim Hawi and Miguel Martinez whom both appeared in the Pan Arab last December, to train with the national team.

“The Cedars” did not start serious practice until two days ago, with the availability of 10 players, but the pessimism has dimmed slightly, with the arrival of Lebanon’s legend Fadi al-Khatib.

“I am really thankful to him [Khatib] because he had decided at first to take some rest this summer and then come back next year during the FIBA World Championship qualifier, but he didn’t refuse our call in this sensitive situation,” Sarkis explained.

“I am still optimistic that we will achieve our goals and qualify to FIBA Asia Cup. It’s hard no doubt, especially when there will be a huge battle with Jordan and Iran, who are both are better prepared as usual, but we will fight hard,” he assured.

The national team is expected to welcome four of the absent players: Charles Tabet, Ahmad Ibrahim, William Pharis and the naturalized American Garnett Thompson by the end of this week.

“I am sticking to my words that Lebanon will qualify to the World Championship 2014 in Spain,” Sarkis said. “But all I am asking of the Lebanese fans is to be patient; I knew since the start that we would experience difficulties and obstacles, but we will bypass them.

“We are building a team for the future. It’s time now to test some new players who have been shining in the league but never given the chance to play. Nadim Souaid and Hussein Khatib are examples,” Sarkis said.

“The same thing goes to Ahmad [Ibrahim] who has been described as one for the future of Lebanese basketball. So we will give him the chance, and if he lives up to that, we will be really happy because then we can say to Fadi [al-Khatib] that you can rest now after all you have given to Lebanon.”

Four players are expected to miss the West Asian qualifier due to injury: Jean Abdul-Nour, Ali Mahmoud, Elie Rustom and Ali Kanaan.

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