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Cedars looking to build 'chemistry' at Jones Cup: assistant coach

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With less than a month left before the FIBA Asia Championship in Manila, the Philippines, the national team is stepping up its preparations for the biennial meet. The Cedars will stop over for the prestigious Jones Cup where they will size up other Asian contenders one last time, followed by a two-week camp in Manila.

“The Jones Cup will be a real test for us; we will be playing eight games in nine days so it will be a good chance to address our mistakes and practice them,” said assistant coach Krikor Krikorian.

The Cedars have previously competed three times in the Jones Cup – finishing second in 2007, third in 2009 and seventh in 2012.

The Lebanese open up their campaign in the Jones Cup Saturday against Chinese Taipei B. They tackle Japan the next day before facing Chinese Taipei A Monday. After that, it will be South Korea Tuesday, Egypt Wednesday, Jordan Friday, a selection team from the United States Saturday, and finally Iran Sunday. The tournament is a single-round robin affair, with the top team declared champions. There will be no championship game.

The national team have started their preparations late compared to the other nations, and haven’t played any exhibition games.

Nevertheless, the Cedars will boast a tough squad to beat, with the lineup including Fadi al-Khatib, Ali Mahmoud, Jean Abdel-Nour, Rodrigue Akl, Mohammad Ibrahim, Elie Stephan and Ali Kanaan.

The team also consists of newbies such as 21-year-old starlet Amir Saoud and Riyadi-bound Ali Haidar, as well as Bashir Ammoury, Nadim Souaid and Hussein al-Khatib.

However, the key element for the national team this time round will be American veteran center Loren Woods, according to 33-year-old legend Khatib.

“Woods will be central in our hopes to qualify for the fourth time to the World Championship. He is such a smart and experienced player. He knows how to defend, possesses great timing and is already familiar with us,” said the “tiger,” who won the Asian Clubs Championship alongside Woods with Riyadi in 2011.

However, the 218-cm center will likely miss Lebanon’s first five games in the Jones Cup, as he is currently in the process of finalizing his naturalization. Woods will catch up with the team in Taiwan Tuesday and will most probably make his debut against Egypt Friday.

Having two podium finishes in the event in 2007 and 2009, Lebanon will not look deeply into results this time, as they aim to build chemistry and regain form after a month of stoppages.

“Our goal is to find our rhythm and build chemistry, we haven’t played any game yet so results won’t mean much for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to win, because it might click with us and achieve great results,” Krikorian said.

Lebanon were drawn in Group B of the Asian Championship alongside Japan, Qatar and Hong Kong.

The squad is lacking depth in the five position, where Woods will be the only pure center available for the Cedars, with Ghassan Sarkis’ side missing the likes of Roy Samaha, Charles and Philip Tabet through injury. The trio of Kanaan, Ammoury and Haidar may deputize but will remain undersized to play the five. Their hope remains on star center Julian Khazzouh to confirm his participation with the Cedars, who is believed to make his decision by Saturday. If he is to join, the 210-cm giant will meet the team during their campaign in Manila after July 20.

The Jones Cup this year will be a difficult test, as it features the top Asian teams. Also, the 37-year-old Ismael Ahmad is leading the Egyptian squad.

The Cedars will hope to earn one of the top three spots in Asia and qualify for the fourth successive time to the World Championship, which will take place next year in Spain.

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