Young basketball stars shine at World Championship

Dubai welcomes the world of basketball as it bids to nurture the future champions of the Middle East

Joao Jungo used to play basketball on the street of his hometown in Angola just to pass the time.

As he led Angola – the under-16 African champions – onto the court in the Al Alhi Arena in Dubai last week he couldn’t believe how much his life had changed in the last five years.

One of nine siblings, the Angolan forward had come to the FIBA World Under-17 Championships hoping “to improve, especially in my strength and concentration” and, ultimately, work towards a career as a professional.

Although the competitors are amateur, the competition is far from that. The Federation of International Basketball Association [FIBA] expanded the tournament this year based on the success of the previous two events. It meant that seven nations were making their debut in the competition, including host UAE, hoping to test itself against established teams like Spain, Greece, Australia and the USA.

Team UAE ahead of their World Championship debut
The UAE team tests itself against ItalyImage: FIBA

The USA was unbeaten in the previous two tournaments and began the event as clear favourite as it sought to continue its record.

Its 99-92 victory over Australia in the final meant the USA extended that incredible domination to 24 games undefeated.  Serbia finished third after an intense battle against Spain, which finished 62-59.

But the core focus of this event is less about which team wins and more about development, both at national and player level. For the UAE, hosting the events was a means of promoting basketball to the local audience and developing the experience of its youth players, as well as showcasing the facilities and infrastructure capable of hosting large-scale sporting events.

World Championships have the capacity to be so much more than the main event. They offer the opportunity to simultaneously market, promote, debate and progress the profile of any sport and leave behind a legacy that can strengthen participation levels in the future

There was also a heavily attended three-day coaching clinic led by Spain’s head coach, Sergio Scariolo, and USA’s Don Showalter. More than 180 coaches attended the session for expert insights on how to improve training sessions and team performances – three times more than the last session.

Scariolo said the increase in the number of coaches from about 50 at the last clinic in Dubai to nearly 200 was an "excellent sign of development".

The success of these sessions prove that World Championships have the capacity to be so much more than the main event. They offer the opportunity to simultaneously market, promote, debate and progress the profile of any sport and leave behind a legacy that can strengthen participation levels in the future.

Speaking after the final, Ismail Al Gargawi, President of the UAE Basketball Association, said: “I congratulate USA on their gold medal at the FIBA U17 World Championship, and I congratulate all the athletes on a wonderful competition. It has been a pleasure for Dubai to welcome the world’s basketball stars of tomorrow to our city, and I am certain that this championship will leave a long-lasting impact on the sporting landscape of Dubai and the wider region.”

The UAE team, which finished 16th, enjoyed strong support as it made its first foray onto the international stage, with Technical Director Mounir Ben Slimane highlighting the event’s potential legacy for its fledgling players: “We hope that three or four kids from this generation can reach the senior team by 2017. Hosting this event is more about the legacy we want after the event than competing.”

‘I am certain that this championship will leave a long-lasting impact on the sporting landscape of Dubai and the wider region’

Ismail Al Gargawi, President of the UAE Basketball Association

Mohammed Rashid, who plays Guard for Al Wasl and the UAE, said that competing in the tournament was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“It’s an honour to play against these teams. Spain were first in Europe. Puerto Rico are strong in the Americas and Italy is very strong too. I thank everybody who brought the world championship to Dubai. This will give Dubai a big name, will bring in more sports and more world championships in the future. We have learned how to play against taller people and also to have contact against bigger players,” said Rashed.