Riyadi’s stylish rise to victory in Asia

BEIRUT: Riyadi not only became the second Lebanese team to win Asia’s biggest basketball competition over the weekend, but they did it with style and unwavering professionalism.

Despite having never won the competition, Riyadi went into the tournament as one of the favorites, their band of expensively assembled stars using their vast arsenal to beat teams in every area of the court.

Riyadi have been one of the best teams in Asia for nearly a decade but their dominance hadn’t yet translated to the Asian Champions Cup. The relief of finally winning the competition was evident in the words of the protagonists.

Star player, tournament MVP and loanee Fadi al-Khatib summed up Riyadi’s feelings.

“When you wait for something for a long time, it’s always sweeter,” Khatib said. “I couldn’t event walk properly this morning,” Khatib added, in reference to a sore back that jeopardized his competition. “[At] half-time, I knew I will do it. And I did it.”

Coach Fouad Abou Chacra spoke of finally getting the winners’ medal around his neck and the value it had on his nightly sleeping pattern.

“The whole team was focused on one thing right from the moment we arrived at Manila: To win the title,” said Abou Chacra “We owed it to the team management after all the support for all these years. Now I can sleep in peace.”

Their 109-90 win over Shabaab in the first game of the competition – a far more one-sided game than the score line suggests – set the tone for the tournament.

Experienced center Loren Woods opened Riyadi’s competition with an emphatic dunk that would represent the ruthlessly efficient manner that the team pursued throughout their tournament.

Despite Khatib and fellow all-rounder Ismael Ahmad taking many of the plaudits, significant parts were played by quality role players such as Jean Abdul Nour, Rodrigue Akl and Woods all provided moments of inspiration at key moments.

Woods’ contribution was more intangible. The former NBA player protected the paint with length and physicality but it was his experience of having won the competition last season with Mahram that aided Riyadi’s cause.

“Last time it was a different feeling. I had to prove something at this level. But this time around this was the purpose Riyadi signed me for the season,” the American said.

Riyadi showed their ability to overcome lesser opposition with big wins over Shabaab and Duhok but it was the nerve they displayed grinding out wins against arguably Asia’s three best sides: Rayyan, Mahram and Jala’a.

In each of the games against those teams, Riyadi went into the final quarter with the game in the balance but every time they came out on top with Khatib and Abdul Nour often the difference between the sides.

The win now puts Riyadi on the road to equaling the three titles won by their bitter rivals Sagesse but the win came at a cost.

Hisham Jaroudi, Riyadi’s president, made the 15 hour flight to Manila to watch the final and announced the handing out of $200,000 in bonuses to the players responsible.

Judging by Abou Chacra’s words at the end of the final, money was the least of their worries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 07, 2011, on page 14.




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