BEIRUT: Miracle is the first word that comes to mind when discussing Sagesse. The prestigious club was on the verge of disintegration before a last-ditch deal struck between the conflicted parties ended the turmoil. And they are now bidding to claim their first title since 2004, after coming agonizingly close last season before the league was halted. The green side has finally begun preparations following a stressful offseason, with veteran head coach Fouad Abu Chakra barely keeping his roster intact in the face of numerous hindrances. Despite the tense preseason, the green castle managed to keep the core of last season’s dream squad with the exception of Mohammad Ibrahim (Byblos), Charles Tabet (Mouttahed) and Philip Tabet (Champville). In return, they welcomed back center Daniel Faris.
Here’s a preview of Sagesse ahead of the league’s kick off Jan. 31.
Turning the negative into positiveIt is unbelievable to some that Sagesse still exist. At one point, a feeling of defeat permeated the whole team. Even Abu Chakra, an eternal optimist, became so frustrated that he stated he felt a solution was close to impossible.
To make matters worse, all the players then received their release through FIBA and became eligible to discuss offers from other teams.
But for a club that is almost as old as the sport in Lebanon, a solution was inevitable. This experience has been a chance for the players, coaches and fans to stick together. The team seems to have a newfound solidarity that they now hope to translate onto the court.
Keeping the coreFor a team that had such talent but faced crippling troubles, retaining its core players has proven to be an unqualified success.
Even the ones who left, with the exception of Philip Tabet, had always intended to do so. This means that Abu Chakra managed to keep his side together, from point guard Rodrigue Akl to swingmen Elie Stephan and Elie Rustom.
Star center Julian Khazzouh and role player Patrick Bou Abboud will now be joined by new arrivals Costy Coudsy, Robert Bou Dagher, Georges Choueiry and Marc Abi Khers. Return of Daniel Faris206 cm center Faris whose career has been disrupted by a torn ACL to both knees is another phenomenon.
The 26-year-old’s career was nearly derailed by injury, but he has managed through hard work and dedication to return to the court.
Faris has been the surprise of the preseason for Sagesse, showing promising performances that will definitely boost their chance for the title.
Although not fully fit yet, he has great fundamental skills, with strong technique and footwork under the basket. He and Khazzouh give Sagesse depth inside, without mentioning 212 cm center Chris Daniels who arrived at the club Sunday.
Strengths and weaknessesSagesse opted to start the season with two foreign centers: Chris Daniels and Charles Thomas, following the injury of Khazzouh, who broke his finger and will miss about five weeks.
In the first phase, Abu Chakra will also rely on an unproven local backcourt comprised of Akl, Stephan and Rustom. Sagesse will lose the scoring punch a foreign guard offers, and it will be up to the locals to deliver.
But with the level both Rustom and Stephan are showing, Sagesse should be in safe hands. Abu Chakra, known for his quality transactions, should dip into the market for another high-level foreign guard for the latter stages of the league.