Arab women big hoop dreams

Jay Asser 2/11/2016
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She shoots, she scores: Competition was fierce in the 3x3 tournament in Sharjah.

Rarely am I ever out of my element near a basketball court, but at the Arab Women Basketball Tournament, I admittedly felt out of place.

I’m neither Arab nor a woman, so despite my love of the sport, I was a fish out of water as a minority among the sea of abaya-clad spectators at Sharjah Ladies Club to watch the 16 teams from eight Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries.

But it didn’t take long to feel like I was watching basketball that could have been happening anywhere in the world.

Part of that was the aesthetics and atmosphere, with Fetty Wap blaring in the background and the
hijabi players not looking all that out of place considering the amount of compression-wear and padding the average basketball player is covered in from head to toe these days.

But more than anything, what made the scene recognisable was the palpable competitive spirit and skills the women displayed.

The more I watched them play and the more I spoke with them, it became clear that what we had in common transcended race, religion, gender, or language: passion for basketball.

My preconceived notions coming into the experience had less to do with the fact these were women and more to do with where they’re from. Football trumps all in the MENA region, with other sports playing second fiddle for the most part. Basketball is no different, but the subset of women who play the game is even smaller.

That subset is growing though. Just ask UAE’s Amal Bin Haider, who was born and raised in Dubai and plays for Sharjah Ladies Club.

“It’s so different now,” Bin Haider said. “Before there were not many players and I got recruited here at Sharjah Ladies Club to play and the environment was different.

“I thought there were no women playing basketball but over here in Sharjah it was totally different.

“I live in Dubai and I am from Dubai, so I had no idea they had this in Sharjah when I was a kid. But then I continued and have been playing for more than 10 years.”

Bin Haider’s squad fell in the semi-finals to eventual champions Algerian G.S. Petroilers Team 1, but results were secondary to the experience gained at what the 27-year-old felt was a valuable tournament.

“Especially here in the UAE and in Sharjah, it gives an opportunity to all women to show women can play sports, even basketball,” she said.

“We’re not the same size, we don’t have the experience that the other teams and countries have, but we can play still.”

That mindset extends beyond the UAE, with Hanna Galal of Egypt’s Sporting Club cherishing an
opportunity that she feels is just now becoming a regular occurrence.

“They used to not care and just have basketball for guys because they win and they travel, but lately everyone is starting to watch basketball, to understand the rules and regulations,” said the 18-year-old.

“Especially because of the NBA, everyone in the world is watching it, people are becoming basketball fans. It’s something really nice, if you have friends and they understand your sport and they come cheer for you, you feel proud of yourself when someone watches you play.

“A couple of years ago when I was young, this team that I’m playing with, they used to only travel once in a while. But now every year we go to a tournament or championship with the clubs, not only the national team. It (travel) always helped the men, but now it helps the women. It makes them more confident and they know different styles of different countries and they know how to win even in their home country.”

These women love to play basketball, that much is obvious. But that love isn’t confined to the four lines on the court. They live and breathe the sport in their everyday life and are as much fans of the game as they are competitors.

“He’s a monster, he’s a beast,” Bin Haider said of her idol LeBron James, whose socks and shoes were on her feet during the tournament.

James more than once came up as a favourite player, not necessarily for being the best in the world at the moment, but for the way he plays. As Galal described it, “It’s a ‘we’ in the game, not an ‘I’” and
LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers needed that team-work to improbably beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals this past June.

“I went by myself in the road and started celebrating, going ‘the Cavaliers won!’” Bin Haider said of her jubilation.

Galal relayed her own unforgettable moment: “I had camps for my national team because we had the African Cup, so they used to take our laptops and mobile phones,” she said. “When they told us we’re going to watch the final game (Game 7), I was like ‘yes!’ We watched it all night and when we went to practice we were all on cloud nine.”

Not just women’s basketball, but women’s sport in general in the Gulf region still has a long way to go, but it certainly isn’t lacking the main ingredient needed for success: passion.

The more these women get on the court and do what they love, the less they’ll surprise.

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IN PICS: Emotional Ljubljana seal 3x3 world title

Sport360 staff 29/10/2016
It was their first title since 2013.

The Slovenian squad, led by Jasmin Hercegovac's 11 points, defeated Hamamatsu of Japan 21-12 to get back to the FIBA 3x3 summit since winning the crown in 2013.

And not only were we on hand to report on the drama, but also with a snapper to bring you some of the best images from the event.

Were you at the tournament and what did you make of the 3x3 action?

We want to hear from you so comment below, tweet us using #360fans or get in touch via Facebook.

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Ljubljana triumph in FIBA 3x3 World Tour final

Jay Asser 29/10/2016
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Long-range sniper: Jasmin Hercegovac nails a shot. Picture: Jan Peter.

In what felt like a blink of an eye, Jasmin Hercegovac splashed back-to-back shots from beyond the arc to return Ljubljana to the top of the FIBA 3×3 world on Friday night.

The sharpshooter scored 11 points to lead the Slovenians past Hamamatsu of Japan 21-12 in the title game of the World Tour Final at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.

After falling short the past two years, Ljubljana finally tasted glory again following their first crown in Istanbul, Turkey in 2013.

“To be honest, I’m probably going to feel it in a few days what we achieved. Right now, my pulse is higher than usual and it feels great,” Hercegovac, the No5 ranked 3×3 player in the world, told Sport360.

“It took so long (to win the title again). Maybe we even doubted ourselves if we could do it again, but this year we showed amazing performances and we are very happy about it.”

Hercegovac finished with 50 points in five games – all wins – in the capital, but his final four points will be the lasting memory as he ended the championship with rapid-fire long-range bombs to display both his shooting ability and feel for the moment.

“No hesitation at all,” he said. “There’s only 12 seconds [on the shot clock] here. If you have an open window to shoot, I’m going to use it because there are more chances the result is not going to be that good of an opportunity in the next eight seconds. If you feel it, you have to shoot it.”

At the age of 39 and with two World Tour titles under his belt, Hercegovac is dreaming even bigger for his next goal. Not only does he hope 3×3 basketball makes its debut at the 2020 Olympics, but he wants to go out on top with Slovenia at the top of the podium.

“Honestly, our biggest dream or wish it to have a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. I would like to finish my career like that,” he said.

Hamamatsu, meanwhile, had to settle for second place in Abu Dhabi, but they knocked off the favourites and two-time reigning champions, Novi Sad Al Wahda in the semi-finals.

Vadim ‘Miller’ Poddubchenko and Marcin Chudy won the event’s slam dunk contest and shootout, respectively.

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