UAE Basketball Association technical director Mounir Ben Slimane hailed the inaugural National School League (NSL) Basketball tournament as a success for growing the sport at the youth level.
The UAE boys’ national side has been one of the highest climbers in the FIBA world rankings, jumping up 17 spots to No66, and the NSL will only further help the nation’s ascension in basketball.
“The UAE Basketball Association has been proud to be part of Sport360°’s pioneer project of promoting national basketball at school level,” Slimane said.
“The new competitive platform which targeted expat and local youngsters across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah was fantastic for grassroots basketball development in the UAE. It has been a good driver to enhance basketball promotion in the country and an added value for talent identification.
“Congratulations to this year’s champions in U14 and U16 and we look forward to the second edition of NSL Basketball in 2016.”
Sponsors of the NSL were also impressed, as both National Ambulance and Stadium praised the competition.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) June 6, 2015
p>“National Ambulance is a proud sponsor of Sport360°’s NationalSchool League Basketball, which has proven to be a huge success amongst everyone who participated,” National Ambulance CEO Robert Ball said.
“The league provides children with an early introduction to the benefits of leading an active and healthy lifestyle and we remain committed to supporting the development of local sporting activities at the grassroots level as it has a positive, long-term effect onthe welfare of the community.”
Samantha Warrayat, marketing manager at Stadium, added: “Stadium has very much enjoyed being involved in the National School League Basketball.
“We have seen some fabulous basketball being played and been very impressed with the enthusiasm and passion demonstrated by the teams and coaches.
“As a brand Stadium is committed to enabling and encouraging its consumers of all ages and abilities to be active and to enjoy a fit and healthy lifestyle; what better place to start than at grassroots level in UAE schools. Congratulations to all those who took part.”
The National School League (NSL) was a new vehicle to identify up-and-coming basketball talent and GEMS Sports Academy took notice of the impressive players in the tournament.
As the hosts of NSL games played in Dubai – along with Victoria International School Sharjah and New York University in Abu Dhabi – GEMS got a firsthand look at the UAE’s young talent pool.
James Tucker, principal director of GEMS Sports Academy, believes the tournament brought some of the best basketball has to offer in the region to the forefront.
“I think certainly there was some talent in the groups that came and played,” Tucker said. “Obviously, basketball is like a new grassroots sport in Dubai and it’s yet to be mainstream in the main schools.”
The initiative very much aligns with the vision GEMS have of developing young athletes in the UAE, both on and off the field. By combining education with sport, GEMS are paving the way for aspiring athletes to begin the journey towards becoming professionals capable of a reach outside the UAE.
“GEMS Sports Academy is aimed at developing athletes for the future. In year one of our launch, started in September, it’s a great platform for us to identify talent of the future,” Tucker said.
“GEMS want to be involved with shaping the future of sport in Dubai and the UAE. The project, under GEMS Sports Academy, allows us to tap into future talentthat can hopefully not only represent the UAE nationally, but also allow students to train as a professional student athlete, allowing them to get the best of their education and training at the same time.”
GEMS have already had success preparing students for furthering their sporting careers, with Callum Beaver the precedent and Aaron Ferns a symbol of what’s to come.
Beaver became the first GEMS Sports Academy student to receive a full scholarship for a Division I school in the United States, where he’ll attend Holy Cross College and play football. Ferns, who’s already been invited to national team tryouts for his native India, is hoping to follow a similar path while training with former NBA player Jawann Oldham in GEMS Academy’s team.
The NSL has served to widen the talent pool from which GEMS can find new players to develop.
“Sport is still in its infancy in the UAE,” Tucker said. “I think projects like GEMS Sports Academy really allows athletes the opportunity to focus and develop, as well as have a chance at becoming a pro-level athlete, which is something that has always been missing in the UAE.”
Emirati Khalifa Khouri was one of the breakout stars of the National School League (NSL), showcasing his skills while leading the International School of Choueifat to the Under-14 final.
ISC fell short of capturing the inaugural title, losing 31-15 to Indian High School Dubai, but represented the nation’s capital well as the only Abu Dhabi team to reach the semi-finals in either age group.
Khouri was the engine that made the team go, acting as the playma-ker from the point guard position.
He finished tied fourth in the U14s with 64 points and as the only Emirati in the tournament, showed there’s plenty of basketball talent among the local youth.
“I take a lot pride in it because I think I’m the only Emirati player to play in the NSL,” Khouri said.
“[Basketball among Emiratis] is getting much better and I hope after this tournament, in the tournaments to come, there will be more UAE nationals involved.”
— Sport360° (@Sport360) May 30, 2015
Khouri, who’s eyeing the U16 UAE national team, sta-ted he wants to continue improving, especially his shooting and dribbling, by attending former NBA player Jawann Oldham’s summer camp. He’s also looking forward to playing with point guard Karthik Raj, who led ISC’s U16 team in the NSL, as he steps up to his school’s senior team next year.
“We have an U15 team and I play point guard with Karthik there. He’s a good player and I learn a lot from him,” Khouri said.
ISC coach Stefanita Buzatu witnessed firsthand the development of Khouri in the NSL and is excited to have the duo of dynamic players at his disposal next season.
“One of them has the speed, one of them has the shooting, so I hope I can give them more games to play in,” Buzatu said.
“No matter what, next year I’ll take Khalifa for the senior team. He’ll be 15 and play with the 17 and 18-year-olds because they have more games, so he will improve. It’s my job to do that.”