DAMASCUS (Syria) – What a time it is to be a fan of basketball in Syria. From the inspiring performances throughout the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers to qualifying for FIBA Asia Cup 2022 to the women’s national team participating in FIBA Women’s Asia Cup Division B to the first annual Super Cup for local professional teams, there’s been a lot of basketball for the Syrian fans to watch and cheer.
“I believe Syria has the most passionate fans in the world when it comes to the game of Basketball.”
“There is no question that Basketball in Syria is trending in the right direction,” said Syria head coach Joe Salerno, giving credit to Syrian Basketball Federation (SBF) and President Tarif Koutrach, for their roles in the numerous advancements for the game of basketball and its fans in the country of Syria.
“There are so many things to be excited about if you are a fan.”
And there’s even more excitement up ahead.
This upcoming week, Syria will be playing in the first window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers with their first two games being against Kazakhstan. More than the importance of winning these games and inching closer to a historic World Cup debut is just the plain fact that the national team will be playing in front of their fans at home.
After playing their first game of the Qualifiers on Friday, 26 November in Kazakhstan, Syria will return home to play in a rematch at the Al Fayhaa Stadium in Damascus on 29 November.
It’s been a long while since Syria have played on their homecourt as a result of different situations over the years.
They didn’t have the opportunity to host any home games through the Asia Cup Qualifiers before the COVID-19 situation hit. Even through the World Cup 2019 Qualifiers, Syria had to play their “home” games in Lebanon due to the situation in the country.
Here at the World Cup Qualifiers, they’re ready to tell the world that they are coming home.
“On the excitement scale [of 1 to 10], I would say I am easily a 10!” Salerno said of this homecoming opportunity. “I am incredibly excited for our fans to see our national team play live, in person, for the first international competition to be held in Syria for many years.”
Salerno notes that countless hours and incredible efforts were put forth to prepare the Al Fayhaa Stadium for the event, which just goes to show how much this opportunity means to Syria basketball.
“It difficult to describe how big of a deal it is for Syria to be able to now host a World Cup Qualifier game,” he said.
“I imagine it will be a very special moment for so many people when the ball finally goes up in our game versus Kazakhstan in Damascus. I am receiving hundreds of messages on social media every week from fans in Syria who are just overwhelmed with excitement and the anticipation of finally being able to see their first team play in international competition again on home soil.”
“After viewing many Syrian league games online and seeing the energy that their fan bases bring to games, I can only imagine what an electric atmosphere it will be when it is their country competing against another.”
“I am sure the crowds, and the energy they bring to our team will surpass any and all expectations I currently have. I am certain it will be an atmosphere like no other.”
That is a part of what makes Syria basketball so special – the crazed fandom. Sure, they’ve had significant talents like Michael Madanly put on the national team jersey in the past, but it’s those sixth men and women in the stands and at home that makes Syria basketball what it is.
“I believe Syria has the most passionate fans in the world when it comes to the game of Basketball. There is a lot for these fans to look forward to for many years to come, as I believe the Syrian Basketball Federation with its new leadership group will continue to advance the game in the country to new heights. There is an incredible buzz right now in terms of Basketball in Syria, and I am so proud to be part of it.”
“I believe our fans will see a team that is committed to doing any and everything it takes to win for its country. I also believe they will see a team that is continuing to improve, window after window, and is continuing to find new Syrian talent to join our national team. We will take pride in playing for the Syrian flag, and the incredible fans that support us with such a great passion.”
This passionate intense and support from the fans is a large part of what fuels the national team program to get better and better in each competition. That development and improvement is not only limited to sharpen the skills of the players on the hardwood, but also in terms of broadening the talent pool for the national team to utilize.
Recent success stories include players like Amer Alsati and Kemal Canbolat. Both foreign-based big men stepped up immediately to make an impact in their national team debuts in the final window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers.
“Since my first conversation with President Koutrach back in August of 2020, making the national team as competitive as possible has been a top priority. This means not only working to improve the domestic players we currently have in Syria, but also looking far and wide for players of Syrian decent who may have been playing elsewhere all over the world,” Salerno explained.
“President Koutrach and staff have been instrumental in finding players of Syrian origin that we have been able to add to our national team roster. Guys such as Alsati, Canoblat, and David Hermes are all great additions to our roster and we will continue to work on improving our roster year-round.”
“I believe that with some of the recent success our national team has had on in the international stage, more players who have Syrian origin are starting to take notice and are reaching out. It is an exciting time for Syria basketball and our players.”
The fandom, the new recruits, and the overall excitement will be put on display in the upcoming days as Syria faces their first test.
Kazakhstan are a tough team to play against, but Salerno and his team are determined to not let that spoil all the positive energy that has been built up in the Syria basketball scene.
“They are physical, athletic, quick and very well coached. They have multiple weapons on the offensive end. You have to be aware of all 5 players on the floor at all times, for any of them can hurt you offensively at any time. They are coming off a great campaign at the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, where they went 4-2, and their only two losses coming in close games to a very good Jordan team.”
“For us to be successful again a team such a Kazakhstan, so much of our focus must be on the defensive end of the floor. Getting stops and limiting their second chance opportunities will be a main priority. Also, making sure we are taking care of the basketball on our offensive end of the floor. Making good decisions and not turning the ball over to slow their transition game down and limit their offensive possessions will also be crucial.”
“It will be a great test for our team, but I am confident in our players and their determination to win for the people of Syria. We are coming for a 40-minute fight, and fighting is something our players can certainly do.”