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Basketball in the UAE; a Work in Progress

January 18th, 2012 · 1 Comment · Basketball, Dubai, Fifa, soccer, The National, UAE

This is hardly noticed in the particularly British (or Indian) parts of the world, but basketball probably is the second-most popular game on the planet.

I know that several sports have made that claim (from volleyball to team handball to ping-pong, etc), but hoops probably is the real No. 2. Plus, a survey conducted last March found that basketball is the No. 2 sport in the UAE right this minute.

FIBA, the international basketball organization, lists 214 member countries, which is six more than FIFA claims for “the world game.”

But basketball is hardly played in Britain or the subcontinent, so the UAE version of the game goes pretty much unnoticed here by the English-language media, which is in thrall to the British and Indian sports suite — because most journalists here come from one of those two backgrounds.

Which means we can’t really blame the UAE Basketball Association for not bothering to promulgate information in English. But things are going on out there, including a domestic league and a national team which plays in most of Asia’s big basketball events.

I managed to find out that the UAE national team play was playing today, and made the 200-mile roundtrip to Dubai and … well, as the headline says, let’s call UAE hoops “a work in progress.”

Final score: Ittihad club of Alexandria 86, UAE 61.

What are the UAE’s problems?

Many and varied.

–In the story I wrote for The National, I noted that the UAE has a severe problem with height. The Egyptian club team showed up with three guys who were 6-10 or bigger, and those bigs weren’t awful. The UAE, meanwhile, had nobody bigger than maybe 6-4. Some tall guys are walking around the UAE; they need to recruit them. Just point out that you can’t play soccer when you’re 6-10.

–These guys need to slow down and get organized. They run an up-tempo style that is more helter-skelter than effective. (I am reminded of one of John Wooden’s maxims: “Be quick but don’t hurry.”) Anyway, they want to run when the odds are against it (1-on-2 breaks, etc.), they want to try to pass to a cutting teammate who isn’t quite open, they want to jack up a shot sooner than later.

–Don’t shoot the three unless you can make it. I understand that little guys are going to want to put it up from behind the arc, because those are almost the only open looks they are going to get, but 4-for-18, which was the UAE’s stat against the Egyptian club team, suggests that working for a better shot is the way to go, at present.

–Gravity is an issue. These guys are not only not big, they don’t jump very well. I saw one dunk, a smallish guard on a breakaway, and a couple of failed dunks — which, yes, means they shouldn’t be tried, if you recognize you may not get above the rim. This is a small team that plays small.

–Practice your free throws! The UAE was 11-for-21 from the line. A little team has to be able to make FTs. This was a problem in the exhibition game against Duke that I saw back in the summer. (And to update a topic from that story: the UAE did not qualify for the London Olympics.)

The NBA, as distant as it might be, clearly is a major influence. It can be seen on television here (as it is throughout the Middle East, which is a surprisingly strong area for hoops, especially in Egypt, Lebanon and Israel), but I’m not sure that’s a good role model for the nations with lesser talent. Like this one. What they ought to do is get video from a bunch of NCAA mid-major colleges and study what those guys do. Shorten the game, go deep into the shot clock, work, work and work some more for a 15-footer or a backdoor layup (see: Princeton). It seems counter-intuitive, but I believe a really patient, college-style offense could do some damage, in Asia hoops.

So, anyway, the UAE hung around for a while with the Egyptians, but then the club guys reeled off a 17-0 run in the second quarter (feel free to get a TO, coach) to make it 50-27, and that was that.

A 22-year-old kid named Jasim Abdalla, who suggested he is 6-6 but is more like 6-4, scored 20 and had 13 rebounds. He was born in London, which means he ought not to care about basketball, but a teacher here told him, when he was 15, that he ought to check out basketball, and now he’s one of the two best players on the team. But he often is asked to play center when he ought to be a small forward.

The country’s best player, when he plays, is a guy named Rashid Al Zaabi, who didn’t play in the Egypt game because he has “personal issues” and hasn’t been practicing. Anyway, some American guys living in Dubai have seen Rashid on the playgrounds and they insist he is the real deal. “The Michael Jordan of the UAE.” Well, not if he can’t get on the court.

Three things impressed me about this game:

1. It was nationally televised.

2. The level of sponsorship that the host competition, the 23rd Dubai International Basketball Tournament, had … which would seem to indicate that big companies are convinced a market for hoops exists here.

3.  The enthusiasm of the crowd, which was loud and excited. It wasn’t a big crowd, maybe 400, but some soccer matches here do no better.

I will be checking back on these UAE hoopsters. I want to talk more with the guy who had 20 and 13, and at some point I’d like to sit down with the UAE’s Michael Jordan.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Anonymous // Dec 3, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Hi Paul,

    Nice blog. Question for you, how much do the pro players in the UAE make? Any guidance is much appreciated.

    Also, a friend of mine, Kene Obi, 218 cm tall is working out in Dubai for one of the clubs there as we speak. Hopefully he makes it.

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