CHANGSHA, China – Palestine is in its first Fiba Asia Men’s Championship appearance. And that’s understandable for a team whose majority of players are into basketball only as a hobby.
Star player Sani Sakakini bared he’s the only Palestinian in the team who’s playing the sport professionally as the rest of its members are just involved in the game merely for their past time.
“We have no professional basketball in Palestine. I’m the only Palestinian (player) playing outside. All of these guys are taking it as a hobby,” Sakakini bared.
And yet the Palestinians passed their initial test with flying colors, rallying back from as much as an 11-point deficit to stun favorite Gilas Pilipinas, 75-73, to open their campaign in the Olympic qualifying meet on a high note.
In tandem with University of Minnesota stalwart Jamal Abu Shamala, Sakakini sparked the Palestine’s charge as he finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds, including a completed three-point play in the final 15.8 seconds that proved to be the game-winning play for the unranked Middle East team.
The huge win over Gilas came with the team barely playing together as a unit for two weeks. Even more, Shamala and Ahmed Haroon joined the team just two days before the qualifying meet to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic gets going in this Southern Chinese province.
“We should be preparing more than this, but we got two of our players like two days ago. So we didn’t practice much as we want,” said Sasakini, who plays in the Chinese Basketball Association.
“We prepared like two weeks, that’s it. We didn’t prepare the whole team, but we tried to play as hard as we can.”
Still, the Palestine squad did prove that given time, the team could become a threat to the region’s traditional cage powers, the Philippines included.
“We tried to show the people that we deserved to be here, that we deserved to go from West Asia to come and play here,” he said. “We didn’t come here to just play basketball. We come here to win and go as far as we can.”