Wael Arakji on defending home court
"To be honest, the Philippines got their top 12 players in the league. Maybe they're missing one or two, but we beat them. When you're in my town, you go by my rules. So when you're in Lebanon, you go by our rules and this is what we did today," he said.
Arakji, the 2022 Fiba Asia Cup MVP, was the catalyst for Lebanon's victory as he punctuated his 24-point performance with the dagger three in the last 16.3 seconds of the game as he scored the final seven points for the Cedars.
But more than his endgame brilliance, it's also a testament to the depth that the Lebanon team has heading into the 2023 Fiba World Cup.
"Like coach said, we're building a team that can win with any five on court. Every tournament we're missing at least two main players and today, we missed one of our to players in our team in Sergio El Darwich and in the most crucial time of the game, we missed Amir Saoud," he said.
Still, those absences hardly made any difference as evidenced by the Cedars' 35 bench points, to which Arakji noted, "We have someone coming off the bench that stepped up. It shows that every single player on this team is willing to step up. We're super proud about this win."
For Arakji, this should serve as an eyeopener for the federation as he expects to see the players continue to develop in the leadup to the global hoops expo next year.
"You need to ask the federation this question: What's next for the players? What's next for the development of the players? What's next? They have to have a major plan, a very good plan for our players," he testified.
"We're beating national teams that have a triple, quadruple budget than ours. Most of the players we're playing against are playing in top leagues in the world. So they need to figure out a good plan for the players."
Arakji has one idea: opening the doors further than the Far East as he hopes to see Middle Eastern talents from Lebanon, Jordan, and even Syria to be given a fair shake to compete in leagues like the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia, the Japan B.League, and the Korean Basketball League (KBL) -- leagues which have recently instituted rules for Asian imports.
"Mr. Hagop Khajirian, who's always doing great job, I believe every country in Asia is supposed to have two Asian spots for the whole continent. So players in Lebanon and Jordan and in Syria can have the chance to go and play in Korea, have the chance to go and play in Australia, the same way that the Far East are having their own rule where Asian players are allowed to go and play in Australia and Korea and Japan as Asians," he said.
"I believe Lebanese and other nationalities should be allowed to do this. So this question, you should ask this question for our federation. The players are doing the impossible to raise Lebanon's flag back again to the top. We're exhausted, this is for sure. We're killing ourselves for our country, so I believe we deserve much more respect and much more appreciation from whoever is responsible."