CHENZHOU (FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2017) — The FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2017 begins in just two days, so the time is ripe to look at the two groups and gauge how well each team will do.
BC «Astana» (Kazakhstan)
Player to Watch: With eight national team standouts in their roster, BC Astana should be one of the deepest teams in the entire tournament. The one who could make a helluva difference, though, is young big man Alexandr Zhigulin. The 23-year-old showed flashes of brilliance in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017, and he will try to hold the fort in the paint alongside veteran Anton Ponomarev.
Outlook: Kazakhstan will rely heavily on foreign players Anthony Clemmons and Anthony Carter to carry much of the scoring load, but their locals will have to really step up their play at the frontline. If Zhigulin, Ponomarev and Anatoliy Kolesnikov can put up good numbers, Astana may just go deep beyond the group phase.
«Mono Vampire» (Thailand)
Outlook: Mono Vampire will not be among the favorites, given some of the deeper teams in the tournament, but if foreign player Mike Singletary can be dominant in the paint and the Brickman-Samerjai combo will be productive, anything can happen. Coach Douglas Marty is expecting that they will probably be overlooked, and he will be more than happy to defy the odds.
Player to Watch: Behnam Yakhchali has been a main cog for the Iran national team the last couple of years, but his stint with Petrochimi here will give him a prime opportunity to be the club's top local player. The 22-year-old combo guard should be able to rise to the occasion, especially after an impressive showing at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017. Count on the 1.95m wingman to torch the nets with his sweet stroke from the perimeter.
Outlook: Petrochimi are perhaps the deepest team in the entire competition. Half the team saw action at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017, and foreign players Willie Warren and Mirza Begic should be very productive. They have a good mix of veterans and youth, and they have great talent across the board. Of course, it also goes without saying that they are hella motivated to do well after failing to make the Final in 2016.
«Sareyyet Ramallah» (Palestine)
Players to Watch: With iconic big man Sani Sakakini doubtful at this stage, Sareyyet Ramallah will likely turn to older brother Salim and national team veteran Jamal Abu Shamala for production and leadership. Salim, who has good size at the forward spot, specializes in doing the dirty work in the paint, while Abu Shamala has the makings of a great playmaker and outside shooter.
Outlook: With their best local player unable to play for the club team, Sareyyet Ramallah's hopes will really be propped up by their two foreign players. This means that Anthony Weeden and Todd O'Brien will need to be constantly productive for the club to have any shot of advancing past the group phase. If these foreign players click along with Abu Shamal and Salim Sakakini, though, and they make it to the Quarter-Finals, then anything can happen.
Player to Watch: Much has been written about star guard Kiefer Ravena, but perhaps the main man to watch here is foreign player Isaiah Austin. Many will remember Austin for being drafted in the NBA despite having Marfan Syndrome, but he has made quite a name for himself as a journeyman player in Serbia and China. Now the 2.16m slotman has brought his talents to Manila, where he is being eyed as the replacement to Andray Blatche as the naturalized player of Gilas Pilipinas.
Outlook: If Austin solidly anchors the middle for Chooks-To-Go and their other foreign player, Rod Ebondo, is able to hold his own in the shaded lane, then the team should do well enough to make it past the group phase. Of course, it goes without saying that top local players like Ravena, Carl Bryan Cruz and Jeron Teng will need to step up as they a gauntlet of top flight opposition.