In this episode, we discover Qatar’s bouncing basketball scene and find out how the country is going for glory with its youth team, the professional league, and even on the international stage.
Supporting and moulding young talent is one of the ways the Qatar Basketball Federation is hoping to shape future champions. And what better way to start 'em young than at an international competition?
Mohamed Massamba Ndao is the captain of Qatar's Under-16 team. For most of his teammates, the FIBA Under-16 Asian Championships was their first time in a major competition. But for Mohamed, it was the second consecutive time. He knows the pressure, the intensity and what to expect.
That competitive edge is what coach Stavros Mykoniatis hopes to build in his young team.
"There's a programme that we run for the region in order to develop and for the next generation for the first team and also for the Under-18's," said Stavros Mykoniatis, the coach of Qatar's Under-16 Team. "So for us, it's a very good chance that the guys can take this experience for the future."
15-year-old point guard Abdulla Yasin Mousa is also featuring in the competition for the second time. The spotlight is on Abdulla and Mohamed - both of whom have been named Qatar’s next basketball superstars.
There’s no shortage of talent in the Qatari youth team. The players are 16 years old or younger, but many are already shooting hoops alongside the pros in the Qatar Basketball League. And beyond this campaign, many are looking to add a valuable international experience to their already decorated young careers.
Part of that experience is learning to swallow the bitter pill of losing. Playing against some of Asia’s best teams like Iran and Australia, there’s bound to be wins and losses, and coach Stavros and his team make sure the boys understand that it’s all part of the game.
"This is our job," he told Qatar 365. "We try to change the feeling because basketball and the game has a lot of the feelings that change, like the ball positions. We try to find something that makes[s] them play better, to play harder."
Off the court, Mohamed also leads by example. Win or lose, he stays motivated to improve his game.
"I'm never satisfied. But I feel I can do better. I'm not going to let that get to my head. I'm going to keep working, and keep pushing," Mohamed Massamba Ndao revealed.
The hope is that all the hard work will culminate on the global stage in 2027 when Qatar hosts the FIBA Basketball World Cup. By that time, Mohamed and Abdulla will be at their peak, in prime form to represent Qatar again, on home soil.
"In order to be the best, always go 100%. Working every chance I get, I'm working hard every chance I get. And it is the biggest competition in the world. So I'm just working so hard for that," the captain added.
Mohamed 'Mizo' Hassan: The 'middle child' of Qatar basketball
Mohamed Hassan, better known as Mizo, is a shooting guard at the Al Shamal Sports Club. He shared his insights on what it takes to reach the highest level of professional basketball and prospects for the sport in Qatar.
"Ever since I was four, my father was a basketball coach and a former basketball player. He’s the one who taught me the game and crafted me the way I am, playing the game. So, that’s where I started playing basketball," he said.
"I started playing for the national team at a very young age, at the age of 15. I was happy to represent [the] Qatar national team in FIBA Asia. I would start with the first free throws against the Philippines national team in 2010, finishing third in Asia against Japan, scoring the buzzer beater in 2012, and in 2019, playing against the Australia national team. That was a dream to me as a child and seeing that happening was an amazing feeling."
Mohamed debuted in Qatar’s national team as a youngster. He described how important is it to provide support to young athletes to shape them for the future of Qatar’s basketball scene.
"I consider myself to be the 'middle child' of Qatar basketball, because I started as the youngest on the team, the rookie, at 15 years old. Then, I did play with the guys who went to the World Cup, then I became the national team captain, and then I became the older guy in the team. So I’m always trying to support the young players because I understand how important it is to get support from the veterans and the older players."
Everyone in Qatar is looking ahead to 2027 to the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Qatar 365 asked Mohamed how he foresees the sport growing by 2027 and beyond.
"I see that Qatar is investing a lot in sports and a lot in athletes from many different games and fields. So I’m happy to see my other fellow friends and athletes doing their thing, doing the sport that they love, and especially basketball. The sport has changed a lot and developed a lot in Qatar."
Arab Club Basketball Championship: 'Sport unites us'
While the Basketball World Cup is still a few years from coming to Qatar, the country is no stranger to hosting international hoops. Eight teams from seven countries tipped off the Doha International Basketball Championship. Then soon after the final buzzer sounded on that, 14 countries were represented at the Arab Club Basketball Championship.
Basketball is life for Omar Al-Ziani. The 20-year-old can usually be found dribbling a ball. He plays point guard for Qatar’s Al Ahli - one of 18 teams that participated in the Arab Club Basketball Championship - hosted in Qatar for the first time.
"The fact that you bring together teams from all over the world and they get to interact with each other on and off the court, you never know, this might form friendships, "he told Qatar 365. "You show sportsmanship, you show respect to each other. Which I think has great, great value. It has immense value, in my opinion.
The tournament’s Head of Media, Yousef Al-Shriem, shares the opinion that bridge-building is just as important as the final score.
"The bigger picture: sport unites us," he said. "Either it is football, basketball, handball, volleyball whatever sport - sport is sport and unites people. Different cultures, different religions, different languages - but they all speak the same language – it’s either basketball, football, sports at the end of the day."
Doha International Basketball Championship: Pooling expertise from the region
While the Arab Club Basketball Championship is an annual tradition in its 35th year, the Doha International Basketball Championship recently played out just its second edition. This tournament similarly features clubs from across the Middle East and North Africa, but, for the very first time, also featured the Meralco Bolts of the Philippine Basketball Association.
And despite being more than 7,000 kilometres away from Manila, the support they received felt like a home game for the Filipino club.
For Cliff Hodge, who plays for the Meralco Bolts, bringing different cultures together on a basketball court is a big part of why he loves the sport.
"It’s crazy," he admitted. "If you really think about it, basketball is a language that everyone speaks. So it’s good to see the camaraderie and then, everyone is battling on the court and we’re all staying at the same hotel, so we see each other off the court. So it’s good, it’s like a brotherhood. Trashing talking on the court, all love off the court."
That’s music to the ears of the tournament organiser, Samer Saadeh.
"[We want] to get more expertise from all the regions, working to combine them in Doha. The Filipinos, especially, their love of the game, for this country. And also the same [goes for] Lebanon. In Lebanon, basketball is the first game. Not [like in] other countries. In Lebanon, it's the first game. We are trying to apply this mentality here [in Qatar] and hopefully, we will succeed."
You could call it the ‘Mamba Mentality’ made famous by the late Kobe Bryant. Lebanon’s Sergio El Darwich says the basketball icon featured prominently in his childhood home.
"We grew up in a competitive household, my dad was a big, big, big Lakers fan. So all we did was watch the Lakers growing up, watch Kobe [Bryant] and that’s what I fell in love with," Sergio explained.
The Beirut Club’s star guard says Qatar being named the host of the 2027 basketball World Cup is a slam dunk for the entire region.
"For the whole Middle East, it’s good to see that Arab countries are hosting such big competitions and very proud because I’m an Arab as well," Sergio told Qatar 365.
"It’s going to be very exciting, very exciting for the future and the next four years. The growth of basketball in this region is going to be so, so good and hopefully, it will get better over the years."
Back in the locker room, the 2027 World Cup can’t come soon enough for Omar Al-Ziani. "I can’t put it into words. I’m going to get to see the greatest players play right in front of my eyes, in my hometown. Can’t ask for better," he said.