Canada meets Lebanon twice this week, beginning on the third day of the upcoming Efes Pilsen World Cup tournament in Turkey (Monday). The Lebanese recently captured 2010 FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup in Beirut, confirming their ticket for 2011 FIBA Asia Men's Championships - this tournament determines which teams will represent Asia at the 2012 London Olympics. The Stankovic Cup was also a nice tune-up for the worlds. The Lebanese have steadily improved their overall talent and with American-bred coach Tab Baldwin, who put New Zealand on the basketball map with a semi-final finishes at the 2002 World Championships, at the helm, expect Lebanon to continue to improve.
Although most agree that ex-NBAer 6'11" Rony Seikaly is the greatest Lebanese player ever, many feel 6'6" Fadi al-Khatib a tremendous offensive player is Lebanon's greatest modern-day player. al-Khatib established himself at the 2006 Worlds, averaging 18.8 ppg and is now fit after suffering through a season of injuries. He was Lebanon's most consistent scoring threat at the Stankovic Cup.
Complementing al-Khatib inside is 6'10" Jackson Vroman, a Lebanese-American from California who playe at Iowa State and was a 2nd round pick of the Chicago Bulls in 2004. He played a couple of seasons in the NBA with Phoenix and the Hornets before being involved in a blockbuster trade that involved Jimmy Jackson. Since then, he has played in Europe and should test Canada's Joel Anthony and Co. inside for Lebanon. 6'1" Rony Fahed a veteran of the Lebanese leagues is one of Lebanon's top 3 point shooters and scored 23 points in the Stankovic Cup championship game.
Lebanon also features a pair of Lebanese-Canadians, the previously-mentioned Ali Mahmoud, who played at Ottawa St. Patrick's H.S. and then one season with CIS Ottawa Gee-Gees where he was an OUA East All-Freshman team selection. 6'9" Ali Kanaan, who just graduated from UMass-Lowell, an NCAA Division II program, where he averaged 8.0 ppg/3.9 rpg in 22 mpg as a senior last season also has significant ties to Canada. Kanaan was born in Lebanon but grew up in Montreal, playing his CEGEP basketball at Montmorency, where he was Quebec playoff MVP in his final season.
Although not selected for the Lebanese National team for the coming World championships, expect 6'7" Ahmad Ibrahim, a 16 year old talent who currently attends Patterson High School in Texas and is rated as a 4 star recruit by Rivals.com and has received several NCAA D1 offers already, to make an impact on his national team before all is said and done.
Given these teams will play twice in a week, expect Monday's game to be little more than a pick-up game/tune-up as both teams will likely save their best for the opening day of the World Championships next Saturday.