Egypt welcomed 16 basketball teams with lights, music, and waving flags on Saturday night. For the first time in history, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) is holding its U19 Basketball World Cup Tournament in Africa, with Egypt as the main stage.
FIBA is the world’s governing body for basketball, recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the sole authority on the sport. The first Basketball World Cup took place in 1950 and is now held every four years, alternating with the Olympics. The Olympics of basketball, in its own right, is filled with the same ceremonial pomp and circumstance.
Cheering fans filled the stadium as green lights flashed the word “Egypt” over the crowd. The announcer called up the famous Egyptian band of young singers “Sharmoofers” and the crowd went wild all over again. Following the band was a flag parade of all the participating countries. Thousands of loyal fans who could not take part of the live show anticipatingly followed the live stream of the long-awaited event.
The entire association is formed up of 213 National Basketball Federations around the world. The participating countries this year, however, are Argentina, France, Korea, New Zealand, Egypt, Germany, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Canada, Japan, Mali, Spain, Angola, Iran, Italy, and the USA.
The tournament used to only allow amateur players but opened up the door to Olympic participants, such as NBA players, in 1989.
Out of all the participating countries, the USA holds the most consecutive wins (19), they satisfied their fans’ high expectations, beating Iran 108 to 48 in the opening game of the championship. Spain comes in second with 11 wins, and they went from the classification rounds to the finals from 2002-2006.
This year, however, Spain has lent some of its talent to Egypt in the form of coach Juan Antonio Orenga. The 50-year-old Spaniard was the assistant coach of Spain’s silver medal team in the 2012 Olympics and will now be coaching Egypt’s U19 team.
Saturday also witnessed the Egyptian team’s first game after its intense training programme with the Spanish coach Juan Antonio Orenga. The best the Egyptian team has placed in the past was 11th in 2009 and 2015.
“The most important thing we have right now is that we want to play a great tournament in Egypt with the support of all the country,” Orenga told FIBA news earlier this year.
He made good on his promise in the game, but only by a small margin, with a 67 to 65 win over Puerto Rico.
In the Egyptian team’s centre, Ahmed Khalaf is the major player to watch. Khalaf just turned 18 in February, and this is his second and last FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup. On Saturday, Khalaf made 13 rebounds. Teammate Esam Mostafa will rejoin Khalaf, continuing their tradition as an unstoppable duo.
Mostafa and Khalaf were together for the FIBA U17 2016 game in Zaragoza, Spain, where they both average double-doubles in points and rebounds.
Egypt finished their U17 game last, but Khalaf says they have evolved as players. “We are not so young anymore and now every player knows how important it is. Everyone will be watching how we play and how good we are. We have to show our best for our country,” he told FIBA news.
FIBA is a non-profit, independent organisation that was founded on 18 June 1932 and is headquartered in Mies, Switzerland. The founding countries were Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, and Switzerland with James Naismith, founder of basketball, as their honourary president.
Their mission is to develop and promote the game of basketball to bring people together and unite the community.
Scheduled game days are listed on the organisation’s website, along with any changes. The tournament is being held in Cairo International Stadium in Nasr City, Cairo.