DUBAI // As the final buzzer went off, Carl Nash, the Al Rayyan coach, sank to his knees, arms raised in triumph. A brief moment later, his eyes turned red and the tears started to flow. Rayyan's fourth Gulf Basketball Club Championship title and their first since 2007, was sealed with a convincing 88-70 victory over Al Shabab of the UAE, and it was an emotional moment for the American coach, who was under pressure back home in Qatar.
"We won the league, but lost in the final of the Emir Cup," he said. "So there was a lot of pressure and a lot of stress on our team coming into this tournament. This win certainly helps get past that and get a big monkey off our back. "It's a great win for our team and our club. I am very happy and very proud of those guys. They deserve it. It came through a lot of hard work and a lot of passion."
And much of that passion came in the form of Cory Bradford, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, who has played most of his career in Europe. He joined Rayyan only a month ago, but looked an intrinsic part of the team, scoring a match-high 29 points and marshalling every move. "I think I have found a new home," said Bradford, a 1.9-metre guard. "I am so excited. I have been with this team for only a month and I love being with these boys."
Shabab, playing in the regional tournament for only the second time, started on a promising note and managed to keep the score even at 20 after the first period. The Qataris, however, upped the ante after that and increased their lead with every quarter. At the break, they were leading 48-38 and entered the final quarter with a 74-55 lead. Ahmed Omar, the Al Shabab coach, was satisfied with the performance of his team but hoped to go one better next year when the tournament will be in Qatar.
"This is only the second time we play in this tournament," said Omar. "Rayyan have played many times, so we just lacked a bit of experience against a side of their quality. "The first time we played in the tournament, five years ago, we finished third. "We are second now, so I think we have done well. We have won four games and I think we can be satisfied with second place. "We wanted to win the match, but Rayyan played a really good game. So we will just take this experience and try to come back stronger for the next tournament." Nash was also impressed with the fight put up by the Dubai club.
"That team over there, I love that team. They have good players and the coach does an excellent job. I am very respectful of those guys." Earlier, Al Ahli, backed by a strong home crowd, erased a 10-point deficit going into the final quarter to edge five-time champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia, 84-83, for the third place. Vincent Jones led the Ahli fight back with a game-high 30 points, while Omar Khalid contributed 26. The Saudis were propped up by Russell Allison (18) and Ali Taha (15).