The global game of basketball is played in the UAE, and sometimes quite well, but unseen and unappreciated. The UAE hopes their match against Duke University will change that.
UAE players ready to enjoy their 'huge opportunity' against Duke
DUBAI // Fans of the sport may be excused for believing otherwise, but the global game of basketball is played in the UAE, and sometimes quite well.
The sport remains largely unseen and unappreciated, however, conditions that could change for the better Friday night when the national team plays the US collegiate basketball power Duke University before a worldwide television audience.
"It's going to be a huge opportunity for UAE basketball," said Samir St Clair, an assistant coach of the Sharjah club's basketball team.
"The team will get the exposure they need, and the players will have a chance to see what a really good American college team is like."
The UAE has been a member of Fiba, basketball's world body, since 1976, and has finished as high as fifth, in 1997, in the Fiba Asia Championships.
The team, next month, will be one of 12 national sides playing in the 2011 continental championships in Wuhan, China with a chance to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
"They have some guys who can play," said Chad Chambers, an American coach with Impact Basketball of Dubai, naming the guard Rashid Al Zaabi, as other coaches around him nodded in agreement. "Rashid is the man, a real gym rat, a playground legend. He sometimes outplays the expats."
"He's like Rajon Rondo," said Impact's Esau Abdul Adl, referring to a leading NBA player, "except with a better jump shot. Ridiculous wing span, great hang time."
Omar Al Ameri, who plays for the local champion Sharjah club, was also mentioned by many local coaches as a leading UAE player. "Between Rashid and Omar, they have two guards who can play," said Kevin Cobbs, a New York native who coaches at the International Applied Technology school in Dubai.
The Duke team arrived in Dubai yesterday after three games in China, all victories over China's Olympic team, and it seems fair to say that Duke will represent the most formidable opponent the UAE team has seen.
Al Ameri, the Sharjah player, said the national team will not be intimidated by Duke. "If we can start well, we can play with them," he said.
He said it will be good to play before a large crowd in Dubai, as well as a global audience. "This national team, right now, is the best we've ever had, but not many people see us play. This will be different, which is good."
Though it receives scant notice, the UAE has a professional league made up of seven clubs far better known for their football teams: Al Ahli, Al Nasr, Al Shaab, Al Shabab, Al Wasl, Baniyas and Sharjah.
The UAE team may not be at full strength tonight.
Al Zaabi, the standout guard, is carrying an injury, as is Salem Mubarak, the country's best big man.
The national side returned only Monday from two weeks of games in Taiwan and China, a punishing stretch that saw them play 15 games, in some cases during the Ramadan fast.
They won only once, over Hong Kong, as Al Omeri scored 28 points and Al Zaabi added 20 points and took 17 rebounds from the encounter.
Abdullah Al Ansari, general secretary of the UAE basketball federation, said the game with Duke "is a big opportunity for us, of course, and it is prestigious to have a school like Duke playing here".
He added: "We hope there will be a good game. Of course, we cannot be as good as Duke, but we will try to play with them."