Lebanon’s surprise weapons

Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Twice, Lebanon beat the Philippines in FIBA competitions last year. The first was a 95-80 blowout at the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta in July and the second was an 85-81 decision in the fourth FIBA World Cup Asia qualifying window in Beirut in August.

In the sixth window, Lebanon and Gilas will face off again, this time on Feb. 24 in the Philippine Arena. Gilas coach Chot Reyes said the Beirut defeat was painful because the outcome was decided by a lucky bounce. With Lebanon up 80-78, Kai Sotto blocked Ali Haidar’s two-point attempt and the ball fell into Wael Arakji’s hands, time down to 21 seconds. Arakji threw up an off-balance triple from the corner and the miracle shot fell in. On the next play, Jordan Clarkson made one of two free throws to trim the lead to four, 83-79. Clarkson took the offensive rebound on his charity miss then attempted a triple that was off target. Karim Zeinoun grabbed the rebound and passed to Arakji who was fouled. Arakji converted two foul shots to make it 85-79. Then, Clarkson was fouled taking a three and hit two of three to settle the count, 85-81. Zeinoun could’ve stretched the lead but flubbed two charities with three ticks left. If Arakji hadn’t sunk the triple down the stretch, Clarkson could’ve taken over and lifted Gilas to victory.

Now, Reyes has a chance to avenge the defeat but without Clarkson. Instead, Justin Brownlee will suit up as Gilas’ naturalized player. At the moment, Reyes has no clue as to the lineup that Lebanon will unravel for the sixth window. Will Lebanon return naturalized player Jonathan Arledge or reactivate Ater James (AJ) Majok? In Lebanon’s 103-74 win over India to close its fifth window last November, the Cedars suited up five players who weren’t in the roster for the Gilas game last August. Three of the five were impressive – 6-3 Omar Jamaleddine who had six points and seven boards; 6-5 Jean Marc Jarrouj who shot 18 points, including 4-of-7 triples and 6-1 Jad Khalil who compiled 15 points, three rebounds and nine assists.

Jamaleddine, 22, was born in New York and played three seasons for D-3 Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, averaging 16 points in his first year and 21.6 in his second. He saw action in only two games for the varsity in 2020-21, averaging 17.5 points then took his act to Lebanon. Jarrouj, 27, hit at a 19.4 clip in 20 games for Antranik Beirut in the Lebanese league last season. Khalil, 26, has played two seasons in Serbia and shot 44.9 percent from beyond the arc in the league last year. If ever, the three would be key additions to the squad in the coming window to back up 6-3 Arakji, 6-7 Haidar and 6-4 Sergio El Darwich. The choice of naturalized player is a toss-up. Majok, 35, is a 6-11 shot blocker who was the LA Lakers second-round pick in the 2011 NBA draft. He played two years for the University of Connecticut and has seen action in Turkey, Australia, Slovakia, Belarus, Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Poland, China, Bahrain, Tunisia and Qatar. His experience traveling the globe is a major advantage. Majok was born in Sudan and holds Australian and Lebanese passports. Arledge, 31, is a 6-9 power forward who suited up for George Mason and Old Dominion University before playing in Switzerland, Italy, Latvia, France, Canada, Greece, Portugal and Korea. Like Majok, his experience goes a long way. Majok played in Lebanon’s first four games in the World Cup Asia qualifiers while Alredge the last six.

In the qualifiers, Arakji is averaging 16.8 points, Haidar 13.4, Arledge 11.2, El Darwich 11.2 and Majok 10. Lebanon and the Philippines are both qualified for the FIBA World Cup so their coming encounter is more a test of character. After Gilas plays Lebanon, the national team goes up against Jordan on Feb. 27, also at the Philippine Arena.

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