We are expecting a tough match against Qatar, says Syria’s basketball coach Salerno
Qatar is hosting the second window of the FIBA Asia CUP 2021 Qualifier from November 28 and 30.
In this exclusive interview with Qatar Living, Syria's newly appointed coach, Joe Salerno, speaks about his team, the tournament, and other issues. Excerpt:
You are in the same group with 2017 Asia Cup finalist Iran, host Qatar, and Saudi Arabia in what seems to be the tougher of the two groups that will be playing in Doha. What are you expecting from your opening match against Qatar and the subsequent one against Iran?
I agree we are in a very competitive group. Iran and Qatar are ranked higher than us in FIBA. Iran has been in fine form recently, and they are expected to have a good outing here as well. Our first match against Qatar is doubtlessly going to be tough, but we are ready to give it our best and show the improvements we have made after our training camp in Kazan. We are expecting to play a different brand of basketball than the ones we have played in the previous window, a display that I feel will put our team in a better position to win games.
What has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the team, and how have you been able to remain motivated since it started?
The COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on our team. Two of our important players were tested positive on arrival in Doha, which is quite difficult for us. Both players were outstanding during our training camp, and the fact that they will not be playing affects us without any doubt. Being isolated in our rooms almost 21 hours a day as part of the necessary protocols put in place for a safe tournament is something we have had to deal with as well. We have continued to stress to our players why we've to be mentally tough, and I understand why we are here. The world has never experienced this kind of situation, but it is something we've to deal with, and we have no excuse.
Two of your important players Shooting Guard Zakaria Al Husain and Anas Shaban will not be featuring after testing positive to COVID-19, how will the team cope in their absence, particularly against a team like Iran who defeated you earlier?
It is a regrettable situation. It came as a surprise because neither of the two players had any symptoms whatsoever. We were all shocked by the result, but we must move forward and make up for their absence while wishing them well as they recover. Both (Zakaria and Anas) had a great time during the training camp in Kazan, and we were looking forward to them giving their best here. But again, we must move forward and play very well, which is what they are definitely expecting from us.
What can you say about the tournament and your general impression of Doha?
This is my first-ever trip to Doha, but from the moment I stepped off the plane at the airport and our trip to the hotel, I was very impressed with what I saw. Doha is a magnificent city, and you can tell that people are very proud of the city and it is well taken care of. I would have loved to move around the city and see more of it, but it is impossible now due to the current situation. I would love to come back with my family and spend some time here at some point in the future.
Who do you consider the most formidable opponent in the group, and why?
That is a tough question as this is my first experience of the tournament. I have watched all the games from the last window, and I think each opponent has something they bring to the table which makes them challenging. Iran with the fashion they dominantly won their matches during the last window is one of the favourites in the pool, but you know teams have made changes to their roster, coaching staff etc and I think there are lots to be seen at this tournament.
I am looking forward to our first game against Qatar, and I think it is crucial we get off to a good start. Each opponent is formidable, and we need to play very well to beat anybody in that pool. One of the good things about basketball is having a tough opponent. It is something you must always look forward to.
You joined the team less than two months ago. What impact have you made on the team and what has changed since you came on board?
I hope I have had a positive impact on the team since I arrived about six weeks ago. For me, it was imperative to get familiar with the players early on at the training camp, not just knowing their skill set on the basketball court but their personality as well. It is very important to know how to communicate with the players and to get the best out of them.
The biggest change I want to make is the kind of mentality they were playing with - putting efforts on the defense and being more aggressive. We have some excellent athletes on the team and players who are capable of being outstanding defenders. It was essential to start installing some systems where the players understand what their responsibilities are on the floor based on where the ball is and who they are guarding. Defense to me is a way to win games. You need to know how to put yourself in the best position on the court, and I have been trying to stress this to our team. I would like to think I've impacted them in that direction. You can also expect to see a more aggressive up-tempo game. I want our players to be confident in taking shots and playing more confidently. It has been a very short six weeks, but they are long at the same time.
We are looking forward to seeing the extent of the improvement the team has had when we face Qatar in our first game.
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