A Changing of the Guards For Iranian Basketball

Late breaking news: Iran finalizes its Olympic Qualifying Tournament team. And guess what? Their lineup is missing some big names that are practically synonymous to Iranian basketball.
Names like Hamed Afagh, Mehdi Kamrani, and even Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, a transcendent do-it-all forward who averaged 17.0pts and 6 rebounds for the Zheijiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball League.
The reason? My guess is age. While Bahrami is still as effective as ever at age 33, Kamrani (34 years old) has been exposed by our very own Jason Castro in the last 3 years as someone who can no longer keep up with the young turks of Asian basketball. Afagh, a key reserve, is also 33 years old, and in the same boat as Kamrani.
Replacing them in the lineup are several youngsters who will no doubt take over the reins of Iranian basketball. These youngsters include 21 year old Behnam Yakchali, Sajjad Mashayekhi (22), Sedighi Amir (23) and Arman Zangeneh (23).
Yakchali, in particular, was very effective against both Gilas Pilipinas and China in last year’s FIBA Asia Cup and seems primed to be the next Iranian basketball superstar.
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How Bad Was The Gilas OQT Draw?

Bad enough.
Our group in the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament include what is probably the strongest team in the entire qualifiers (France) and in the other group, arguably the second or third strongest team (Canada). New Zealand, Senegal, and Turkey complete our group and of the three, it’s only Senegal that I’d say we’d be the favored to win. 
The short tournament format makes every game a must-win: lose one and you’ve got one foot out the door. So starting the tournament off by going up against the prohibitive favorites, France, certainly puts us in a bad situation almost immediately. If the likes of Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gobert, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi and Nando de Colo show the deadly form they showed at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, they should be heads and shoulders above everyone else.
The New Zealand game is a game we can win…if we play to our potential. The Kiwis will certainly be more physical than us…after all, they hone their game against Australia, one of the best in the world. So, in their minds, they will be the favorites to win. But a healthy Jason Castro, a fit Andray Blatche, a pain-free June Mar Fajardo and NBA star Jordan Clarkson should be more than up to the task.
Which brings us to the knock out games. It’s win or go home time and my guess is we’ll finish second in our group (after France). Which means we’ll probably go up against fast rising basketball superpower Canada. I actually like our chances against Canada, seeing as they may be more talented but experience and guile are definitely on our side. The Canadians are still trying to learn how to win so if we can force Canada to panic by playing hardcore defense, they’ll lose composure and make unforced errors.
If we do win against Canada, we’ll probably go up against France again. With an Olympic berth on the line, I think Gilas will try to bumrush the French in an effort to take them out of their game. Let’s hope it’s enough.
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