Who were the U16 alumni who leaped to compete in the World Cup 2023?
DOHA (Qatar) – The FIBA U16 Asian Basketball Championship serves as the breeding ground for Asia and Oceania’s future basketball stars on the global stage.
Indeed, this proved true for several talented players who showcased their skills at the recently concluded FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023. In total, approximately 20 players who had previously represented their national teams at the U16 Asian Championships made their mark while playing for their senior national teams at FIBA’s premier basketball tournament.
Before we delve into the emerging talents at the U16 Asian Championship 2023 in Doha, Qatar, set to take place from September 17 to 24, let’s briefly examine those 20 players who took their initial steps on this platform.
The first group of talents from the 2009 edition of the competition have since become seasoned veterans in their respective national teams.
Mashayekhi is now a vital part of Iran’s guard rotation. In his 5 games at the World Cup, he averaged 18.2 minutes, contributing 5.2 points and 2.6 assists per game. The 29-year-old has participated in two World Cups and three Asia Cups.
Ravena was a “phenom” from the outset when he entered the world of FIBA basketball in 2009. In his recent second appearance at the World Cup, he took on a more seasoned leadership role at the guard position, notably scoring 8 points against Italy.
Jordan’s World Cup squad featured two players who had represented their U16 team in 2009, the inside-outside duo of Kanaan and Al Dwairi. While Kanaan shone brightly at the youth level, Ahmad Al Dwairi has recently taken the spotlight with the national team. The big man Al Dwairi consistently posed a double-double threat, averaging 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for the Falcons at the World Cup.
As champions in 2011, Zhao Jiwei and Zhou Qi formed a dynamic duo for China, a partnership that has endured at the senior level. Zhao led the team in assists with an average of 4.0 per game, while Zhou was second in the team in EFF (12.8) and scored 8.4 points per contest with an impressive 76.2 percent field-goal shooting.
Meanwhile, Yudai Baba played a crucial role in Japan’s inspiring run in the World Cup, emerging as one of their top perimeter defenders and averaging 6.4 points and 1.4 steals per game in Okinawa.
China takes pride in its tradition of nurturing big men through its youth national team programs, and the 2013 class upheld that legacy.
Hu was unstoppable at the youth level and continues to be a force at the senior national team level. He was the second leading scorer for China, averaging 9.3 points per game, including a remarkable 20-point performance against Angola where he shot 8-10 from the field. Fu Hao also had a productive game against Puerto Rico, scoring 11 points and grabbing 4 rebounds for China.
It’s no secret that Zeinoun could be the next big thing in Lebanese basketball. He has displayed his potential since his remarkable run in 2015 and is now consistently delivering for the senior national team, including two double-digit scoring performances at the World Cup.
Nishida and Soichiro had smaller roles in this World Cup squad, but coach Tom Hovasse has entrusted this pair throughout the qualifiers, indicating a positive outlook for their future in the program.
Playing at the World Cup just five years after competing at the U16 level is a testament to the exceptional talent of these players.
Iran’s stars are still performing at a high level, but they are already grooming a new generation. This is evident in the presence of four players on their World Cup roster who played in the U16 in 2018: Agha Miri, Girgoorian, Vahedi, and Aghajanpour. Although they currently have limited roles with the senior team, they are undoubtedly learning from the likes of Hamed Haddadi, Arsalan Kazemi, and Behnam Yakhchali.
For the Philippines, it was evident from the start that Sotto would have a promising career with the senior national team at a young age. He has already proven himself in several senior national team events, including the home World Cup, where he contributed 12 points and 6 rebounds in a crucial victory over China.
However, perhaps no other U16 Asian Championship alumnus shone as brightly as the tandem of Yuki Kawamura and Keisei Tominaga. Sharpshooter Tominaga was the team’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 11.4 points per game, with notable scoring outbursts against Finland (17 points) and Cape Verde (22 points), which helped Japan secure a spot at Paris 2024.
The revelation was Kawamura, who not only scored 25 points against Finland but also ranked third on the team in scoring, with an average of 13.6 points per game. He also ranked third among all players in assists, averaging 7.6 assists per contest, highlighted by an impressive 11 assists against Venezuela.
If you were impressed by Iran having four players from the U16 Asian Championship in 2018, wait until you hear about Mohammad Amini.
At just 18 years old, Amini is not only the youngest player on Iran’s World Cup team but also the second youngest player in the entire World Cup. He led the team in scoring, averaging 13.2 points per game. This achievement is particularly remarkable considering he accomplished it alongside established players like Haddadi and Yakhchali, with standout performances, including a 22-point game against Lebanon and a 19-point game against Spain.