How a Saudi basketball coach is giving local talent a chance to shine

Mohanned Shobain has high hopes for the sport in the Kingdom and believes its future looks bright. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 February 2022

How a Saudi basketball coach is giving local talent a chance to shine

  • Bringing sports to the country’s youth is at the heart of US-educated coach Mohanned Shobain’s philosophy
  • Inaugural Saudi women’s basketball tournament is being held in collaboration with Swish Basketball Academy

DUBAI: When Mohanned Shobain fell in love with basketball at the age of 15, little did he realize that it would become his full-time career. Nor could he have imagined that he would one day be coaching the next generation of Saudi stars and encouraging young women to take up what was until recently a male-dominated sport in the Kingdom.

Now, as Saudi Arabia hosts its first-ever women’s basketball tournament, Shobain is at the forefront of efforts to promote and develop the sport among women in the country and give local talent the chance to shine in the international arena.

A Saudi Premier League champion, he opened his first Swish Basketball Academy in Jeddah in 2017. It was followed by four more in the city and one in Riyadh.

His leading role in developing the sport of basketball in the Kingdom, particularly among women, is a serendipitous continuation of work he began as a student, when he wrote a thesis focusing on gender inequalities in sports. He said that when he returned home to the Kingdom after completing his studies, it served as a major motivation for him to improve the sports environment for both genders.




Mohanned Shobain has big plans for a new generation of male and female basketball  players in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

To that end, Shobain took a team of girls to Romania to compete in a three-on-three World Cup qualification tournament in 2019, and a boys’ team to take part in a competition in Dubai in 2018. Last year, the club helped to host the Saudi Kingdom Cup in Jeddah. This summer, he will take a girls’ team to Europe to take part in a basketball camp and develop their skills.

In the meantime, the Swish Basketball Academy is one of the organizers of the All-Women Saudi Basketball Tournament, the first event of its kind for women in the country, which began on Jan. 22 and continues until March 3, with games taking place in Jeddah and Riyadh.

“Just having this (women’s basketball) tournament and having this opportunity for them here is amazing,” Shobain said.

He added that community building is the main motivation for his work, in an effort to bring together local people and families and encourage them to get active and embrace a new lifestyle in a rapidly changing country.

Shobain, who is also a full-time physical education teacher at the American International School of Jeddah, has big plans to improve on this record by helping to train a new generation of male and female players.

At the heart of his philosophy is a desire to encourage the country’s youth to participate in sport. He said he sees great demand and hunger among local young people to take advantage of such opportunities.

He believes there is the talent and potential in the Kingdom not only for sports to increase in popularity as hobbies, but for Saudi men and women to make their mark in international competitions and at the Olympics.

Shobain’s efforts to develop local basketball talent are already bearing fruit; four players who train with him have made it to the Saudi national team, and two women are playing for university teams while studying in the US.

“The results are out there,” he said. “All the (academy’s basketball) coaches are currently playing professionally and they teach as a part-time job, just to represent themselves and represent the academy in a great way, where they can be good role models.

“I feel like we’ve built a great culture of not just basketball but a lifestyle of how basketball players and athletes would live.”

Participants in the inaugural All-Women Saudi Basketball Tournament are relishing the competition and the chance it has given them to gain experience and develop their skills.




At the age of 17, Layane Chemaitily is the youngest player on her team and in the tournament. (Supplied)

Layane Chemaitily, who started playing when she was 10 years old in Lebanon, said that the chance to compete on such a stage, in a big arena, is a dream come true. She admitted that she is feeling the pressure of competition, partly because at the age of 17 she is the youngest player on her team and in the tournament.

“I was scared and got butterflies in my stomach but I also wanted to compete and fight, and without my team around me cheering me on we wouldn’t have been able to cope with the pressure of the competition,” she said.

“There is a lot of adrenaline and pressure but we were also very happy to represent Saudi Arabia as girls (from) different cities across the Kingdom. It was really fun, and it helps you gain a lot of experience.”

Chemaitily added that she hopes the tournament not only will be a step for her personally toward earning a place on a professional team one day, but will also motivate other girls and young women in Saudi Arabia to pursue their dreams in areas of society that were once the sole preserve of men.

“I can see that gender barriers are falling in the Kingdom, especially because previously male-dominated sports are starting to organize leagues and tournaments for women,” she said. “There is a lot coming for us in the future.”

Shobain is certainly doing his part to increase and develop the opportunities for women. In addition to its basketball activities, Swish also offers a boot camp that includes fitness classes; scholarship opportunities; and community-service activities such as helping to build and maintain basketball courts, and providing sports kits, shoes and basketballs to people who cannot afford them.

“These community activities, as well as the sport itself, are things that can develop (a child’s) character to become a better person and to learn how to give and not just take,” he said, referring to the life skills learned alongside sporting abilities.

Shobain, who is 31 years old, recalled his first encounter with basketball as a child, when he came across a street court close to his house during walks with his mother along the corniche. Soon after, he bought a ball and started to join in pick-up games with other players.

“Day by day, I fell in love with it,” he said. “I started coming every day and then I started to show up twice a day, and more than twice a day. I would stay late at nights just to practice and shoot around, and that’s when I realized my passion for it.”
 




Mohanned Shobain’s efforts to develop local basketball talent are already bearing fruit. (Supplied)

Shobain hopes to instill in others the joy and excitement that accompanied his own discovery of the sport and his subsequent journey within it. An active teenager, he said he tried many sports, including soccer, swimming, track and field, and martial arts before basketball became his full-time passion. His soccer skills had even earned him a youth spot with Saudi Pro League side Al-Ahli but it was basketball that called loudest to him.

While a student in Malaysia, where he was studying business, he played for the University of Kuala Lumpur’s basketball team. As he honed his skills with them, he was spotted by a dean from Alfaisal University in Riyadh, who offered Shobain a full basketball scholarship to study there, play for the university’s team, and help to develop its sports program.

“It took me a week to think about it and then I made my decision and felt more comfortable about coming back home and continuing my bachelor’s education here,” he said.

After graduating, he explored a number of options to take his game to the next level and, with the help of a Saudi scholarship, he traveled to the US where he studied for a master’s degree in sports management at Cleveland State University in Ohio. It proved pivotal in the development of his game.

“I worked with the NBA (the National Basketball Association) and (NBA team) the Cleveland Cavaliers,” he said. “During my time there I also helped work with the men’s and women’s teams, playing and coaching.”

As the sport began to grow in popularity in the Kingdom, Shobain said he felt compelled to come back home to build a career and give something back to his community, despite receiving an attractive job offer in the US.




Shobain said he felt compelled to come back home to build a career and give something back to his community, despite receiving an attractive job offer in the US. (Supplied)

“I felt like the reason that I went to study outside was to bring it back to my community in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“That was a big drive for me to come back as soon as I was done, maybe not with 20 years of experience but at least with a little bit of knowledge that I can at least spread out now and start something that could benefit the next generation or the current generation.”

Shobain has high hopes for the sport in the Kingdom and believes its future looks bright, although he admitted change does not happen overnight.

“Everything takes time,” he said. “I’m very patient and I know our time will come and we will hopefully get there.

“There’s big potential for young Saudis, who could even make it to the NBA — they just need the right facilities, equipment, atmosphere, environment and training.”

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England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

Updated 03 December 2022

England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

  • Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121
  • Pakistan still need 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday

RAWALPINDI: England spinners removed Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq after they scored centuries Saturday as Pakistan reached 298-3 at lunch on the third day of the opening Test in Rawalpindi. 

Off-spinner Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121. 

Pakistan still need another 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday, their highest total ever against the home team. 

Despite three wickets falling in Saturday's first session, the much-criticised Rawalpindi Stadium pitch offered little to the bowlers. 

At the break, skipper Babar Azam was on 28 and Saud Shakeel yet to score. 

Azhar Ali was trapped leg-before by Leach on 27, but he could have gone more cheaply had Zak Crawley not dropped a sharp chance to his left at leg slip from pacer James Anderson's first over of the morning. 

The centuries by Shafique and Haq meant for the first time in 146 years of Test cricket the openers of both teams reached three figures in the first innings. 

Their 225-run opening stand -- a Pakistan record against England -- is also the first time in Test history that two 200-plus opening partnerships were made, following Crawley and Ben Duckett's 233-run partnership for the visitors. 

Pakistan started the day on 181 without loss and Shafique, 89 overnight, was the first to three figures with a sharp single off Joe Root. 

Haq, who started the session on 90, followed with a boundary off the same bowler to complete his century. 

They both now have three Test centuries and successive hundreds at the venue, having also reached three figures against Australia in March this year. 

The three-match series is England's first in Pakistan for 17 years. 


Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

Updated 03 December 2022

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

  • Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award

NASSAU, Bahamas: The degree Masters champion Scottie Scheffler earned from the McCombs School of Business at Texas did not equip him with the skills to figure out the new formula for the Official World Golf Ranking.

He is No. 2 in the world. He can go back to No. 1 if he wins the Hero World Challenge, simple as that.

“I don’t like being No. 2,” he said. “I don’t like finishing second.”

Scheffler took a step in that direction in the relentless wind at Albany. He ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine for a 4-under 68, leaving him in the group one shot behind defending champion Viktor Hovland.

Hovland knows a little about wind. The Norwegian saw enough of it during his amateur days across Europe, and then he starred at Oklahoma State.

Hovland made eagle for the second straight day — the other 19 players have combined for one eagle this week — had three straight birdies on the back nine and had a 70. He was at 5-under 139.

Scores typically are much lower in the holiday event Tiger Woods hosts for a 20-man field of elite players in the Bahamas. The course was soaked and played long on Thursday. It dried out in 30 mph wind on Friday.

Xander Schauffele leaned on exquisite wedge play for a 68 and joined Scheffler, Cameron Young (69) and Collin Morikawa (71) in the group one shot behind.

Tom Kim dropped two shots on the final three holes and that gave him a 72, leaving him two shots behind. That’s not the reason the 20-year-old South Korean raised both arms after he had signed his card. Scrolling through his phone, he learned South Korea had advanced to the knockout stage in the World Cup.

“Goose bumps,” Kim said as he stretched out his arms.

Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award. That was a product of four wins against strong fields in the spring, including his first major. The Masters was his last win.

Rory McIlroy replaced him with a win in South Carolina in October, and now Scheffler has a chance to grab it back, even if for a short time. McIlroy is expected to be No. 1 when the year ends regardless of what happens in the Bahamas.

The model went from rating the top 200 players in a field based on their world ranking to rating everyone in the field using the “strokes gained” formula, which measure actual scores and adjusts for relative difficulty of each round.

It favors deeper fields, regardless of how many of the top players are there. And it won’t be fully integrated until next August.

But there has been no shortage of complaints, with even Woods weighing in this week that it’s a flawed system. Some of the criticism stems from the new formula not giving as much credit to smaller fields compared with full fields.

“I think now I would say the top players are not bringing as much weight to events as they should,” Scheffler said.

The Hero World Challenge has 15 of the top 20 in the world. It also has only 20 players, and so the winner will get slightly fewer points than the winner of the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

“But it’s also really tough to rank golfers when they’re not playing the same schedule,” Scheffler said. “So I think as we all start to play together more often and you get the best players playing together more often, it’s going to be much easier to rank those guys.

“It’s a tough system. It’s not something that’s easy to get right,” he said. “In other sports, you have a record and golf is not necessarily a record. It’s a challenging system. I think they went from one extreme to the other, and we’ll meet in the middle, hopefully, and find something that’s a little bit better.”

The ultimate measure remains the low score, and that belongs to Hovland. Woods, who is not playing this week because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is the only player to have won the World Challenge in consecutive years.

He’s not sure how he’s getting it done, especially in this wind.

“It’s kind of strange, like I knew it was windy and I feel like I missed so many putts,” Hovland said. “And I still don’t feel like I’m hitting it very good. I’m not comfortable over the ball, but the ball’s going straight and I’m giving myself looks.”
 


Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

Updated 03 December 2022

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

  • Aboubakar was sent off with a second yellow card for taking off his shirt during his celebration
  • Brazil finished with six points, the same as Switzerland

LUSAIL, Qatar: Vincent Aboubakar scored with a header two minutes into stoppage time in Cameroon’s 1-0 win over Brazil at the World Cup on Friday, a result that still allowed the five-time champions to win the group and eliminated the Africans.
Aboubakar was then sent off with a second yellow card for taking off his shirt during his celebration.
Brazil, which had already reached the knockout stage after victories over Serbia and Switzerland, will face South Korea in the round of 16.
Brazil finished with six points, the same as Switzerland but the South Americans had a better goal difference. The Swiss also advanced and will face Portugal. Cameroon ended with four points and Serbia one.
Coach Tite rested nearly all of his regular starters and made 10 changes from the win against Switzerland on Monday.
Brazil was still without the injured Neymar, but the star forward was at Lusail Stadium to watch the match with his teammates.


Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

Updated 03 December 2022

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

  • Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G
  • They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium

DOHA: Switzerland advanced to the last 16 of the World Cup for the third tournament in a row after a 3-2 win over Serbia on Friday.
Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G. They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium.
Xherdan Shaqiri put Switzerland ahead early in the first half before Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic responded for Serbia. Breel Embolo evened the score just before halftime.
Switzerland needed a win to guarantee themselves a place in the knockout round after beating Cameroon and losing to Brazil in their opening two games. The team reached the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and again four years later in Russia. They lost 1-0 in both matches, to Argentina and Sweden, respectively.
Against Portugal, the Swiss will be looking to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since hosting the competition in 1954.


Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

Updated 02 December 2022

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

  • The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute
  • "He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that," Santos said

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was “insulted” by a South Korean player as he was substituted during Portugal’s 2-1 World Cup defeat on Friday, coach Fernando Santos said.
The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute.
Santos denied that was because he was upset at being hooked.
“He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that,” Santos said after his side topped Group H despite conceding in injury time to fall to defeat for the first time in Qatar.
“The player was insulting him, telling him to go away (get off the pitch) so that’s why he was angry and everyone saw that.
“I saw the interaction with the Korean player and have no doubt about it.”
Becoming irritated by the line of questioning, Santos added: “He (the Korean player) was not aggressive, he was verbally aggressive.
“He was speaking in English to Cristiano and Cristiano said, ‘Well, perhaps he did not have a good day.’“
South Korean midfielder Hwang In-beom attempted to play down the controversy.
“I didn’t see it, I was too tired,” he said. “I was looking at the ground, so I didn’t see it and I have nothing to say.”