Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

Victor Wembanyama of Metropolitans 92 blocks a shot by Scoot Henderson of G League Ignite during their exhibition game at The Dollar Loan Center on Oct. 04, 2022 in Henderson, Nevada. (AFP)
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Updated 07 October 2022

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

  • The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety

HENDERSON, Nevada: Victor Wembanyama blocked a shot Thursday afternoon, ran to the other end of the court, went airborne from just inside the foul line, corralled an alley-oop pass with one hand and slammed home a dunk.

The entire sequence lasted eight seconds.

It may have been the signature moment — and there were a lot of candidates — from Wembanyama’s two-game trip to the US, which ended Thursday with the French phenom’s Metropolitans 92 team rallying from 16 points down to top the G League Ignite 112-106. He led the way, of course, with 36 points and 11 rebounds.

“As a first impression of the American game, that was really great,” Wembanyama said.

So was he.

His final numbers from two exhibitions: 73 points on 22-for-44 shooting, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots. He flies back to France on Saturday, and the next time he plays in the US there likely will be an NBA logo on his jersey, presumably after he becomes the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

“It’s very, very special for France,” Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Collet said. “Not only for France. He has huge potential. He’s a huge talent.”

The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety. The best of the bunch may have come from Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who suggested that calling Wembanyama a unicorn might not fully indicate how unique he is.

Instead, James went with an out-of-this-world comparison.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he’s more like an alien,” James said. “No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor ... He’s, for sure, a generational talent.”

Added Golden State guard Stephen Curry: “He’s like the (NBA) 2K create-a-player, every point guard that wants to be 7-foot. Cheat-code type vibes, man. He’s a solid talent. It’s great to watch.”

Sure enough, when Wembanyama’s around, a viral moment can happen at any time. It might be a dunk. It might be a block. It might be a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner while his momentum has him drifting toward the baseline. It might be a 28-foot 3-pointer from the wing. It might be him kicking a ball into a monitor and narrowly missing fellow French center Rudy Gobert.

Yes, all those things happened.

The scene: Gobert and fellow Minnesota Timberwolves standout D’Angelo Russell, in town to play the Lakers in a preseason game later Thursday, decided to postpone their afternoon nap — a staple of the NBA gameday routine — and make the 20-minute ride from Las Vegas to watch the game, arriving at halftime.

Gobert made a quick appearance on the game’s televised broadcast. Wembanyama, standing nearby, stuck one of his massive feet into the path of a pass by Ignite center Eric Mika. The ball ricocheted into the monitor near Gobert’s seat, knocking it over.

Gobert laughed. Wembanyama raised his hand to apologize.

“Hey, he played soccer too,” Gobert said.

Gobert raves about Wembanyama, who almost certainly will be the first top-five draft pick from France. And he doesn’t think there’s any real comparison: Gobert said Wembanyama’s defensive instincts remind him of himself, while his ballhandling and shooting remind him of Kevin Durant.

“What strikes me the most about him is his maturity,” Gobert said. “Obviously, he’s a very unique talent and he has a very unique physique. But his maturity and his confidence ... he’s very unique.”

Thursday’s game had a bit of a scare, and the other top NBA draft headliner in this showcase got the worst of that moment.

Scoot Henderson, the guard whose 28 points led the Ignite to a 122-115 victory on Tuesday night in the exhibition opener, left Thursday’s game after less than five minutes. The reason: He banged knees with Wembanyama.

Henderson switched onto Wembanyama, who was dribbling on the wing. Wembanyama made a move, collided into Henderson and tumbled to the court, looking initially like he got the worst of that exchange. But Henderson, who was called for a foul on the play, wound up limping off for evaluation and the Ignite quickly said he wouldn’t be returning.

“Scoot’s fine,” G League coach Jason Hart said. “It was precautionary.”

There are 31 games left on Metropolitans’ 34-game schedule in the French league, and the plan — as of now — is for Wembanyama to finish his season, which is slated to go through mid-May. The NBA Draft is June 22.

Bouna Ndiaye, one of Wembanyama’s agents, said some NBA teams might not understand why he’s playing. The reason, he says, is because nobody can get Wembanyama out of the gym.

“He wants to live on the court,” Ndiaye said.

What these two games showed, in many ways, was just that the tapes of Wembanyama that have been coming out of Europe over the last few years weren’t lying. He needs to get stronger. There’s much he can still polish. He is, by all accounts, exceptional already.

“Just before we came in last Saturday, we had a meeting with our doctor and we are going to prepare to plan the next two months to increase what he is doing, besides the court, to strengthen the body,” Collet said. “We’re always careful also with how much time he is practicing, not to go too far. ... We plan so that we limit the risk.”

When Thursday was over, when the comeback was complete, Wembanyama briefly lifted his arms skyward in celebration, then shook a lot of hands, partook in a lot of hugs and posed for a lot of pictures.

With that, the draft hype continued on.

“I’m still excited and so happy about it,” Wembanyama said. “I know I’m so lucky to have this chance.”

Al-Ittihad ready to wow home fans in FIFA Club World Cup opener, says coach

Updated 9 sec ago

Al-Ittihad ready to wow home fans in FIFA Club World Cup opener, says coach

  • ‘It is not an easy game and we do really respect Auckland City but we’re confident we can do a good job,’ adds Marcelo Gallardo
  • The Kingdom is hosting the competition, so the Saudi Pro League champs have home advantage in the game, the winners of which will play Egyptian side Al-Ahly on Friday

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad head coach Marcelo Gallardo said his players are fully prepared for their FIFA Club World Cup opener on Tuesday and looking forward to putting on a show for the home fans in Saudi Arabia.

“Our goal is to perform at our best and try to win the game to keep up our good run through the next round,” Gallardo said ahead of their match against Auckland city of New Zealand. “It is not an easy game and we do really respect Auckland City but we’re confident we can do a good job.”

Speaking about the benefit of home advantage in the game, the winners of which will progress to play Egyptian side Al-Ahly in the second round on Friday, he added: “Our fans will certainly help, no doubt. Our fans are our strength; we have said that we are strong at home and, in particular in such matches, hope we can qualify to the next round because I believe tomorrow’s match is very critical.”

Al-Ittihad captain Karim Benzema, who previously played in the competition during his time with Real Madrid, said he and his teammates look forward to giving the Saudi fans something to cheer about.

“Our players are very anxious to play and they know exactly how important this match is,” he said.

“My previous experience is totally different from this one and I hope I can help my players in this important match. We know it will not be easy but we have to have the mentality that we can win this match.”

Auckland’s head coach, Albert Riera, said his side will face a tough challenge against the reigning Saudi champions but is confident they are capable of stepping up when it matters.

“For sure we’re the underdogs, we’re aware of that, and being the underdog is an advantage but all of the work that we’ve put in, all the effort that every player is putting into every training session is not so that we go there and don’t compete and not try to win,” he said.

“We’re here to make Auckland City fans proud, to make New Zealand proud and to try and compete as much as we can.”

This year’s tournament is the 20th FIFA Club World Cup and marks Auckland City’s 11th appearance in the competition. Saudi Arabia is hosting the event for the first time.

Lluis Cortes unveiled as new Saudi Arabia women’s national team head coach

Updated 11 December 2023

Lluis Cortes unveiled as new Saudi Arabia women’s national team head coach

  • Former Barcelona Femeni and Ukraine manager unveiled at an official ceremony in Riyadh this afternoon
  • Cortes led Barcelona Femeni to historic continental treble in 2021 and has won the UEFA Women’s Coach of the Year award

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has announced the appointment of Lluis Cortes as the new women’s national team head coach. The Spaniard succeeds Rosa Lappi-Seppala on a four-year contract until 2027 and was unveiled at an official ceremony in Riyadh this afternoon.

“Lluis was the outstanding candidate to lead our women’s national team in this exciting new era and we are thrilled to have finalized this important appointment,” said Yasser Al-Misehal, president of the SAFF.

“We believe Lluis’s coaching capabilities, knowledge of the game, and extensive experience will play a huge role as we look to maintain our sustained and steady progress in the years ahead. He is a deep thinker and is looking to develop the long-term strategy so I’ve no doubt he will make an important impact upon Saudi women’s football on and off the pitch. We’re really looking forward to working with him.”

The most impressive achievement of Cortes’ career to date came in the 2020/21 season as head coach of Barcelona Femeni. Widely regarded as one of the greatest campaigns in women’s club football history, he led the side to a continental treble by winning the Primera Division, Copa de la Reina, and UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Following his two years in charge at Barcelona Femeni, where he also won another Primera Division title, one Supercopa de Espana, and the UEFA Women’s Coach of the Year award, he managed the Ukraine women’s national team from 2021-2023.

“Being confirmed as Saudi Arabia’s new women’s national team head coach is a real privilege,” said Cortes. “I want to thank the Saudi Arabian Football Federation for this wonderful opportunity to work in a country that loves the game so much and is really growing football for all. The prospect of working with such an ambitious and energetic group of young players is really exciting and I will look to incorporate my philosophy of attractive and attacking football on our journey together.”

“The team’s progress in such a short space of time can only be described as incredible,” he continued. “Already there is much to be proud of and a lot achieve. The grassroots are flourishing, a new Under 20 national women’s team announced and the Women’s Professional League is developing fast. So, I am confident the future is even brighter as we have all the ingredients to climb up the FIFA rankings.”

“The aim is to keep working, keep improving, and take further steps toward our aim of competing at the highest level internationally. This is why I’m here and I can’t wait to meet the players and get started.”

Pakistan not here to compete but beat Australia, says team director Hafeez

Updated 11 December 2023

Pakistan not here to compete but beat Australia, says team director Hafeez

  • Pakistan play their first Test match of the three-match series against Australia on Dec. 14 in Perth
  • Hafeez says Canberra pitch where Pakistan face PM XI was ‘slowest pitch’ a visiting side could play on 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan men’s cricket Team Director Mohammad Hafeez said on Monday the visitors had arrived in Australia not to compete but beat the home side, as the green shirts brace for a tough challenge against the World Test champions when their three-match Test series kicks off this week. 

Pakistan face Australia in the first Test match at Perth on Dec. 14. The visitors have traditionally found playing in Australia harder than other venues around the world, having lost their last 14 Tests in the country, spanning five whitewashes.

Australia’s pace battery, in the form of skipper Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Scott Boland and Mitchell Starc is one of the most feared in the world. Pakistani batters have fared poorly in the Test format, with its batters traditionally finding it difficult to bat on the bouncy Australia surfaces. 

“Everyone is excited to take the challenge, performing in Australia would be great for them,” Hafeez told reporters at the WACA ground. “As a Pakistan team, we are here to beat Australia, not to compete here.”

The former Pakistani cricketer said Shan Masood’s side had done well in the training session. 

“We have ticked most of the boxes in our training,” he said. “Everyone on the team is excited to showcase their ability and eager to win. Unfortunately, Abrar Ahmed is unfit but everyone else is fit and ready to take on Australia.”

Ahmed was ruled out of the Perth Test match last week due to a leg injury. Pakistani spinner Sajid Khan has been called up to be his replacement. 

Hafeez seemed annoyed by the tour arrangements for Pakistan’s four-day match against the PM XI side in Canberra last week, at one point implying it might have been tactical.

“That was the slowest pitch a visiting team could ever play on in Australia,” he said. “The disappointment was really high because we weren’t expecting these kinds of arrangements. Maybe it’s tactical but we’re ready for it. We’re not using it as an excuse, we’re absolutely ready for the challenges coming up.”


Pakistan squad: Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jr., Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi

Australia squad: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (captain), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Scott Boland, Cameron Green, Lance Morris

Series schedule

First Test: Dec. 14-18, Perth

Second Test: Dec. 26-30, Melbourne

Third Test: Jan. 3-7, Sydney

Saudi Games ends with promise of bigger edition next year

Updated 11 December 2023

Saudi Games ends with promise of bigger edition next year

The Saudi Games 2023 ended on Sunday after more than 8,000 male and female athletes competed in events across 53 sports.

The closing ceremony took place within the event’s Fan Zone after 15 days of intense competition in 31 venues.

Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, deputy chairman of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee and director of the Saudi Games, announced the hosting of the third edition next year.

The ceremony began with the Saudi national anthem, followed by a captivating highlight reel showcasing memorable moments involving athletes, coaches and fans across the tournament. A parade of the event’s winners was also held to recognize the athletes and their achievements.

Prince Fahd said the Saudi Games success reflected the vision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to champion sports, empower youth, promote societal development and foster opportunities for talented people.

The ceremony ended with a drone show, as well as a memorable musical performance from Fouad Abdelwahed and Modhi Al-Shamrani.


Princess Delayel crowns champions of judo and wushu

Saudi Games 2023 Deputy Director Princess Delayel bint Nahar Al-Saud, in the presence of Mohamed Al-Qahtani, president of the Saudi Wushu Federation, crowned the winners of the judo and wushu competitions, which ended yesterday at King Saud University Sports Hall.

Five gold medals in wushu

Moaaz Al-Tamduri secured the gold in the wushu under 65 kg division, while Tami Al-Amri claimed the silver. Rashed Al-Rashidi and Saud Al-Molhem both took the bronze. In the under 75 kg category, Hattan Manshi won the gold, Osama Shaban claimed the silver, and Osama Shaban and Faisal Manshi clinched the bronze. In the under 85 kg category, Mostafa Nada secured the gold medal, followed by Abdulahad Gari with the silver and Fahd Al-Qahtani and Ali Hawari with the bronze.

In the women’s competitions, Alaa Al-Abbad won the gold in the under 60 kg category, followed by Sarah Abduljawad with the silver. Dalal Al-Hothali and Suhad Jeddawi both came away with the bronze. Zainab El-Ghamdi took the under 75 kg category gold, while Arub Abu Mansur claimed the silver. Wejdan Banawas and Sara Mokhtar both secured the bronze.

Al-Ettifaq, Al-Ahli announced table tennis champions

Princess Reham bint Saif Islam Al-Saud, executive director of ceremonies and events management at the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, together with Dr. Abdullah Al-Bar, president of the Saudi Table Tennis Federation, crowned the winners of the table tennis competitions, which ended yesterday at the Paralympic Games Hall at Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex.

Al-Ettifaq’s Rana Daloua was awarded the gold in the women’s singles, followed by Al-Nassr’s Saadi Shadan with the silver. Al-Raed’s Shaimaa Al-Hammadi secured the bronze.

In the men’s youth category, Al-Ahli’s Khalid Al-Shareif won the gold, Al-Fateh’s Ali Al-Taher took the silver, and Al-Khaleej’s Ahmed Hussein claimed the bronze. In the men’s singles division, gold was awarded to Al-Shabab’s Shady Hegazi while Al-Ittihad’s Abdulaziz Al-Abbad secured silver, and Ali Al-Khadrawi, from the same club, claimed the bronze.

Hessah brings home the youth judo gold

Gold in the women’s under 57 kg judo category was awarded to Al-Shabab’s Hessah Al-Melaiki. Al-Nassr’s Ghadah Al-Atiek took the silver, and Sondos Al-Shareef and Reema Al-Sudayri, both from Al-Nassr, secured the bronze.

Al-Semairi wins rapid chess gold

Dalia Al-Semairi claimed the gold in women’s rapid chess, which ended yesterday at the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex swimming hall. Hala Shahein came away with the silver medal, while Adeem Al-Dosari secured the bronze.

The Olympic team leads the medal count

Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee athletes finished first in the Saudi Games 2023 medal count, securing a total of 171 (56 gold). Al-Shabab Club secured second place with 53 medals (23 gold). Al-Hilal Club followed in third place with 65 medals (22 gold). Al-Ahli Club ranked fourth with 36 medals (11 gold). Al-Ittihad Club claimed fifth with 39 medals (eight gold). Riyadh Club for the Disabled secured sixth place with 15 medals (eight gold). Al-Nassr Club came in seventh with 31 medals (six gold). AlUla Club ranked eighth with 13 medals (five gold). Al-Hada Club claimed the ninth position with 14 medals (five gold), and Al-Safa Club rounded out the top 10 with 27 medals (four gold).

Saudi Arabia football signs talent pact with Bosnia pro side

Updated 11 December 2023

Saudi Arabia football signs talent pact with Bosnia pro side

  • Kingdom’s Future Falcons links up with FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo for trials, coaching cooperation
  • FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo has won top domestic titles, including the league 8 times

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s talent program, Future Falcons, has signed a cooperation pact with top Bosnia football team FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo.

The signing ceremony in Bosnia was attended by the program’s General Director Ghassan Felemban, and FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo’s President Yusuf Tanovic.

The agreement includes opportunities for players from the Future Falcons program to have trials with FK Zeljeznicar. It also involves collaboration between the coaching staff, employees, and administrators of both teams.

The agreement will allow scouts and coaches to participate in the Al-Abtal Cup, a tournament in which the Bosnian club competes. FK Zeljeznicar recently appointed national coach Abdulhakeem Al-Tuwaijri to oversee the training of the first team in November. The team includes a former Future Falcons player, Abdulmalik Al-Jaber.

Felemban thanked the Saudi Arabian Football Federation for its support under the organization’s president, Yasser Al-Misehal, and added that the Bosnia side would bring much-needed expertise into the Kingdom.

FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo has won the league eight times, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Cup six times, and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Supercup three times. They also reached the semifinals of the UEFA Cup in the 1984/1985 season.