International basketball stars take their shot at glory in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: Top-class international basketball action returns to Saudi Arabia on Friday when the two-day FIBA 3×3 World Tour Jeddah Final begins with a 12-game elimination round at a specially-built court on the city’s Corniche.

The top 12 teams in the World Tour season standings after last of four Masters events will compete, with the top two from each of four pools advancing to Saturday’s knockout rounds.

Top seeds and tournament favorites Liman of Serbia, led by Stefan “Mr. Robot” Stojacic, will open their campaign by taking on Ulaanbaatar of Mongolia in the first game of the day, with a 5:40 p.m. starting time. Joining them in Pool A is another Serbian side, Ub. Flying the flag for Saudi Arabia will be home team Jeddah, in Pool C.

Court general Stojacic is widely regarded as the main reason why Liman are expected to go all the way and claim the championship crown. Named the MVP (most valuable player) of season-opening event the Debrecen Masters, he has been the best shooter throughout the season, leading Liman to the top of the standings.

No spectators are allowed inside the tournament venue because of coronavirus health precautions, but giant television screens have been installed so that fans can watch from a safe distance. In addition to the sporting thrills, entertainment will be provided between games, organizers said.

The tournament is hosted by the Saudi Basketball Federation (SBF), with support from the Quality of Life program under the supervision of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). SBF President Abdulrahman Al-Massad, joined FIBA’s head of events and partnerships, Ignacio Soriano, and the head of the organizing committee, Ghassan Tashkandi, in a press conference at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Jeddah on Thursday.

Al-Massad said the 3×3 World Tour Final, which comes after Jeddah hosted a Masters round of the event last year, is another example of the country’s success in hosting international sporting events.

He also revealed that the SBF is preparing to form a women’s national basketball team to compete in regional and international events.

“We have a basketball league for women and in 2021 we will select some of the players for a national team,” he said. “In fact, some local teams have taken part in several tournaments. Our next step is to support the clubs and organize an official league.”

While soccer is the most popular sport in Saudi Arabia “we have many basketball enthusiasts,” he added.

“We are cooperating with local clubs to develop their strategies and helping them to apply governance, and that will help us take basketball to new horizons,” Al-Massad said. “The media also can lend a hand in further spreading the popularity of the game in Saudi society.”

On behalf of FIBA, Soriano thanked authorities in the Kingdom for the hospitality they have shown and the efforts made to prepare for the event.

“I would also like to thank Saudi Sports Ministry, represented by Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki, the Saudi Olympic Committee and all public and private entities whose efforts made this event possible,” he said. “We are extremely excited to be here in Jeddah for the second time, after the last event in 2019 was a success.

“2020 is full of challenges — however, we are about to hold this international event here in Jeddah despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is an opportunity to prove that 3×3 can be played in a safe environment. We have players from all over the world. The matches will be aired on TV channels in more than 100 countries.”

The other games on Friday are as follows: 6:05 p.m. Novi Said (Serbia) vs. Lausanne Katapult (Switzerland), 6:35 p.m. Riga (Latvia) vs. Jeddah (KSA), 7 p.m. NY Harlem (USA) vs. Utena (Lithunia), 7:35 p.m. Liman vs. Ub, 8 p.m. Novi Sad vs. Amsterdam (Netherlands), 8:30 p.m. Riga vs. Piran (Slovenia), 8:55 NY Harlem vs. Sakiai (Lithuania), 9:30 p.m. Ub vs. Ulaanbaatar, 9:55 p.m. Amsterdam vs. Lausanne, 10:30 p.m. Piran vs. Jeddah, 10:55 p.m. Sakiai vs. Utena.

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