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Egypt: An Incredible Host for the U-19 Basketball World Cup

posted on: Aug 1, 2017

By David Demaria/Contributing Writer

Picture this: Over five thousand Egyptian basketball fans saluting the Canadian flag, as “Oh, Canada” blares over the sound system, a team of young Canadian basketball players standing on the medal podium, having just won the World Cup for under 19-year-olds. It’s not an easy image to conjure, but it was indeed a reality inside the Indoor Sports Hall of Cairo International Stadium, as Canada, for the first time in their history won the U-19 World Cup in basketball, defeating Italy by a score of 79-60.

The Canadians had already shocked the basketball universe by knocking out two-time defending champions, United States in convincing fashion. Canada defeated the Americans in the semi-finals 99-87 behind an unbelievable 38 point and 13 rebound performance by explosive 17-year-old shooting guard, R.J. Barrett.

Barrett, who was named the MVP of the tournament, owed the victory over the Americans to Canada’s preparation and defense.“We had a gameplan and we executed. We got a lot of stops {on defense},” Barrett said after the victory. He attributes his stellar performance to Canada’s spacing on offense. “It was easy for us. We have a lot of shooters on the team, so we were able to spread the floor, so I benefited a lot from that.”

For University of Oregon and Canadian point guard Abu Kigab, who added 14 points in the semi-finals, beating the Americans was something personal. “I had that on my list of things I wanted to accomplish this year. “They beat us last year in the FIBA Americas championship, so I really wanted to come back and win this game, and we did just that.” Interestingly, Kigab’s opponent on the American side was fellow Oregon guard Payton Pritchard, who joined Kigab on the all-tournament team. Despite Pritchard scoring 16 points, Kigab was able to hold his own against his American counterpart and future teammate.

Kigab, who was born in Khartoum, Sudan also had some nice things to say about his experience playing in Egypt. “It’s been a great experience,” Kigab said. “People are very hospitable. It’s been a great tournament and there’s a great turnout every single game.”

After Canada breezed past Italy in the finals, Kigab who scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds was thrilled about winning the World Cup. “It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Kigab said after the finals. “This is the first time in Canadian history we’ve won the World Cup at any level. It’s an honor and a blessing.” According to Kigab, the victory is a major step in the right direction for Canadian basketball heading into the future. “This shows how far we’ve come as a basketball country. We’ve always been known as the little brother to the United States, but times have changed.”

Barrett also knew how much it meant for Canada to capture the World title and collect MVP honors. “It meant a lot to be able to win this for my country,” Barrett mentioned. We’re just showing that we’re up-and-coming as a program and we can compete with anyone.”

Cairo, a city of over 9 million people, best known for it’s historical relics, turned out to be an incredible host for the tournament. The city has suffered with a myriad of economic setbacks since Mohamed Morsi’s government was overthrown by a military coup in 2013, and has since been a city on edge, anticipating possible violent fallout from the events of four years ago.

Though the unbelievable traffic can make walking the city an obstacle course, the teams at the tournament were hosted at the beautiful Fairmont Hotel in the very secure district of Heliopolis.

The hospitality of the Egyptian federation was tremendous, and Egyptian fans were eager to support the event, filling the lower bowl of the arena to capacity for Egypt’s opening match against Puerto Rico. “This is the first time playing any basketball World Cup in Egypt. It’s great to play in front of our family and friends,” said Egyptian center Ahmed Khalaf, who goes by the nickname “Bebo.”

“It’s been great support, and we’re not afraid to compete with the best teams of the world.” Khalaf, who is probably Egypt’s most talented player, is only 18-years-old, but has spent the last two seasons with ICL Basquet Manresa of the Spanish ACB, the best domestic league in Europe. “Bebo” hopes the World Cup could be a foundation to build upon for Egyptian basketball. “This is a great thing for Egypt. Hopefully playing the best teams in the world will make basketball better here.”

Indeed, the Egyptians could stand to improve. The under-19 Pharaohs earned only one victory in group play, defeating Puerto Rico, and were only able to defeat Iran in the consolation bracket, going a total 2-5 on the tournament, and finishing in 12th place. Though the finish may have been disappointing, Spanish coach Juan Orenga, who coached Spain at the 2014 World Cup, believes the federation is headed in the right direction. “It’s been a great experience,” Orange said after Egypt’s narrow 72-67 loss to Argentina in the round of 16. “This is an important time for the federation. We’re working to improve the players on this team. In order to take the next step in international play, we need to keep working. We’ve made improvements, and we beat Puerto for the first time in our history.”

Though fans were passionate about supporting the home country throughout the tournament, it was Egypt’s support for, and interest in the other countries in the tournament that made the atmosphere so special. Some Egyptian fans cheered for the Americans, while others were crazy about the young Italian team and the Argentinians. It was a great opportunity for a basketball-hungry nation to host a truly global event, and the Egyptians did it with tremendous passion and vigor.

In the end, it was Canada receiving the final standing ovation from Egyptian fans after an impressive display of flashing flights, ticker tape, and fireworks accentuated Canada’s victory over the Italians. Then the Egyptian fans, looked up at the red and white flag of Canada, hung from the rafters with the famous maple leaf in the center, and saluted the Canadian national anthem.

What an Egypt! What a host!