In years past the William Jones Cup has been a mixed bag of teams in terms of talent level, usually including some ‘B’ teams and some club teams from Australia or the US. While there is still a disparity in talent level between the teams this year, almost all of the teams have brought their ‘A’ squad in preparation for the FIBA Asia Championship coming up at the end of September (Japan being the notable exception). There have been some great games and some strong performances by teams and players alike. This is by far the best collection of teams I have seen in my five years of watching this event.
After five days the standings are as follow:
1) South Korea 5-0
2) Taiwan 4-1
3) Jordan 3-2
3) Philippines (Smart Gilas) 3-2
3) Iran 3-2
4) Japan 2-3
5) UAE 0-5
5) Malaysia 0-5
While South Korea sits at the top of the leaderboard at this time with a perfect record, I cannot say unequivocally that they are the best squad here. And that is not necessarily a knock on South Korea. What South Korea has shown is that they play with a consistency that is rare among Asian national teams.
1) Marcus Douthit is the best big man playing for an Asian national team. This statement probably will anger some other fans. Koreans will argue that Ha Seung-Jin is the best, but seeing his flat-footed performance against Iran showed how glaring a weakness his lack of athleticism is. Hamed Haddadi from Iran is usually discussed as the best big man from Asia. Haddadi is massive, and a force inside, but Douthit showed in their match-up how much of a liability Haddadi’s lack of quickness is. When Haddadi is on the floor, he gets points in the paint, but in turn clogs up his team’s offensive movements. While I am a fan of Taiwan’s Tseng Wen-ting, he just do not have the strength to handle a player of Douthit or Haddadi’s size in the post. For the teams that are not here, Lebanon has added Loren Woods, and China has Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi. Woods is solid, but is not an intimidating factor on the offensive end. Wang is getting old, and Yi struggles to guard stronger players (well-documented during his NBA career). If Douthit plays to the level he has shown against Taiwan and Iran, the competition better take notice.
2) Japanese basketball is going through a period of uncertainty and transition that extends beyond the JBL and bj league debacle. While there are many big name players not on the Jones Cup squad, it is hard to rationalize why you would be testing out young players one month before the FIBA Asia Championships. Every other team in this event is playing as close to full strength as they possibly can.
3) Asia Basketball Update favorite Jet Chang can score at the international level. I have heard people mention that they are unsure how his skills translate outside of the DII world. Jet has received increasing in each game, culminating in his performance last night against the UAE. Taiwan was extremely sluggish after their emotional victory over Jordan the night before, but Jet poured in 20 points in the second half to spark the Taiwanese squad. In 21 minutes of action per game he is averaging 13.8 points.
4) Of the nine best teams in the region only China, Lebanon, and Qatar are not here. Unfortunately for Iran, Taiwan, and Qatar, their grouping at the Asia Championship will prevent one of the teams from progressing to the Quarterfinal round. I predict the only drama over the first few days of that tournament will be in Group B.
5) It may not be a real FIBA event, but after watching the drama in Jordan-Taiwan game it is clear that the regional rivalries are really heating up. Watching Zaid Abbas kick a chair 20 feet and the look of fear in the Taiwanese referee’s eyes was the highlight of the tournament for me so far!
Four more days of action coming up. Hopefully over the weekend I can take some time to edit some video clips to share some of the action with you.
Final Random Thought: There are three BYU-Hawaii alum playing in this tournament (Jet Chang, Wu Tai-hao, and Asi Taulava). If Yuta Tabuse was here it would be four. Pretty amazing the connections the Seasiders have developed in the region.