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

Special 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

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.”


Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals
Updated 57 min 58 sec ago

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals
  • The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches
  • “I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back”

WIMBLEDON, England: Simona Halep’s first appearance at Wimbledon since winning the title three years is going just as good as it did the last time.
The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday on Center Court.
Halep missed the chance to defend her title at Wimbledon twice, first in 2020 when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and then again in 2021 when she had to sit out with a left calf injury.
“I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back.”
In the semifinals, Halep will face Elena Rybakina. The 17th-seeded Rybakina beat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No. 1 Court.
Rybakina, a 23-year-old Kazakh, is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career. She lost in the fourth round last year.
In the men’s quarterfinals, two-time champion Rafael Nadal was to play Taylor Fritz on Center Court while Nick Kyrgios was to face Cristian Garin on No. 1 Court.
Halep is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon and has reached the semifinals for the third time. She is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament.
“I’m very emotional right now, because it means a lot to be back in the semis,” Halep said.
The match against Anisimova appeared to be as straightforward as her first four victories at this year’s tournament — all came in straight sets. But the 20th-seeded American broke Halep when she was serving for the match at 5-2.
Anisimova then had three more break points when Halep again served for the match at 5-4, but the Romanian won five straight points to finish the match.
“She could crush the ball in the end, and I didn’t know, actually, what to do,” Halep said. “But I just believed in myself. I said that I have to stay there, strong on my legs.”
Halep injured her calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon. She started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Serena Williams, in April.


‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket

‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket
Updated 06 July 2022

‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket

‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket
  • Arguably the greatest revelation about England’s latest run-chase was how they attacked it from the start

BIRMINGHAM: Everything you know about Test cricket is wrong.

Well that might be the conclusion of some fans who watched a resurgent England make light of a chase of 378 in the Covid-delayed fifth Test against India.

It was the latest example of ‘Bazball’ in action, with a seven-wicket win in Birmingham England’s fourth successful chase in as many Tests under a new leadership duo of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes following a 3-0 whitewash of Test world champions New Zealand.

That series saw England chase down seemingly stiff targets of 277, 299 and 296.

No England side, however, had previously made more to win in the fourth innings of a Test than 359, when Stokes’ brilliant century secured a thrilling victory over Australia at Headingley three years ago.

But with Joe Root (142 not out) and Jonny Bairstow (114 not out) sharing an unbroken partnership of 269, that mark was overhauled with ease at Edgbaston as England ended a five-match series all square at 2-2.

Yet as well as former England captain Root and Bairstow batted, they are in-form and experienced internationals.

Arguably the greatest revelation about England’s latest run-chase was how they attacked it from the start, with Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, both of whom had been struggling for runs, sharing a century opening stand in 19.5 overs — the fastest in England Test history.

Stokes said England’s approach was down to a change in attitude from a team that had won just one of its 17 previous Tests prior to the New Zealand series.

“When you’ve got real clarity in what you want to achieve as a team and how you want to play it makes things a lot easier,” said Stokes.

“We know what we were going to do — we knew we were always going to go out and try and chase that down from the get-go.

“A great way to explain is that teams are perhaps better than us, but teams won’t be braver than us.

“(England spinner) Jack Leach said that to me and it is a great way to sum things up at the moment,” the all-rounder added.

Scoring runs quickly in Test cricket is nothing new.

A celebrated West Indies team once chased down a target of 342 inside a day to beat England by nine wickets at Lord’s, with opener Gordon Greenidge making an unbeaten double century.

And the successful Australia teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s looked to score at a rate of four per over in order to give their bowlers as much time as possible to take the 20 wickets needed to win a Test.

But on Tuesday, England were scoring at a rate of nearly five an over, with the way Root reverse scooped medium-pacer Shardul Thakur for six a sign of how T20 shot-making, unknown to previous generations, is influencing the longer game.

Former New Zealand captain McCullum was credited for being the inspiration behind England’s rise from white-ball no-hopers to 2019 50-over World Cup winners and England clearly hope he will have a similar effect now he is directly involved with the Test side.

Four matches is a small sample size, however, and had Rishabh Pant stayed in for just a little longer in India’s second innings, Stokes may have been granted a wish where he “almost wanted them to get 450 (ahead), to see what we did.”

India coach Rahul Dravid, one of the best batsmen of his era, was impressed by England but said the way Pant had scored a typically dynamic 146, in a first innings where Ravindra Jadeja also made a hundred, proved Stokes’ side did not have a copyright on attacking play.

“When your players are doing well, are in good form, then you can play really positively, can take the game forward,” said Dravid.

“We also showed when Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja were playing in the first innings — we played pretty positive cricket.

“But when two positive players or attacking players are in good form, and can play such a big innings, and that happens in three to four matches continuously it looks good for cricket and also for them.”


Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship
Updated 06 July 2022

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship
  • The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand

MONTERREY, Mexico: Rocky Rodriguez and Maria Paula Salas scored in the opening half and Costa Rica went on to win their opening group-stage match 3-0 over Panama on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF W Championship.

The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Rodriguez, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, scored on a header in the sixth minute. Salas scored in the 24th.

Katherine Alvarado converted a penalty for Costa Rica in the 60th minute.

Costa Rica and Panama are in Group B with Canada and Trinidad & Tobago, who play in the late game.

Eight teams have been divided into two groups for the tournament. The top two finishers in each group earn spots in the 2023 World Cup. The third-place finishers will go on to a 10-team intercontinental playoff in February in New Zealand.

The winner of the tournament will also earn one of the region’s spots in the 2024 Olympics.

Costa Rica have been to the World Cup just once before, in 2015. Panama has never qualified for international soccer’s most prestigious event.

The US, Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti are in Group A.


Tiger Woods looking at British Open as historic occasion

Tiger Woods looking at British Open as historic occasion
Updated 06 July 2022

Tiger Woods looking at British Open as historic occasion

Tiger Woods looking at British Open as historic occasion
  • Woods won in 2000 by eight shots to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24
  • He won again in 2005 to complete a different kind of slam

NEW YORK: The British Open is scheduled for Royal Liverpool, Royal Troon and Royal Portrush over the next three years. The Old Course at St. Andrews typically is used every five years.

That adds to the perspective of Tiger Woods playing this year.

When he said Tuesday that “this is a pretty historic Open,” Woods just as well could have been talking about himself as the 150th anniversary of golf’s oldest championship.

“I’m lucky enough to be part of the past champions that have won there, and want to play there again, and I don’t know when they are ever going to go back while I’m still able to play at a high level,” Woods said at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland. “I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level.”

Woods won in 2000 by eight shots to complete the career Grand Slam at age 24. He won again in 2005 to complete a different kind of slam. Each time Jack Nicklaus played a major for the last time, Woods won.

He is 46 and still walking gingerly at times from his right leg and ankle being pieced back together following his February 2021 car crash outside of Los Angeles.

Woods returned to play the Masters and PGA Championship, both times making the cut, though he withdrew after the third round at Southern Hills. He skipped the US Open, though not necessarily by choice.

“The plan was to play the US Open, but physically I was not able to do that,” Woods said at Adare Manor. “There’s no way physically I could have done that. I had some issues with my leg and it would have put this tournament in jeopardy, and so there’s no reason to do that.”

That he is even playing is remarkable considering the nature of his injuries, particularly the threat of having part of his leg amputated, which doctors were able to avoid.

He has no idea how much longer he can play, or at least compete. Woods is unlikely to tee it up after the British Open until December, either at his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas or what has become his fifth major, the PNC Championship with son Charlie.

“If you asked me last year whether I would play golf again, all of my surgeons would have said, ‘No,’” Woods said. “Now if you say, ‘Play at a championship level,’ well, that window is definitely not as long as I would like it to be.”

OPEN RAILING

The grand celebration of the 150th anniversary of the British Open coincides with a dispute between ScotRail and ASLEF, the union for train drivers.

As a result, the R&A has contacted ticket holders to advise they travel to the Old Course by road or alternative public transport. Nearly 300,000 spectators are expect for the British Open next week.

ScotRail has limited service because of the dispute. It said trains between Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen to Leuchars — the closest station to St. Andrews — would run every hour on tournament days.

The R&A said it will increase capacity at park-and-ride facilities to cope with more cars. Travel time to the Old Course is likely to take a lot longer.

“Due to circumstances out of our control, we have no choice but to urge fans to not travel by rail to The Open and to use alternative means of transport to get to and from St. Andrews next week,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, executive director of championship at the R&A. “There is a risk that fans who travel by train may find there are no services to get them home.”


Malacia becomes Ten Hag’s first signing at Man United

Malacia becomes Ten Hag’s first signing at Man United
Updated 06 July 2022

Malacia becomes Ten Hag’s first signing at Man United

Malacia becomes Ten Hag’s first signing at Man United
  • Ten Hag’s recruitment drive is starting to gather pace, with Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen reportedly agreeing to join United on a free transfer after his impressive loan spell at Brentford last season

LONDON: Manchester United completed their swoop for Feyenoord defender Tyrell Malacia on Tuesday as Erik ten Hag made his first signing since taking charge at Old Trafford.

United landed Malacia in a reported £12.95 million ($15.4 million) deal after making a late move for the Netherlands fullback, who had been close to joining French club Lyon.

The 22-year-old has agreed a four-year contract with the option of a further 12 months.

It is a landmark deal for Ten Hag, who had been linked with a host of potential signings before finally making Malacia the first acquisition of his United reign.

Ten Hag arrived at United in May after finishing his successful spell at Ajax, where he had plenty of opportunities to see Malacia’s quality with Dutch rivals Feyenoord.

Malacia, who made 136 appearances for Feyenoord, said: “It’s an incredible feeling to have joined Manchester United. This is a new chapter for me, a new league with new team-mates and a tremendous manager leading us.

“I know from playing against his teams in the Eredivisie, the qualities that he has and what he demands of his players.

“While I know that I am still young and will continue to develop, I can promise the United fans that I will leave everything on the pitch every time I pull on the red shirt.”

Malacia, who plays largely at leftback, is expected to be part of the United squad that leaves for the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia on Friday.

“I’ll always be thankful to Feyenoord for all they have given to me and my family. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for them,” Malacia said.

“Now I’m ready to focus on the future with United, and help my new club achieve success.”

Capped five times by the Netherlands, Malacia is likely to compete with England leftback Luke Shaw for a place in United’s starting lineup.

“Tyrell is an exciting, dynamic young footballer with excellent experience for his age, including five seasons in the Eredivisie, a European final and full international honors for the Netherlands,” United football director John Murtough said.

“We look forward to seeing him continue to develop under the guidance of Erik ten Hag and his coaching team in the years ahead.”

Ten Hag’s recruitment drive is starting to gather pace, with Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen reportedly agreeing to join United on a free transfer after his impressive loan spell at Brentford last season.

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie De Jong and Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez have also been linked with moves to Old Trafford.

As well as overhauling a squad that finished a disappointing sixth in the Premier League last season, Ten Hag must resolve the future of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo missed training for “family reasons” on Monday after reportedly asking for a transfer following United’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.

United are said to be determined to hold onto the Portugal striker, who finished as their top scorer last season.