Iran coach confident younger pool can hold ground v Gilas sans Hamed Haddadi

Asian powerhouse Iran is bracing for a pair of tuneup matches against Gilas Pilipinas this week and German coach Dirk Bauermann sees it “extremely beneficial” with exactly a month to go before their own Olympic Qualifying Tournament battle in Turin, Italy.

The Iranians, who topped three of the last five FIBA Asia events since 2007, arrived in Manila with little fanfare on Saturday night, hoping to sustain their sharp form that saw them sweeping their way to the West Asian Basketball Association title in Amman, Jordan last week.

Bauermann, 58, a former tactician of Germany’s national men’s cage team, believes the Iranians could learn a thing or two against the Nationals which could serve them in good stead in Turin OQT where they are bracketed with European heavyweight Greece and former FIBA Americas champion Mexico in Group A.

“It’s extremely beneficial. It’s a core part of our preparation,” he told sports scribes on Sunday afternoon, referring to their closed-door training session with Gilas Pilipinas on Tuesday at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong City and their televised tuneup match on the following day at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

“That’s why we’re doing this first game: to just practice on situations that will happen during the game. The guys play against each other each and every game, so sometimes it’s nice to do that against another team,” he said.

“The game on the 8th (of June) will be a real basketball game. Everybody’s going to try to win and leave his best game on the floor,” Bauermann added.

“We have the highest respect for Gilas and coach (Tab Baldwin) and we know it’s going be a very difficult game for us. But we have a young group of guys that have played really well so far and that have jelled and exceeded expectations. Hopefully, we’ll be able to give them a good game.”

The last time they faced Gilas Pilipinas, which is also gearing up for its own OQT battle in Manila next month, the Iranians suffered a 73-87 stunner in the second round of the FIBA Asia edition last year in Hunan, China where they finished third overall.

Although he won’t have the likes of towering center Hamed Haddadi, wingman Nikkhah Bahrami and crafty guard Mehdi Kamrani, the so-called ‘Big 3’ of Iran’s “Golden Generation,” Bauermann is confident the younger pool of Iranians is “taller and more athletic” which can hold its ground against Gilas Pilipinas, bannered by naturalized player Andray Blatche.

“To be able to play here in the Philippines against such a good team, such a well-coached team, is going to be really good for our young players,” said Bauermann, who will rely mainly on former NBA draftee Arsalan Kazemi, big man Oshin Sahakian, guards Sajjad Mashayekhi, Behnam Yakchali and Mohammad Jamshidi.

Even the 6-foot-7 Sahakian, who was named to the Myhtical Five during Iran’s title conquest against Gilas Pilipinas in the 2013 FIBA Asia tilt, is excited to go up against the Nationals anew.

“They’re a very good team, they have a great coach. We have tough two games ahead of us,” he said through Kazemi, who willingly served as his translator. “We’re a young team and we are hungry. We’re gonna go out there and try to do our best.”

Sahakian added: “Basically it’s gonna help us to get the experience. Every game that we play is gonna give us more experience. We’re gonna be in different situations like we were in WABA and we came out pretty well. Those are all experiences for the future. This is also gonna be a good experience for us because probably so far Philippines is gonna be the best team in this group that we’re gonna face. It’s gonna be fun.”

After their brief stint in Manila, the Iranians will fly to China to join the Atlas Tournament and will then leave for Europe where they will see action in a pocket tourney in Latvia before heading to Turin, according to Bauermann. – By Jerome Lagunzad

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