There is nothing like qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup for Egypt’s Assem Marei, and this is keeping him motivated throughout the African Qualifiers.
With a 7-2 record and three games remaining in the African Qualifiers, Egypt is among the favorites to secure one of the four remaining African tickets to next year’s World Cup in Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines.
“THE BEST FEELING I HAD IN MY CAREER WAS Winning the semi-final against Senegal and going on to win the final against Angola nine years ago. I’M TRYING TO RECAPTURE THAT FEELING.”– Marei Assem
When Marei reflects on how, as a 21-year-old, he inspired Egypt to secure one of three African tickets to the 2014 World Cup in Spain, he describes it as “the best feeling I had in my career.”
Egypt arrived in Abidjan for the AfroBasket, which served as a World Cup qualifier at the time, with a young and inexperienced squad. To make matters worse, they lost all three Group Phase games.
Assem Marei was instrumental in Egypt finishing second at AfroBasket 2013.
However, against all odds, Marei and his teammates pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament by knocking out reigning champions Tunisia in the Round of 16.
Marei was making his second AfroBasket appearance in two years, but he led his team like a pro. Members of the current Egypt squad, including Yossef Aboushousha, Anas Mahmoud, and assistant coach Wael Khedr, were part of that historic group of players in 2013.
Assem Marei was named to the AfroBasket All-Tournament Team in 2013.
And by the time Egypt reached the Semi-Finals against Senegal, a team they had lost to earlier in the tournament, they were no longer considered underdogs.
The former African champions not only dominated the game with a suffocating aggressive defense, but they were also unstoppable offensively, winning 70-63 and ensuring automatic qualification for Spain 2014. Senegal would also qualify if they defeated hosts Cote d’Ivoire in the third-place match.
Marei would eventually miss the World Cup. Marei now feels like she has unfinished business.
“Of course, I want it [to play in the World Cup], but I feel like the best feeling I can get is to help qualify the country,” the 30-year-old said when asked about the World Cup’s significance.
Marei, who spent last season with Changwon LG Sakers of South Korea, has been a valuable asset for Egypt, averaging 13.2 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds in six games in the African Qualifiers. Egypt is 5-1 in the World Cup race with him on the team.
“When we qualify, I feel like we’ve accomplished our goal,” Marei said, before adding, “Obviously, we have to represent our country to the best of our ability when we go to the World Cup, and I’d love to play there.”
“The best feeling I’ve ever had in my career was winning the semi-final game against Senegal to face Angola in the final nine years ago. I’m trying to recapture that feeling.”
When it comes to Egypt’s current squad, the 2.06m (6ft 9in) forward observes that they “have a lot of people coming off the bench bringing a lot of positive things to the team.”
Canadian Roy Rana, who has led the Pharaohs for the past year, is widely credited with instilling an aggressive and new mentality in the team.
“We’ve been a really resilient and tough group the whole time,” Rana admitted.
“They are aware of this. That’s how the game works. You just have to stay mentally focused and play possessions, which is what we’ve done in all of our games so far – with the exception of the first game in Dakar against Senegal. I believe we’ve done well in that regard. Not surprising for me.” Marei has two double-doubles in six games and ranks second in the African Qualifiers with a 57.7 field-goal shooting percentage, making him one of the most productive players so far.
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