BEIRUT, Lebanon (23rd FIBA Asia Champions Cup): He has been “the next best thing” in Lebanese basketball for more than four years now. Yet, the 23rd FIBA Asia Champions Cup starting at the Al Riyadi Stadium on Monday will mark the first occasion the strapping Ahmad Ibrahim dons the colors of a Lebanese club in an international competition.
The Rice University alumnus has given up a prospective and promising career in the NCAA to play for Al Riyadi Beirut for reasons in his own words “I have certain loyalties to worry about.”
Mention to him the enormous expectations people have had on him right from the day he made his debut for the Lebanese National U18 Team at the 20th FIBA Asia U18 Championship at Tehran (Iran), where Ibrahim averaged a staggering 32.6 points per game, pat comes the answer: “There are a lot of reasons why that young kid has taken time to come to this stage. I was a kid, man. I did make my mistakes.”
Ibrahim is an enormously gifted young basketball player in Lebanon. Of this there is no doubt. But the more spoken about trait is the swagger he carries about himself on, or off, the court.
“People misconstrue it to be haughtiness. It’s not,” the 20-year-old explained during a conversation even as the worksmen were fitting the last couple of nails and screws in the Al Riyadi Stadium, preparing for the event.
“That’s just the way I am.”
But hasn’t such a perception affected his approach to the game?
“No,” says Ibrahim who was voted the MVP in Al Riyadi’s recent triumph in the 12th Hariri Cup international tournament.
“I haven’t bothered too much about what people think, or talk, about me. For me, it’s always been about showing improvement every single day. I want to be the best player on court. And I will work the hardest to achieve that,” he said.
“Yes there are a lot of times I feel happy about myself. But it’s never been about proving any point to anybody else,” he added.
Playing for Al Riyadi, which has the most passionate group of fans in this part of the world, brings its own set of pressure. Ibrahim had an answer to that too.
“If I continue to give my best my fans will back me. Even if I don’t succeed at times, they will continue to support me. And let me assure my fans that every time I step out on the court they can expect me to give my best,” he said.
And of course, there’s this inevitable comparison to the talismanic Lebanese superstar Fadi El Khatib.
“Look he (Fadi) is a great player. Probably the best ever to have played for Lebanon. But I don’t want to become another Fadi. I want to be myself.
“It’s also my aim to become the best ever player I can get to be. But I simply do not believe in comparing myself to any body. When I walk into court, I want people to say ‘He’s Ahmad Ibrahim’ and not ‘He’s the next Fadi’. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
I for one, who saw him as a gangling youngster at Tehran (Iran) in 2008 and saw him through a forgettable 21st FIBA Asia Championship at Sana’A (Yemen) in 2010 could see the maturity the youngster had gained.
The future of Lebanese basketball with Ahmad Ibrahim around is certainly bright!
S Mageshwaran / FIBA Asia