Wael Arakji put on a show, denying Gilas Pilipinas of a morale-boosting victory in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers Friday at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut.
Arakji, one of Asia’s rising superstars, said their victory over the Jordan Clarkson-powered Filipinos is a strong testament that they will not go down easily, especially on their home turf.
In fact, the Cedars are untouchable in Beirut as they won their past seven home matches.
“To be honest, the Filipinos got their top 12 players in the league. Maybe they’re missing one or two, but we beat them,” said Wael, who is being compared to Argentine great Manu Ginobili for his deadeye shooting, mental toughness and ability to deliver when the game is on the line.
“When you’re in my town, you go by my rules. So when you’re in Lebanon, you go by our rules, and that’s what we did today.”
True enough, Arakji served as the catalyst that doomed Gilas Pilipinas’ bid for a victory that will ease the pain of its forgettable performance in the international arena.
He punctuated his 24-point performance with a dagger of a trey in the final 16.3 seconds that broke the morale of the visiting squad.
Still, he refused to take all the credit.
“Like coach said, we’re building a team that can win with any five on the court,” he said, noting their 35 points off the bench were crucial in matching the firepower of the Filipinos.
“We have someone coming off the bench who stepped up. It shows that every single player on this team is willing to step up. We’re proud about this win.”
With the overwhelming win, Arakji expects their federation to step up and encourage its players top have international careers, similar to the Filipinos who are sending players to play in major leagues in Australia, Japan, United States and Korea.
“You need to ask the federation this question: What’s next for the players? What’s next for the development of the players? What’s next? They have to have a major plan, a very good plan for our players,” Arakji said.
“We’re beating national teams that have a triple, quadruple budget than ours. Most of the players we’re playing against are playing in top leagues around the world. So they need to figure out a good plan for the players.”