ZOUK MIKAEL (Lebanon) – Al Riyadi head coach Ahmad Farran has grown more confident of the club reaching new heights now that he has a deeper roster at his disposal.

“We have a deep roster now, so we look forward to conquer and win everything,” he said. “I said it and I will repeat it, this season is exceptional for us. We are targeting every single tournament we are playing. We have all the assets, we have all the weapons. This is our ambition.”

The champion mentor’s optimism stems from the arrival of former NBA forward Thon Maker, whom the Yellow Castle signed just days prior to the do-or-die Game 3 of their FIBA WASL-West Asia League Season 2 Semi-Final series against long-time rivals Sagesse.

The Australia Boomer did make his presence felt in the rubber match, tallying a full line of 8 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block in 20 minutes off the bench to help Al Riyadi to a dominant 86-65 victory to book a return trip to the sub-zone Final.

It’s a chance for Maker as well to earn himself a FIBA WASL gold after falling short of winning the ultimate prize when his Kuwait Club bowed to Manama in the inaugurals’ grand finale.

“It’s amazing. His presence under the basket gave us a lot of confidence defensively,” Farran said. “It’s a big plus for us. He needs time to adapt. He just arrived four, five days ago.”

“He’s still jet lagged. I believe game after game, practice after practice, he will give us a lot of options defensively. He will help us a lot,” he continued.

But it wasn’t just Maker who made the victory possible. Game 3 was a showcase of wealth for Al Riyadi as all of their five starters finished in double figures, led by the 18 points of Elmedin Kikanovic and lead guard Wael Arakji’s 17, on top of his 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

Farran, though, was prouder of the way his charges performed and executed on the defensive end after limiting a high-scoring Sagesse team to only 65 points — that, after allowing them to drop 91 and then 109 in Games 1 and 2 of the Semis, respectively.

“My players should be proud of themselves. They did an amazing job forcing Sagesse to commit 17 turnovers and manage to control our game. We only had eight turnovers and we played as a team. We managed to win all four quarters. It’s amazing to be back in the Final,” he said.

As much as he likes their chances to repeat, all of Al Riyadi knows, too, that they cannot look too far ahead, for a daunting challenge awaits them in the West Asia League Final.

The defending Lebanese Basketball Championship titlists will batttle Shahrdary Gorgan again in the best-of-3 title bout set to begin this Thursday. Their Iranian counterparts have been waiting for them as they reached the Finals first after sweeping Al Shorta in the Semis.

Al Riyadi do have the edge since they swept Gorgan for the crown last season, 2-0, but Arakji is worried since they will be taking on a much different team this time.

Gorgan no longer have their star tandem of Mo Jamshidi and Behnam Yakhchali but they have Arsalan Kazemi and Will Cherry, plus the emerging Sina Vahedi running the point for a squad that’s coming into the Big Dance undefeated with a clean 7-0 overall record.

“I think they’re a much better team than last year,” offered Arakji. “Maybe less names, but they’re playing great as a team. They have a lot of new faces, a lot of great faces, and a great coach. It’s gonna be challenging for us so hopefully it’s gonna be a great game.”

The fact that Gorgan beat Sagesse, a team that dealt Al Riyadi their first loss of the season, twice during the Group Phase makes Arakji and Co. all the more cautious.

“Gorgan is a great team. They beat Sagesse twice. They’re a much better team. We need to be very focused against them. Or else we might lose,” he said.