The Daily Star (Lebanon)
January 31, 2014 Friday

Newcomers Homenetmen banking on stubborn defense


Homenetmen are back in the top flight and will be tested from the
outset with matches against Riyadi at Manara and Champville in Deek
al-Mahdi when the Lebanese Basketball League kicks off Friday.

BEIRUT: Homenetmen are back in the top flight and will be tested from
the outset with matches against Riyadi at Manara and Champville in
Deek al-Mahdi when the Lebanese Basketball League kicks off Friday.

In May 2013, there were jubilant scenes in Homenetmen's Mezher Stadium
in Antelias, as the team's promotion to the top flight was finally
realized after a decadelong absence.

Much has been made of the fact that businessman and former player Guy
Manoukian will invest significantly in order to build a competitive
team. But Manoukian, who is also a famous musician, has already
orchestrated several signings for nominal fees. The team's budget is
believed to be around $500,000, and yet their roster looks able to
match some of the heavyweight teams.

Homenetmen has also shrewdly appointed veteran coach Nenad Kerdzic,
who formerly managed Sagesse club. The Serbian is without a doubt a
successful tactician, and his role will be to relay his experience to
the players, with many of them making their first appearance in the
premier league.

After missing out on Mouttahed's highly rated Bassel Bawji in the
offseason, the Armenian side added veteran Lebanese-American center
Joe Vogel, who despite being 40 years old, remains a quality player on
the court. They also signed newcomer Hayk Gyokchyan, who spent four
years in the American collegiate system, and is now looking to take
his skills to the next level.

Gyokchyan is lethal from the 3-point arc and will definitely bring a
repertoire of skills to the table. The other players who have joined
Homenetmen are mostly youngsters, such as Sevag Ketenjian and Marc
Korjian. Prolific scorer Rudy Farraj, as well as young point guard
Ralf Akl and Joe Ghattas remain from last season's roster. They will
also be relying on foreigner combo guard Justin Gray and power forward
center Terrence Leather.

WHAT TO EXPECTHomenetmen are one of several teams in the top flight
who have built a competitive squad but a good start is imperative for
the newly promoted side. Although they will face a tough opening task
against Riyadi, two consecutive games against Champville and Bejjeh
offer a chance to collect points and pick up their momentum for the
rest of the campaign.

Even though it's always difficult to predict how a freshly advanced
side will perform at an elite level, the Armenian squad showed
potential in the offseason through their organized offense and
stubborn defense, and Manoukian has made it clear that their target is
a top eight finish.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSESHomenetmen's defense is the reason they are
the dark horses of the season. Having Kerdzic at the helm confirmed
they will be playing a defense-oriented game. Homenetmen's players are
mostly tenacious youngsters who are ready to run and fight for every
ball and use the full court to pressure opponents.

As good as Homenetmen's defense may be, their offense could struggle
at times during the season, especially since some players haven't
featured in the top flight for a few seasons while the others are
completely new to the league.

It will be up to Gray to consistently deliver on the offensive side
along with Gyokchyan and Vogel, as the three players exhibit the key
strength of being able to shoot impressively from distance.

Gray will also be tasked with creating space for his teammates, and
not just carrying the scoring burden on his own shoulders. Throwing
the ball down to Leather in the post will open up lanes for the rest
of the team when opponents double-team Gray. It also frees up the
shooters on the outside for open shots.