Haddadi, Iran celebrates Olympic return
Sept. 09, 2019
BEIJING (China) - It's been 11 years since Iran's last Olympic dream was realized, and after more than a decade they are back in the quadrennial event.
Iran qualified for Tokyo 2020 Olympics after their rousing 95-75 win over the Philippines coupled with the hosts China losing to Nigeria in the penultimate game day of the Classification Phase of 17-32.
"We're so happy and thankful that god gave us a second chance. China had a chance to beat a couple of teams and they didn't so we grabbed our chance and took it," said longtime Iranian star, Hammed Haddadi.
In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a young and relatively unknown Haddadi had a coming-out party in the world stage which opened an opportunity for him to play in the NBA.
Haddadi parlayed his impressive performance to an NBA contract with the Memphis Grizzlies after averaging 16.6 points while also leading the entire Olympic tournament with 11.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
"Listen, I thought I will never be able to make it back to the Olympics again because China is always strong. I never thought I would be able to go back and I am so happy for my country," said the 34-year old.
"We worked really hard in the last two months preparing for the World Cup and I am so thankful for everything. We went through a lot of ups and downs but through it all, we stayed together," he added.
The 2-3 record of Iran does not reflect how competitive "Team Melli" were in the 2019 World Cup. Iran was up 49-31 at the end of the first half in their first game against Puerto Rico but David Huertas waxed bot and they couldn't hold on to the win.
Iran also played competitively against Tunisia and surprisingly lost by single digits, 73-65, to World basketball powerhouse Spain.
"We had a chance to beat some of our teams in our group but lost in the last minute against Puerto Rico and made some mistakes against Spain but for us to be able to advance to the Olympics made all those lows worth it in the end," said Iran head coach Mehran Shahintab.
The 2008 Iran Olympic team only has two holdovers - Haddadi and their star forward Samad Nikkah Bahrami and the 2019 version is infused with new and future pillars of Iran basketball.
The 6ft 11in (2.10m) Michael Rostampour made his debut in the World Cup for the Iranian quintet and relished the chance to represent his country in the international stage.
"In 2008 I was a junior in high school watching them (Haddadi and Bahrami) on TV with my dad," shared Rostampour during the post-game press conference after their win against the Philippines.
"World Cup, Olympics this is a dream come true for me. Let's keep this thing going. We learned a lot of valuable things on and off the court and I think all 12 guys are on the same page and can't wait for the next journey," added the 27-year old.
Haddadi and the 36-year old Bahrami will most likely play in their last Olympic team but the NBA veteran is hopeful that basketball will continue to grow and their Olympic qualifying win will help promote the game in their country.
"Back in 2008 we had no support or sponsors, I wish and really hope that money will come into basketball and a lot of support will be given to the sport. Basketball is big-time game in the world and I hope the government supports us and we will give our 100 percent every game," shared Haddadi.
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