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Malta to take gap year from Under-18 men’s FIBA basketball

Malta will not field an Under-18 men's team for this summer's FIBA competition. Photo: FIBA

MBA to look for alternative in U20 tournament

Malta will not have a men’s Under-18 representative team at this summer’s FIBA competitions, the Malta Basketball Association (MBA) has confirmed.

Speaking at a press conference to draw this season’s BOV Men’s Division One Knockout fixtures on Wednesday, MBA president Paul Sultana admitted the association would not field a male U-18 team for the annual summer FIBA tournament.

“Upon direction, the MBA has decided not to send an Under-18 boys team to the FIBA competitions this summer. Unfortunately, after last year’s results and this season’s league so far, we do not have a high enough level to compete,” Sultana said.

In August, Malta finished eighth at the FIBA U18 Division C European championships in Azerbaijan after struggling throughout the tournament. While they showed signs of improvement and eventually beat Gibraltar in overtime to avoid the wooden spoon, it was the only victory for the team.

Giving the association’s reasons, Sultana said the issue stems from the fact that over the past two years, with Malta having hosted both the men’s senior FIBA Small Countries Games and the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE 2023), interest from youths has spiked. However, he lamented the fact that this interest has come mainly from teenagers around 14-15 years old who are now joining local clubs as beginner players.

“Unfortunately, even though we are pleased with the interest, we now have a lot of players in our Under-16 and 18 leagues who are still beginners, and this means they are far from ready to compete at national team level,” Sultana explained.

When asked about the way forward, the MBA supremo said the association is looking at an alternative tournament in which they could send a Malta team to compete. The focus he explained would be shifted onto a new Under-20 competition for which the association could amalgamate players from last year’s U-18s and up-and-coming players of the age group.

Coaching changes

This issue has not been reflected in the women’s side of the game as that department has remained at steady growth, particularly reaching its target with last summer’s Gold at the FIBA Games in Albania.

In August, the Malta women’s Under-18 side powered through their opposition to take the top spot after victory against the host nation in the final.

A significant factor in all this was the fact that the side coached by Giovanni Gebbia consisted of players with experience within senior leagues. For starters, tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) Danika Galea is in her second season in Italy with Elite Basket Roma after several years playing with Depiro’s seniors. Fenech Pace trio Lisa, Sarah, and Anna are also mainstays in Santino Coppa’s Caffe Moak Luxol roster, together with Sarah Sciberras, Jada Said, and Ella Abela. Similarly, Starlites JSD’s Andie Saliba has enjoyed a bright start to the new season under new coach Fatih Dedelioglu.

Despite this success, the women’s U18s will change direction as part of the MBA’s strategic move to shift coaching positions to Maltese coaches. The women’s senior team has already made this switch with Charles Bonnici already announced as Angela Adamoli’s replacement.

Asked by the Times of Malta about the men’s senior team replacement for coach Alan Walls, Sultana said the MBA has narrowed its search down to two local coaches from the BOV Men’s Division One, but nothing is yet confirmed.

However, on Wednesday, the MBA announced that Luxol youth coach Roderick Vella will be taking over the U16 and u18 women’s teams while last summer’s men’s national team assistant coach Omar Said will be leading the men’s U16s.

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