The men's national basketball team from Lebanon is making its first-ever appearance in the World Basketball Championship tournament, which this year is in the mid-western U.S. state of Indiana. Lebanon qualified for the world tournament after reaching the finals of the Asian Championship, where it lost to China. Lebanon brought an American coach, who has taken a long journey to return to Indianapolis.
Carl John Neumann has come full circle. Known as "Johnny" during his playing days, Neumann was a star player at Mississippi University in the early 1970's. During his sophomore season, Neumann was the leading scorer in U.S. college basketball, with an average of more than 40 points per game. And, this was before three-point baskets were scored.
He also played professionally in the now-defunct American Basketball Association and, later, in the National Basketball Association, most notably with the Indiana Pacers. After coaching in Belgium, Kuwait and Cyprus, Neumann is back in Indianapolis.
Although he was able to choose his players for the Asian Championship, Coach Neumann was given a band of inexperienced players just before the World Championships. "We played as good as we could possibly play," he said. "This is a team that was put together five, six days ago. We had to have a miracle. And, that just did not happen. It has been a difficult situation for us. But the fact that we made it here is the number-one accomplishment for Lebanon."
The team has not won a single game and coach Neumann has been at odds with Lebanese basketball officials. "I have learned how to prepare a national team," he said. "They have no idea with that in Lebanon. In other countries, they [the players] have been together seven, eight, nine, 10 years."
Still, Neumann is proud of how his team has tried to play against the rest of the world. "I prove with my young players that there is future in Lebanese basketball. I am tremendously proud of my young players and my team."
The future of the team will be without coach Neumann, who was fired Sunday for making disparaging remarks about Lebanese basketball officials on the country's national television.