Basketball is one sport you probably would not associate with the United Arab Emirates, but it is going through a boom period at present with the Nike-sponsored national team, represented in the UAE by Sun & Sand Sports LLC, enjoying more success than ever. Normally a sport associated with lanky Americans, basketball has struggled to break free from the confined walls of the US, but, judging by its blossoming popularity here, it is finally making an impact globally. The national team has slam-dunked its way to being one of the best sides in the Middle East and there is a thriving club circuit which continues to supply quality players to the national cause. However, it is about to enter a new era following the decision by head coach John Sneed to step down after five years at the helm. Sneed, a former US college player, has lifted the UAE to new heights, but has decided to take up a fresh challenge in Qatar next season. Under Sneed, the UAE achieved a bronze medal at the Arab Games in Lebanon last year and finished fourth the year before in the Asian Cup. Taking the reins is Earl Diddle, a 48 year-old trainer from New Mexico with a sound background in coaching one of America's favourite sports.
He has been the head coach of the Eastern New Mexico University basketball team for 10 years, leading them to numerous honours. In fact, Diddle was once the youngest coach in the state of Ohio when he took charge of Ashland College at just 23. Tough challengers await the new coach, and his ever-improving team, with the Arabian Gulf Basketball Championship in Bahrain just two months away (24-29 September). The team's next major championship after that is the Asian Games in Bangkok from 5-15 December. Amongst the many star players making the grade at national level is Abdul Latif of the Al Ahli Club, while the capital, Abu Dhabi, has a strong representation from their Al Wahda Club. The signs are that basketball has a bright future in the UAE with a large number of locals taking up the sport. The UAE national youth team has recently departed for Ohio, USA, in preparation for the Arab Students' Games to be held in Morocco from 5-15 September. The squad of 15 is accompanied by coach Abdul Hamid. The team will also participate in the Arab Youth Basketball Championship to be hosted by Kuwait in October.