The Malta Basketball national team may not have won gold in this year’s FIBA Small Countries Games, but head coach Alan Walls believes he could not have asked for a better squad after a second-place finish on Sunday.
The team lost 68-84 to free-scoring Armenia in the final, falling prey to Valencia Basket’s new signing Chris Jones, who put up 41 points and scored eight out of 11 three-pointers attempted throughout the game. Speaking to the Times of Malta, coach Walls admitted it was the team with more firepower that won the title.
“(Andre) Spight and Jones are phenomenal players who play at a very high level in Europe and they were just too much,” Walls said.
“Before the final, Jones’ best game was 21 points and he almost doubled it with 41 and he was literally unstoppable.
“We jumped out to an early lead like usual and threw the first punches for a ten-point lead. Our guys gave everything they had and there were no regrets. Physically they were exhausted, and we just didn’t have the same firepower offensively.
“Their best player was shooting threes, while our best player, Sam (Deguara), was shooting twos – that adds up.
“I’m extremely proud of the players, both those that played a lot and also those who played little. I’m proud of the team and how they represented themselves, the country, and me as their head coach. I could not have asked for a better group of guys – they really laid everything on the line for their country.”
Asked about how satisfied he was with the players’ performance, Walls heaped praise on Sam Deguara, whom he called the team’s focal point. However, he did not hold back on the praise towards the rest of the squad.
“Sam (Deguara) was obviously our focal point – Sam’s a warrior,” he remarked.
“He played through when his knee was bothering him and did the entire practices, and he logged heavy minutes. We were hoping to keep him at about 25 minutes, but we couldn’t with Aaron (Falzon) being out – we didn’t have that extra body to rotate and we needed size.
“Nelson (Kahler) was outstanding – very active defensively, lots of rebounds, and his dunks were electrifying. He was a great addition.
“Nathan (Xuereb) stepped up for us at point guard. That was the position where we didn’t know who we were going to go with because it was very even. Jack (Zammit) was the starting point guard last year but he’s had an injury at his university and didn’t get much playing time.
“Nathan just rose to the occasion and did an excellent job. He was very consistent. He played over 30 minutes in most of the games and he has a bright future.
“David (Bugeja) was our captain and our leader, he battled and really left everything on the court for us.”
One player whom Walls believes was essential to the group was recent Italian Serie C winner Tevin Falzon, who was the hero for Malta against Andorra with a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
“(Falzon) was extremely instrumental in us getting the silver medal because, in our three wins, he won the game when he shot against Andorra to put us in the semi-finals directly against Azerbaijan,” Walls said.
“Then he had a very good game with a double-double against Azerbaijan in the semi-finals.
“If we didn’t beat Andorra in game two, that would mean we would go to the opposite side and play Armenia in the semi-finals and we might have been playing in the third-place game instead of the championship game.
“So, because he made that one three-pointer at the buzzer, we won silver instead of bronze. As disappointed as he is with his overall tournament, he was very critical for us winning the silver.”
Falzon became an instant favourite for those following the games with his winning shot, as one might say it was the perfect gift for the numerous fans who were present at the Ta’ Qali pavilion throughout the week.
“I was extremely pleased with the support from the Maltese fans since the first game and then more and
more came,” Walls said when asked about the local supporters.
“The pavilion was full for the last game and the players were excited for that.
“The organisers and the players were super happy. The crowd is the sixth man and that was definitely our case.
“It was a privilege to live that experience that the fans gave us.
“They pushed us through difficult situations and so the support was definitely needed, felt, and appreciated. We hope we get that same support next year for the Games of the Small States (GSSE).”
Walls will this week be heading into discussions with the Malta Basketball Association (MBA) as they review the
tournament. Asked about his plans for the future, Walls hopes to get the chance to go again at the GSSE 2023.
“The hope on my end is to be able to return next summer for the games. I’m staying here in Malta to meet with the Malta Basketball Association to really sit down and hash out some plans.
“Hopefully they are pleased with my work, the development and the efforts of the team,” he said.