AMMAN (Jordan) – When it’s game time, Freddy Ibrahim doesn’t care who he’s going up against. Whether it’s in the local Jordanian professional league, the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, or even when he’s going up against a 2-time NBA MVP.
Freddy just plays his game.
Because of that, some of his on-court encounters fly by like a blur. Sometimes, those moments go by so quickly, that even Ibrahim himself has difficulty acknowledging it actually happened like when he played Giannis Antetokuonmpo in a friendly tournament ahead of the World Cup 2019 in China.
“It was honestly surreal now that I look back at it,” Ibrahim said in a recent talk with @FIBAAsiaCup on Instagram. “My friends were like ‘I can’t believe you played against Giannis! It went by so quick for me that sometimes I need them to tell me like how crazy it was and it was dope.”
“Even at halftime actually, when we were going to the locker room. We’re walking to the same locker room and Giannis was behind me. He like taps me up on my shoulder and he’s like ‘How old are you?’. I look back and it’s him and I’m like 22. He’s like ‘Oh okay, you’re good’. Like I don’t know where it came from. it was super random that he would go out of his way to ask me how old I am.”
Freddy Ibrahim’s entire journey is a bit surreal, actually. He went from the kid who played a little bit of everything to trying out for the Canada youth national team to playing at the World Cup for Jordan in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
“I used to love every sport. Whatever season it was, I was playing that sport. I never loved basketball specifically until I was about grade 6. That’s when I figured that I didn’t really care about other sports as much as basketball and I took that more seriously.”
“That one year I just felt when the season for basketball was over, I just didn’t want to stop and that was when I knew.”
Fast forward not too much longer to 2019 and the season of basketball has still not stopped for Freddy. He found himself on the center court in China, playing in one of the biggest stages of competition for basketball at the World Cup for Jordan.
“Both of my parents are from here,” Ibrahim said, referring to his current location in Amman where he is playing for the local league title, while explaining his go-to Jordanian delicacy, Maqluba – an “upside down chicken and rice meal”.
Ibrahim shined in his first ever FIBA appearance at that World Cup, finishing with averages of 7.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. You know you are doing well when a player of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s caliber stamps his sign of approval and Freddy got to learn a lot from the experience.
Aside his encounter with Giannis, there was also the game against Canada. Ibrahim is proud to represent his “other” home country as well, listing former Toronto Raptor Tracy McGrady as his all-time favorite player and Drake as “the G.O.A.T”, so getting to play against Canada at the World Cup was another special moment.
“It’s funny because when I was younger, I tried out for the Canadian national team once. I think it was the U18 team.”
“My friends were supportive of me but obviously they were going for the country. But it was a good experience. I loved it.”
“I love having a little bit more of a background story. I love when the game means more than just the game itself. I take those opportunities and I try to perform to the best of my abilities. It adds to the story, the narrative.”
In the game after Jordan’s loss to Canada, Ibrahim added an important part of his personal narrative and story with what he recalls as the best moment of his basketball career.
“Getting out first win ever at the World Cup [against Senegal] and me being a part of that is a great deal. I played well that game too so it all goes hand in hand. That was definitely a big win for the country and for us. Senegal, we played them a couple of time before that actually. We met them twice before that, too. it’s hard to beat the same team a couple of times, so that was a big win.”
Making all of the success even sweeter has been the support of the fans.
“It was great. The fans were great. Clearly they were with us for the whole World Cup aspect being behind us.”
Ibrahim had experienced the shower of affection from the fans throughout the World Cup, but it was mostly through an online presence. It was not only up until the Asia Cup Qualifiers process when he was able to feel that support directly.
“Obviously, it was more from the social media aspect [during the World Cup] because I wasn’t there for the World Cup Qualifiers [when we playing in Jordan]. To see them first hand [at the Asia Cup Qualifiers], it was great for sure.”
“Before the Asia Cup Qualifiers, a week before that, we played Lebanon for a friendly match in Amman and I dislocated my finger. All the fans were yelling my name and cheering me on,” he said as an example of his memorable experience with the fans of Jordan basketball. “It’s not just like one interaction but more of as a whole so I thought that was very cool for sure.”
Freddy is now one the brightest young rising stars in Jordan basketball. After his breakout performance at the World Cup, he’s continued to add on to that resume, most recently with clutch free-throws to win the Jordanian Premier league title and be named to the league’s All-Star Five.
Jordan will be banking on his growth into becoming an even better player down the road and the signs early on have been reassuring. In the first window of the Qualifiers, Ibrahim stepped up in the absence of key veterans, specifically in an important win over Kazakhstan where he scored 27 points.
“Whoever is on the court or whoever is on the roster, you just got to go and play. Whoever is missing is whoever is missing, it is what it is.”
“I felt like me and Amin Abu Hawwas were ready for the challenge. I already had a role on the team but I fell like with him and a few of the other guys not being there, I definitely had to be more of a scorer which I was able to do. You just have to figure out who is there and who is not and just kind of take the opportunity and go with it. I think me and Amin kind of took that challenge personally and we were definitely comfortable in situations like that.”
That mindset will continue to be important when the final window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers tipoff in February. Jordan are in a good position to finish among the top two spots to qualify for Asia Cup 2021, but there’s still work left to do.
“I’m pretty confident. We’re first right now in our group. I feel like we’re locked in, we’re all hungry and we all can’t wait to get back on the court for the national team and just keep proving ourselves. I feel like we’re very confident. Obviously, we’re not going to take any opponent lightly. I feel like if we just do our job and stay focused. Everything will fall into line for sure.”
Freddy Ibrahim loves a good background story. He’s building up a great one so far in his career. Who knows how this story will go from here. His first Asia Cup appearance? Is there an Asia Cup title in the future? Maybe another trip to the World Cup?
We don’t know for sure yet, but we’re all looking forward to find out.
Make sure to check out the full talk with Freddy Ibrahim for more on his favorite movie, music, number and rivalry with Jordan on FIBA Asia Cup IGTV!