Aussie Euro defectors? Khazzouh, Bose set to switch countries

photo credit: MR FOOJI via photopin cc

Julian Khazzouh and Anatoly Bose chose different pathways in finding their way into Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL). Khazzouh turned down an opportunity to attend college in the United States, choosing instead to make the jump directly to the NBL with the now-defunct West Sydney Razorbacks. Bose however decided on the college route, spending four years playing Division One hoops with Nicholls State University.

Despite their differences, they do share an intriguing similarity that now sees them both playing professionally in Asia; both have dual citizenship and a secondary passport that comes with it. This enables them to play as locals within Asian-based leagues. It is a commonality that could yet see Khazzouh and Bose represent a country other than Australia in international competition, including a future FIBA World Cup or Olympic Games. Are they potentially, Aussie Euro defectors?

Multi-culturalism and the talent drain

As a multicultural society, Australia boasts a rich migrant cultural heritage that has seen a multitude of sports benefit, basketball included. Some of Australia's best players in the past 10-15 years have strong ties to other countries. This includes center Andrew Bogut of the Golden State Warriors, who is not just a former NBA number 1 draft pick who grew up in Melbourne, but also of Croatian descent. Fellow big man David Andersen also has links to Europe, having been born to a Danish father. Together, both have made it to the pinnacle of their sport, including representing Australia at World Championships, the Olympic Games and of course playing in the NBA.

A host of talented players with links to other countries are on the Australian ‘Boomers’ horizon, including projected NBA lottery picks Dante Exum (US), Ben Simmons (US) and Thon Maker (Sudan), all of whom who learned how to play hoops whilst calling Australia home.

Australian basketball, which continues to embrace the riches gained through immigration is now seemingly facing the prospect of losing talented players they developed like Khazzouh and Bose. Is it just a coincidence, or is there something more to it?

Julian Khazzouh

Khazzouh, who is a 209cm center/forward was born in Melbourne of Lebanese descent, and was raised entirely in Australia. He played most of his junior basketball in New South Wales. With good size and an ability to score, he was soon identified for his potential and invited to attend the state's Institute of Sport. Khazzouh then had a decision to make - attend college, or turn professional. Khazzouh turned down an offer to attend the Metro State University in Denver, Colorado to instead sign with the West Sydney Razorbacks in the NBL. This was a decision he would not regret, after being named runner-up to Joe Ingles as Rookie of the Year.

Khazzouh quickly found his place as a starting centre in the NBL. However with his team West Sydney Razorbacks and then the Sydney Spirit struggling off the court, he made the move to Europe to continue his development and landed in Holland and then Israel. Khazzouh however was now also on the radar for the Australian ‘Boomers’ team and was named to their squad for the first time on 2009. When he returned to the resurrected Sydney Kings in the NBL in 2010, he was a far more complete and mature player, not only remaining in national team contention, but now also attracting interest from the NBA.

Anatoly Bose

As a 200cm guard/small forward, Bose has an even more interesting background; he lived in the US up until he moved to Australia when he was 12, after first being born in Kazakhstan! Bose was a standout at junior level in New South Wales, with his exemplary junior career ending with a gold medal at the 2007 under 20 Australian national championships. Bose always intended to head to US college, but did not have offers flooding in. Through persistence, he gained the attention of Nicholls State University, secured a scholarship, and four years later graduated as one of the best players in Colonels history. During that time, he also earned his way onto the Australian team for the 2009 World University Games.

Following a stellar collegiate career, Bose was ready to turn professional and in 2011 headed back to his hometown of Sydney to sign with the Kings in the NBL. That same year, Bose rode his selection to the Australian national team squad on his way to being named NBL Rookie of the Year.

With Khazzouh on the cusp of the NBA, and with Bose’s star on the rise, no one could have seen what transpired after.

Onwards to Europe?

Khazzouh headed back to Europe with big expectations, drawing interest from the NBA and eventually landing with Polish Euroleague team Prokom Gdynia. However after being sacked, rumours circulated he was headed back to Sydney and the NBL; it was then that Khazzouh signed a massive 6-year deal with Lebanese club Sagesse in Beirut. His signing was not without controversy in Lebanon either, given he had previously played in Israel (you cannot play in Lebanon if you have played in Israel). The rules however for Khazzouh were ‘stretched’, as he had played in Israel using his Australian passport at that time. Further talk at the time centered around whether Khazzouh had been courted to help resurrect Lebanese basketball on the world stage.

After a great start to his professional career in the NBL, Bose also decided to take advantage of his dual passport and secured a contract with arguably the strongest team in Kazakhstan, BC Astana. Unlike Khazzouh, there was no controversy with his signing. It was a great opportunity to improve his game with a very good team, but also a chance to impress more powerful European clubs who played alongside BC Astana in the VTB United League. Upon joining BC Astana, Bose himself fuelled rumours by confirming he was open to the possibility of representing Kazakhstan, despite no longer having any family ties.

Reading between the lines

Whilst FIBA international eligibility rules are not straightforward, they can be interpreted to state that once a player with dual nationality represents one country in a FIBA sanctioned competition, they cannot represent another country. This can however be overturned if both relevant countries agree, more so if this is in the interests of basketball development in the country they wish to switch to.

For Khazzouh and Bose, these rules essentially do not apply, as they have not yet represented Australia in a FIBA sanctioned competition. Although given their involvement with Australian national team squads, one could argue they had already made a choice.

Rumours linking Khazzouh to the Lebanese national team increased following the announcement of Lebanon’s 18-man squad for the 2013 FIBA Asian Championships. Whilst he was not a part of the squad, Khazzouh was named as being a potential inclusion pending talks with his agent. Not long after, any chance of Khazzouh playing for Lebanon at the 2013 FIBA Asian Championships evaporated thanks for Lebanese politics and a subsequent 4-year ban imposed on Lebanon by FIBA. Bose on the other hand, did not make the Kazakhstani squad for this year’s FIBA Asian Championships, one in which they finished a distant eighth. It is not yet clear on where his long-term allegiance lies.

After learning the game in Australia, both Khazzouh and Bose are still yet to determine where their allegiance lies. If they do choose another country to play for, is it yet another blow for the game in Australia? Or is it more indicative of the depth and strength of talent competing for a place on the Australian national team? I strongly believe it is the latter, and ask: has there ever been more competition for a place on the Boomers squad, let alone the final 12?

Khazzouh has plenty of competition for a spot on the team, with Andrew Bogut, Aron Baynes, Aleks Maric, and Luke Nevill or AJ Ogilvy all potentially ahead in the queue. Bose too has plenty of stiff competition, with Ingles, Brad Newley, Ryan Broekhoff, David Barlow and a number of others all likely higher up in the pecking order. Combined with the exceptional level of talent coming through junior programs right now, competition to make the senior Boomers team is going to get tougher than ever.

At some stage Khazzouh and Bose may need to make a tough decision, and they should do so in their own best interests. Not everyone gets to choose their country to represent, but once they make that decision, they can never go back.

How do you think Khazzouh and Bose's decisions will be like, and would you support the growth and recognition of Australian basketball talent, no matter where the players may be? Let us know in the comments below.