While born and raised in Australia, Julian Khazzouh sought out his roots in Lebanon in late 2012 to join league giants Sagesse in a blockbuster move after unsuccessful attempts to ply his trade in either the NBA or Europe. During the past two seasons, the 210 cm player has shown a growing repertoire of skills, quickly cementing his place as one of the best centers in the league. His performance has led to calls from officials and fans for him to join the Lebanese national team.
The 28-year-old had rejected initial pleas in 2013 to join the Cedars, as he still harbored hopes of a call-up to the Australian national side but with more Australian big men excelling internationally and many gaining NBA experiance this year has the opportunity for Khazzouh to wear the green and gold past by?
Aussie big men Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors/NBA), Aron Baynes (San Antonio Spurs/NBA), Brock Motum (Utah Jazz/NBA) and Cameron Bairstow (Chicago Bulls/NBA) are all in front of him for a Boomers spot in Rio and national team stalwarts like David Andersen (Strasbourg/France), Nathan Jawai (Galatasaray/Turkey) and Aleks Maric (Galatasaray/Turkey) have all played for the Boomer’s in recent tournaments before he has.
It’s likely Khazzouh could hope for is to be called up to Australia’s initial squad of 24, but realistically his international hopes are probably limited.
The case with the Lebanese national team is quite different, whereby Khazzouh has a chance to play a vital role in Lebanon’s hopes for a 2016 Rio Olympics appearance and a chance to leave his mark on international basketball against the game’s brightest stars. Khazzouh would also have the chance to become a national hero, provided he steers the Cedars to Asian Championship glory and Olympic qualification.
Lebanon has a number of talented players who will be a part of the squad which hopes to make noise in Rio. Players like;
- Fadi El-Khatib currently plays in the Chinese Basketball Association. He was also the captain of the Lebanon national basketball team that participated in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 FIBA World Championships. In 2002 Michael Jordan was quoted in the New York Times as “Michael Jordan believes Lebanon’s premiere player should be in the NBA”.
- Jean Abdelnour who currently plays for Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut and is considered one of the best defensive players of the Lebanese league.
- Ahmad Ibrahim who currently plays for Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut and attened Rice University from 2011–2012
- Ali Mahmoud who currently plays for Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut and was #1 in steals at the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
- Daniel Faris who played four years of NCAA Division I basketball at the University of New Mexico
In addition to these players an as-yet-unchosen naturalised player would also be a part of the team.
It is also clear that Khazzouh now feels a stronger kinship and sense of belonging in Lebanon compared to his first year.
Lebanon have always depended on a naturalised player – mostly Americans – as their starting centre in almost all of their international tournaments. Players like Joe Vogel, Jackson Vroman, Sam Hoskin and Garnett Thompson have usually protected the paint for Lebanon but Khazzouh would not only be a significant upgrade but also classed as a local player, allowing Lebanon to use a naturalised player at another position.
He has received heavy support from Sagesse fans as well as Lebanese supporters, who have been anxiously awaiting his commitment to the Cedars since his seismic arrival two years ago. He has also established himself in the Lebanese league for a third season in a row and is among the leagues highest earners, which makes his choice to represent Lebanon an important step for his future.
It would be understandable if Khazzouh ultimately could not turn his back on his native land, but with the option of playing for Australia diminishing by the day, the Cedars look like his best bet for international glory.[socialpoll id=”2245179″]