Doha dunker calls it quits

A FEW months ago, the ballroom of a five-star hotel in Doha, filled with players from various Qatari clubs for the draw ceremony of a local 3×3 event, was stunned into an uneasy silence when a Qatar Basketball Federation (QBF) official mocked Yasseen Moussa about his age, on stage.

The inference drawn was that he was too old for 3×3 basketball, a much faster version of the traditional 5×5 games. Though the statement was quickly laughed off as one made in jest, it seemed to have upset the 32-year-old player. His face ashen, Yasseen tried to join in the laughter, without much success.

And yet, just a few months later, the 32-year-old was hailed a hero after leading his country to the inaugural FIBA Asia 3×3 Championship title at the Villaggio Mall in Doha.

For the last 16 years, Yasseen has carried the weight of the senior national team on his shoulders. He had earlier represented Qatar’s junior side for two years.

But now, the soft-spoken player, affectionately called the Doha Dunker by his fans, has decided to call time on his international career.

The gentle giant, lying back on an easy chair in his house, said the decision was not made in haste.

“I had been contemplating retirement from the national team since 2009. But each time, I was asked to put off the decision as the side needed me. But now I’ve decided I can’t carry on anymore,” said Yasseen.

“The FIBA Asia tournament in Manila, the Philippines, where Qatar finished sixth, was my last. I’ve already conveyed my decision to the QBF officials. There’s no turning back now.

“However, I’ll continue with Rayyan at least for two more seasons. Then I’ll take a long break, maybe for a year or two, to spend some time with my family. I’m not interested in a coaching job as it just means more pressure. I’ll likely take up an administrative job with the QBF or Rayyan,” he said.

Yasseen is still among the best in the business. Statistics points out that he was among the best rebounders in Manila. His 19 rebounds, against Chinese Taipei, made him the joint highest in a game and his average of 8.9 per game was the sixth best overall.

“I scored 75 points, from seven games, at an average of 10.7 per game. But more than that, I’m thrilled I was so effective in collecting rebounds. It involves jumping high and that’s much harder work than simply shooting points. To do it so well at this age, it makes me very happy,” he said.

But Yasseen said he sometimes feels a bit disappointed when he thinks about how his career might have taken off spectacularly, had he been a bit more patient. He could well have been Qatar’s first player in the NBA.

He had a breakout year in ’99, when he competed at the FIBA World Championship for Junior Men in Portugal. He averaged a tournament-best 25 points per game, overshadowing future NBA players Andrei Kirilenko and Juan Carlos Navarro, and was also the second-leading rebounder with 12.4 per game.

The same year, he was chosen as one of the world’s best 12 junior players and was included in the Nike Hoop Summit team. That was when offers started pouring in.

“There were many talent scouts in Portugal and I became one of their prime targets. More than 10 US universities promised me scholarships,” he said.

“I had two choices. I could either play for four years at the university level in the US or hire an agent and try to immediately make a mark in the NBA. With no one to advise me, I signed up with an agent. I realised only later that players who’ve entered into contracts with an agent weren’t allowed to play for college teams.

“In hindsight, I wasn’t yet ready to play in the NBA. The difference in level of the game in Qatar and the US was simply too great. I tried out with the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, but they weren’t willing to commit to a fresher like me.

“I was asked to prove my worth in the lowly-placed NBA Development League. I played with the Dakota Wizards, based in Bismark, North Dakota, but that too didn’t work out well.

“Those days, I was constantly shuttling between Doha and the US. I spent the Ramadan in 2000 alone in the US, homesick and desperate to come back. For me, that was when the American dream ended,” said Yasseen.

In January, ’01, Rayyan, down in fifth position in the Qatar League, requested their star player to return. He gladly agreed and led his team to the national title. The same year, he became the first Qatari player to sign a professional contract with the side.

During the time, Yasseen struck up a strong friendship with American shooting guard Kristaan Iman ‘Kris’ Johnson. The pair formed an effective strike force at Rayyan and the success made both of them the target for clubs from Lebanon and the Philippines.

But they stayed put with a common goal in mind.

“For me, he’s the best professional to have ever played in Qatar. Many clubs were willing to hire us for huge salaries, but we wanted to help Rayyan win the FIBA Asia Champions Cup trophy,” he said.

“In the ’01 final, in Dubai, we narrowly lost to Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad in over-time (101-103). My team-mates wept after the defeat.

“But we exacted revenge against them the next year, emerging as 92-78 winners in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in  the final.

Soon after, my mother fell ill and I had to be with her side. The entire team stood by me during those difficult times. I had never felt so much bonding among players. And that was when I made up mind to never leave Rayyan,” he said.

So does he have any regrets about his long career in Qatar? He shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head.

“Due to a misunderstanding with American coach Joey Stiebing, I missed the ’06 FIBA World Championship in Tokyo, Japan. I deserved to be in the team as I was a part of it when they qualified for the tournament at home, in ’05. That’s something I regret to this day,” he said.

Almost seven years later, as Yasseen packs his bag for good, the lookout for his successor, leaves a big question mark. But he is hopeful the next Yasseen will burst onto the scene sooner than later.

“The QBF is running an academy for young children at the Al Gharafa Training Gym. There’re some real gems there. Who knows, one of them could be the next Yasseen Moussa. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed,” he smiled.


MAJOR MILESTONES

The following are Yasseen Moussa’s achievements over the years for Al Rayyan and Qatar.


1995
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Qatar win GCC Youth Championship in the UAE


1996
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Qatar finish runners-up at the FIBA Asia Youth Championship in Malaysia


1997
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Qatar win the GCC Youth Championship in Doha


1998
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Qatar finish third at the Arab Championship in Jordan
Qatar finish runners-up at the Arab Youth Championship in Lebanon
Qatar finish runners-up at the FIBA Asia Youth Championship in India


1999
Rayyan win the Qatar League and Emir’s Cup
Qatar finish 10th at the FIBA World U-19 Championship in Portugal
Qatar win the GCC Youth Championship in Kuwait


2000
Rayyan win the Qatar League and Emir’s Cup
Qatar win the FIBA Asia U-21 Championship at home


2001
Rayyan win the Qatar League and Heir Apparent’s Cup
Rayyan finish second at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Dubai
Qatar finish 10th at the FIBA World Championship for Young Men in Japan
Qatar finish fifth at the FIBA Asia Championship in China


2002
Rayyan win the Qatar League and Emir’s Cup
Qatar finish runners-up at the West Asia Championship in Kuwait
Qatar finish runners-up at the GCC Championship in the UAE
Rayyan win the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Malaysia


2003
Rayyan win the Qatar League and Heir Apparent’s Cup
Rayyan finish runners-up at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Malaysia
Qatar finish third at the FIBA Asia Championship in China
Qatar finish runners-up at the GCC Men’s Championship in Saudi Arabia


2004
Rayyan win the Qatar League, Heir Apparent’s Cup and Emir’s Cup
Rayyan win the GCC Club Championship in Dubai
Rayyan finish third at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in the UAE
Qatar win the FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup in Chinese Taipei
Qatar win the GCC Championship at home


2005
Rayyan win the Qatar League, Heir Apparent’s Cup and Emir’s Cup
Rayyan finish third at the GCC Clubs Championship in Saudi Arabia
Rayyan win the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in the Philippines
Qatar finish third at the FIBA Asia Championship in Doha, qualify for ’06 FIBA World Championship
Qatar finish third at the West Asian Championship in Doha


2006
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Rayyan finish runners-up at the GCC Clubs Championship in Oman
Rayyan finish third at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Kuwait
Qatar win the GCC Championship in Doha
Qatar finish runners-up at the Doha Asian Games


2007
Rayyan win the Heir Apparent’s Cup and Emir’s Cup
Rayyan are third at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Iran
Rayyan win the GCC Club Championship in Bahrain
Qatar finish runners-up at the GCC Games in the UAE
Qatar finish third at the Arab Games in Egypt


2008
Rayyan win the Qatar League, Heir Apparent’s Cup and Emir’s Cup
Rayyan finish runners-up at the FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Kuwait


2009
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Qatar win the GCC Games in Oman


2010
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Rayyan win the GCC Club Championship in Doha
Rayyan finish runners-up at the FIBA Asia Championship in Doha
Rayyan win the GCC Club Championship in the UAE


2011
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Qatar win the GCC Games in Bahrain
Qatar win the Arab Games title in Doha


2012
Rayyan win the Qatar League
Qatar clinch bronze at the FIBA Asia Cup in Japan
Qatar win the GCC title in Bahrain


2013
Rayyan win the Heir Apparent’s Cup and Emir’s Cup
Qatar win the FIBA Asia 3×3 Championship title in Doha