Tarik Biberović has played in Turkey since 2018 and was excellent in his first two games with the Turks. Source: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Tarik Biberović has played in Turkey since 2018 and was excellent in his first two games with the Turks. Source: Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

EuroLeague players and their foreign passports

Basketball OlyBet 29.02.2024

This Monday marked the end of the first two qualifying rounds for EuroBasket 2025, with many EuroLeague players helping their countries. However, not all of them actually represent their home nations.

Americans or others playing in Europe with dual citizenship are nothing new nor uncommon. There’s a simple reason why players take that step: their careers will be a whole lot easier due to different foreign player limits in Europe.

Spain is probably the best example. According to the International Basketball Federation FIBA, during the 2021-22 season, Spain’s top league ACB was the league with the highest percentage of foreign players and had the highest number of nationalities.

The rules in ACB are simple: one club can register a maximum of two non-European players with the exception of players with African passports. So, it’s no coincidence that when Brandon Davies joined Barcelona in the summer of 2019, he acquired a Ugandan passport.

While the passports are legal, they have been called unethical. And in a way, they are, yes, but if it is allowed, then it is not cheating, right? Besides, it’s not just that the players get African passports and forget about their second home country.

Let’s take Davies as an example again. In order to get a Ugandan passport, the American had to play some matches for the Uganda national team, and Barcelona had to release him. Baskonia’s Matt Costello, who is from Michigan in the States, has played for the Ivory Coast and earned the nickname White Elephant. Former Baskonia guard Pierria Henry, from West Virginia in the States, took a Senegalese passport in 2021.

And it’s not just African countries that the players are using. The same applies to European countries as well. Spain would not have probably been crowned European champions in 2022 if they didn’t have Lorenzo Brown. A 33-year-old point guard from the USA who got a Spanish passport a few months before the EuroBasket.

Who Plays For Whom?

In the last FIBA window, many EuroLeague players were able to represent their national teams thanks to a break in the schedule. An in-season break is far from common in the EuroLeague, but hopefully, this will not be the last time as fans are eager to see their national teams play as close to full strength as possible.

When Slovenia shocked the basketball world and was crowned European champion in 2017, backcourt stars Goran Dragić and Luka Dončić had a lot of help from the naturalized American power forward/center Anthony Randolph.

As Slovenia doesn’t have top-notch homegrown big men, they’ve used Jordan Morgan and Mike Tobey in the last year to help the team, with Crvena Zvezda Belgrade’s Tobey being the main option.

Slovenia got past Israel and Ukraine this window, and Tobey was one of the team’s leaders, averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. The center was especially good against Israel, against whom he scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, with eight of them coming from the offensive end.

Bulgaria finished the window with a surprising 67:62 win against the reigning world champion Germany. In the past, they’ve used Dee Bost as their naturalized player, but this time around the team was centered around Baskonia’s point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre.

The American was in fine form against Germany and Sweden – Bulgaria lost to the latter 70:84 – averaging 22 points, three rebounds, and three assists. By the way, only five players scored more points than Miller-McIntyre in February’s games.

It’s interesting to note that Miller-McIntyre shined against Germany even though his body was not feeling too well. Bulgaria’s head coach Rosen Barchovski noted to the media that after the match against Sweden, the American didn’t participate in a single training session and couldn’t even move after one dinner. Barchovski added: “In the morning he came to tell me that the only way he wouldn’t come out against Germany was if he was dead. I just have no words for his attitude.”

Bulgaria vs. Germany highlights:

Joe Thomasson has yet to make his EuroLeague debut with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but the American guard who joined the Israeli powerhouse from the Spanish club Granada is expected to play in the upcoming round.

In the last FIBA window, Thomasson suited up for Georgia and was their main force next to Virtus Bologna’s star Tornike Shengelia. He averaged almost 35 minutes in their two losses against Denmark and Serbia, with Thomasson scoring 14.5 points per game on 61.5% two-point shooting, which is excellent for a 193 cm tall guard. Maccabi’s new acquisition also chipped in with 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

Thomasson obtained a Georgian passport just before the February games. The Eastern European country has previously used other naturalized American guards like Thaddeus McFadden, MarQuez Haynes, Ricky Hickman, Jacob Pullen, and Michael Dixon.

The New Turk Shined

Another player who made his debut for his new home country is Fenerbahce Istanbul’s Tarik Biberović. Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the small forward moved to Turkey in 2018 and is currently the EuroLeague’s best three-point shooter, having made 56.4% of his attempts this season.

In the FIBA games prior to this one, the Turkish Basketball Federation had used the sole foreign player slot given out to each national team for EuroLeague stars Shane Larkin or Scottie Wilbekin, depending on their availability.

However, last summer, the Turkish federation froze both Larkin and Wilbekin’s Turkish status, disallowing their entry to the national team and forbidding Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Fenerbahce from using those players as foreigners in the Turkish domestic league after both failed to show up in Turkiye’s effort for the 2023 FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament in Istanbul.

Biberović started his Turkish national team career with a seven-point loss to Italy, scoring a game-high 27 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Fenerbahce’s forward made ten of his 19 field goal attempts, scoring five from 11 from downtown.

In the next game, Turkey narrowly managed to beat Iceland. Biberović ended up with 11 points but more importantly, he made the game-winning two-point turnaround jumper just before the buzzer.

How Biberović won the game:

Jaleen Smith debuted for Croatia in August 2022, just before that year’s EuroBasket. He’s the third naturalized American to play for the Adriatic country after other guards Dontaye Draper and Oliver Lafayette.

“Teams like Croatia or Montenegro have to look for players from the side who can bring that quality,” Smith said to Serbian media in 2022. “I know they are trying to develop a domestic playmaker in Croatia, but it has not been successful for years. It is difficult, and that is why I am here. I want to help as much as I can to get a local playmaker. At the end of the day, everyone wins.”

Partizan Belgrade’s American/Croatian played just one game in this FIBA window when he spent a little over 37 minutes on the court against France. In Croatia’s 12-point away loss, Smith scored 13 points making just five of 14 from the field.

Smith didn’t play in the win against Cyprus because Partizan’s head coach Željko Obradović ordered all his players who play in the national team to play only one match and then return to the club. As Croatian media reported, it is not known whether this was an agreement from before or whether Obradović decided on it afterwards.

Croatia was thus left without Smith, who doesn’t really have too many minutes in Partizan, but the situation of Brazilian Bruno Caboclo, who traveled 15 hours to his homeland to play a match against Paraguay, and then again spent 15 hours on a plane, is even more bizarre.

And finally, Greece used two naturalized guards in the last FIBA window. While Olympiacos’ Naz Mitrou-Long didn’t play a single second in the win against the Netherlands, his club teammate Thomas Walkup was one of the stars in the eight-point win over Czechia. The American was close to a triple-double with 16 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.


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