x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai school basketball boys aim for higher rings of success in the US

Members of Emirates International School - Jumeirah's basketball team eye college sports in United States.

The talent of the likes of captain Ahmed Al Rais, with the ball, and his teammates will be missed next year.
The talent of the likes of captain Ahmed Al Rais, with the ball, and his teammates will be missed next year.

One of the country's most successful schools basketball teams is about to lose some of their top players to graduation after going through the season undefeated.

But don't think the players who are leaving Emirates International School - Jumeirah will never be heard of again. Some of them harbour hopes of playing college basketball in the United States.

The team captain Ahmed Al Rais, an Emirati, last year visited Harvard University on a trial for its basketball programme. They flew him to their Cambridge campus after being impressed with his skills, which they saw after he sent a video of himself in action.

Another player, Hadi Sherazi, will be heading to the University of San Francisco after a summer that will see him train every day in hopes of one day being offered a scholarship in the sport.

Emirates International's Under 19 boys team has gone two years without a loss. They won the Dubai International School's Division One championship and also won the Ras al Khaimah English Speaking School championship.

"A year ago some friends taped footage of me playing and we sent it to a lot of colleges in the US and Harvard was the one who got back to me and offered the trial," said Al Rais, 17. "The competition was pretty fierce, as you can imagine, so they didn't pick me up but it was an amazing experience and I learnt a lot.

"I'm going to North Eastern College in Boston this year to study economics and I would love to play basketball there. My studies come first right now, but it would be nice to come back to the UAE and play for my country one day. That would be cool."

As for one day playing professionally, Al Rais is not getting his hopes up.

"It's everyone's dream to go to the NBA, but that is difficult and you have to be realistic," he said. "The funny thing is I was knocked back by the school when I was 13. I just wasn't good enough. So I went off and worked hard to get in the team and it's been a brilliant few years with a great bunch."

Sherazi, also 17, believes there is an opportunity for him to make it as a basketball player.

"I'll be at the University of San Francisco to study exercise and sports science, and I'm going to spend this summer training every day to get myself up to a standard where I might be considered for a basketball scholarship a year or so from now," he said.

"So in one of the hottest countries on Earth, I will be out on court almost every day during the hottest months. However, if I am going to have any chance, I need to put the hours in before I leave here, so I can be as good as possible when I arrive in the US."

Sherazi, who is half Egyptian and half Pakistani, said it has been a wrench to say goodbye to his teammates.

"It's a shame we are just about to split up because we've played together for years and it's a tight group. To go through the whole season without losing even once was amazing," he said.

It is not just the school's senior boys who have fared well. The school's U13 boys also did not lose a single match and won their championships, and the U15's finished second. As for the girls, the U13 and U15 teams won their respective leagues.

"It's been a pleasure to work with all these players," said Stephen Munnery, the after school activities coordinator. "Both Ahmed and Hadi have been real stars for us over the years. Ahmed missed out on making the U13 team at school as he was unfit and unable to play in a high intensity match despite having good enough skills.

"He went away, worked super hard and turned himself into arguably the best high school player in Dubai. It would be nice to think that one day there will be a UAE basketball international team and some of our boys and girls will be there. I don't see why not."

ncameron@thenational.ae