PASADENA, Calif. (Sept. 15, 2017) – Former Caltech men's basketball standout Nasser Al-Rayes '17 has signed a contract to continue his basketball career with Al-Sadd Sports Club in his birth country of Qatar. He is the first player in the history of the program to pursue an overseas professional career.
"After trying to decide between teams in Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and Qatar, I decided Qatar was the best fit for me at this point in my career," Al-Rayes said.
Al-Sadd Sports Club, located in Al-Rayes' native Doha, are 16-time Emir of Qatar Cup champions and have six league championships to their name. Al-Rayes signing with Al-Sadd for the upcoming season is the culmination of a four-year journey but also the beginning of a new odyssey.
"In talking with Nasser, his high school coach and John Alexander from Global Squad and knowing what he valued I thought this was possible from the very beginning," Caltech Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger said. "To have it actually happen and for him to be offered by a number of teams and to finally sign on the dotted line as a full pro is really exciting."
With pro aspirations in sight, Al-Rayes turned a corner in the final 11 games of the 2016-17 regular season, averaging 16.9 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game over that span. He also earned First Team All-SCIAC honors last season after leading the conference in rebounds per game (9.5), blocks per game (1.8) and double-doubles (8) and has twice qualified for the SCIAC All-Academic Team.
Eslinger believes Al-Rayes' coachability and development on and off the basketball court has earned him this opportunity.
"There are so many lessons that one learns, especially here where you have to be disciplined with your time and efforts and energy that you're using every day to balance the workload and be a dedicated student-athlete," Eslinger said. "I think [Al-Sadd] will be easier for him since basketball will become his full-time job. The fact that he is in a good situation in his home country will allow him to focus on the training.
"I also think he has lots of room to grow."
Al-Rayes has a long-term outlook for how he would like his professional career to play out. The big man fielded offers from Spain, Portugal and Denmark but decided on playing for Al-Sadd for the opportunity to play for Manos Manouselis. Manouselis spent seven years on staff with Olympiacos, one of the top teams in Greece and has coached current and former NBA players such as Miloš Teodosić, Kostas Papanikolaou and Josh Childress.
The opportunity before Al-Rayes is one that could lead to a long, fruitful career overseas if he can effectively transition to playing against veterans of the game in their athletic prime. Working with Manouselis should ease the transition.
"This will be a good development year for me, getting me used to the high level of play of international professional basketball," Al-Rayes said. "Players are obviously going to be a lot bigger, faster, and stronger than DIII athletes so I'll need this time to adapt and elevate my game."
Al-Rayes will represent Caltech overseas, a monumental accomplishment in its own right and time will tell if he can become an effective international player. Above all, Al-Rayes is a living, breathing example of how a the right balance of education and athletic competition can take student-athletes as far as they wish to go.
"I think Nasser's story is one that comes full circle," Eslinger said. "I think it's part of the education of being a college athlete too. You have to realize what is important to you as an athlete, and what you really want to value."