Spain signed Lorenzo Brown for a reason, whether you like it or not

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2022-09-12 09:11

After his best game for Spain against Lithuania, Lorenzo Brown brought back the naturalized players' topic in FIBA Basketball.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Lorenzo Brown doesn't care about the noise his decision created this summer. But his best game with the La Roja jersey brought back an uncomfortable topic again.

A 32-year-old US-born point guard scored 12 points in the overtime to take Spain past Lithuania in the EuroBasket 2022 Round of 16.

Lorenzo contributed to 17 of 19 Spain overtime points by scoring or assisting. 

He finished the game with 28 points and 8 assists, which was the best performance for Spain since he got his citizenship.

"I'm not sure how this team would have looked without Lorenzo Brown because you signed him this summer. But it is what it is," Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas spoke after the loss.

There is a point behind Kuzminskas' frustration.

Mainly because his team just wasted an 11-point lead and a couple of opportunities to close the game in the fourth quarter.

But also he was frustrated because his team couldn't contain a player who didn't have any ties with Spain before this summer.

If you think about the pure idea of national team basketball, it should mirror the basketball situation in the country. This means that national teams should be represented by the best available players and coaches of a particular country. 

For instance, Lithuania has a huge problem with individually strong perimeter players who could decide games at the end. 

Since Sarunas Jasikevicius, Arvydas Macijauskas, or Ramunas Siskauskas retired, Lithuania didn't have an elite scorer who could carry Lithuania in today's basketball, which is heavily dependent on the perimeter stars.

It indicates that something is not working with the preparation of individual skills and creativity at the youth level. And it's something that the Lithuanian basketball federation must address, even though they're already late for the train.

If you think about it, national teams should be coached by local specialists too.

If your local coaches are not good enough to coach the national team, it means something is not working with your coach's development.

So theoretically, that should encourage investment in both analyzing the local basketball issues and financing the required tools to make it stronger for the future. 

But let's talk about the reality now.

FIBA has a rule allowing one naturalized player on a 12-man roster.

Again, the pure idea of it could have also been very clear. For example, the Lithuanian newcomer Ignas Brazdeikis was born in Kaunas, but his family went abroad when he was a 2-year-old.

They settled down in Canada, and Brazdeikis acquired Canadian citizenship at a young age and played for their youth national team.

Later on, Lithuania reached out and found out he also wished to play for his home country. Both of his parents were Lithuanians, Brazdeikis understands the language, so the connection was clear.

Lithuanian basketball federation managed to help him to recover his Lithuanian passport, and since he switched the federations he represented, he joined Lithuania national team as a naturalized player.

More cases in Europe allowed naturalizing players based on their family roots.

But as FIBA secretary general Andreas Zagklis explained, FIBA has 212 members with 212 different nationality laws that need to be regulated.

Some countries, such as Lithuania, have stringent citizenship laws. So even if the Lithuanian basketball federation wanted to add an American player, they wouldn't be able to do it according to the law.

But the situation in some countries is more flexible.

Few historical EuroBasket teams, including Spain, Slovenia, or Croatia, have American players on their rosters. Most of these players suit up for European teams based on their roster needs, not their roots.

For instance, the Spanish basketball federation made a huge noise this summer by acquiring Lorenzo Brown.

Guards Ricky Rubio and Carlos Alocen weren't available for coach Sergio Scariolo due to injuries. Sergio Rodriguez retired after Tokyo Olympics, so these circumstances left a huge gap in Spain's point guard position.

Brown's agents saw the opportunity and had a strong desire from a player to forfeit his USA citizenship to acquire a Spanish passport.

"We're in the most important transition moment in the last 25 years, and we missed six players who could easily play on our national team's starting five," the Spanish basketball federation president Jorge Garbajosa explained the need for an upgrade.

The increased national teams' competition and short-term solutions push even the traditional powerhouses to the ropes.

"There is a rule. We're doing everything according to the rules," Garbajosa said in an interview with BasketNews in August.

"I understand opinions and respect them. But I can't accept people who are in the basketball world and say it's a matter of small teams. Is Turkey a small team? They have Shane Larkin. Slovenia is the champions of EuroBasket, and they had Anthony Randolph and now Mike Tobey. Russia played with JR Holden. We have to squeeze this rule to try to be competitive," Garbajosa added.

You can take two things from it.

Like it or not, rules are rules, and national teams will use them accordingly to their needs. The criticism in the press conference and ironic remarks over the issue don't really change anything, so there is no point in complaining without an organized run for a change.

Three of the four last EuroBasket champions had a naturalized player on their roster. But at the end of the day, everybody remembers only the winners.

Instead of complaining, teams have to think about adjusting to reality.

Spain has adjusted. They ran out of men in the point guard position. They also lacked a facilitator in the perimeter that could decide games. They also needed a leadership example for the new young group.

They got the whole package from Lorenzo Brown, who is averaging 14 points and 6.7 assists in the EuroBasket.

Garbajosa's words signalize that even the national team powerhouses can't resist not upgrading the team from outside when the situation requires it.

When Americans impact FIBA competition significantly, more teams might consider upgrading because they won't cope with the increased competition anymore.

At least eleven national teams registered American players for the EuroBasket 2022. 

According to 3StepsBasket, the players who held American passports before getting European scored the most points in the group stage among all nationalities represented in the EuroBasket 2022.

Nine of these naturalized players are guards. Four of the Top 10 players by assists are Americans.

There are a few examples of how to close the free agency in national teams basketball.

FIFA rules say that players who were not born in the territory and had no parents or grandparents born in the territory of a country they hold nationality must have lived there continuously for at least five years.

But talking to FIBA general secretary Andreas Zagklis, it seems there are no indications that the FIBA approach might change. Obviously, there is also no formal opposition that would push FIBA for a change. 

"USA! USA!" some fans in Berlin were ironically chanting when American-born Jaleen Smith was on the free throw line during Croatia vs. Finland game. ALBA Berlin guard acquired a Croatian passport this summer without having any roots in the country.

Basketball fans, including players, have mixed feelings about watching the USA players' impact in the European championship.

Some traditional national teams still don't consider involving naturalized players in their rosters. Mainly because of the pride in their basketball tradition, even if the local talent pool is limited.

But watching the growing competition that pushes even the biggest teams to look for outside help, all the historically talented teams will soon face the simple question: principles or talent?

Usually, talent makes the difference on the court, whether you like it or not.

The national teams' basketball is changing, and you must accept it.

Show comments

... and so Qatar will win the olympic basketball title in 2032, with the blessing of Fiba, and that will be the end of national team bball.
It is enough for this nonsense Jonas Miklovas, just because he is a legionier you cannot underestimate his effort.
Shitty arguments. What's the point of national teams then? Spain did well to operate in accordance to the rules, that's for sure. But it's still clear to everyone how fans don't accept this b.llsh.t rules, it makes no sense. We already have clubs' basketball. Don't need more than that.
why the hell are you justifying this stupid rule? principles or talent? of course principles or more likely - national resources at god damn international competitions. your article basically tells "if you can't beat them - join them". why don't we expand the rule, to have 3 players instead of 1. it's talent bro, it is so cool to watch BOUGHT talent in international competitions.

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