CAIRO (2016 FIBA U17 World Championship) - It wasn't meant to be like this for Tarek Raafat. He was supposed to be playing soccer. instead, he is now in line to represent Egypt at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship.
Raafat and his family moved from Los Angeles to Cairo five years ago and the 1.87m guard's plan was to kick the ball around in the Egyptian capital.
Raafat, whose father is Egyptian and mother is American, was Egypt's second leading scorer in Bamako, Mali last summer, averaging 12.4 points per game while also grabbing 2.8 rebounds and dishing out 2.0 assists per contest as Egypt claimed their third continental U16 title in four tries.
Now Raafat will have a chance to play at his first FIBA global event.
For me to play in the U17 World Championship, every kid who plays any kind of sport dreams of playing in their World Championship. And playing for this national team, it’s going to be an amazing experience. When you get older, you can say you played at the World Championship. It’s an honour. - Raafat
Egypt will take part in the U17 Worlds for the fourth time in as many tries and have been drawn into Group A with the United States, Turkey and Chinese Taipei. Since the inaugural edition of the event six years ago, they have slowly made strides each time out, beating Philippines and Japan in 2014 in taking 13th place.
In 2010, Egypt beat Korea for their only win to finish 11th (out of 12). Two years later, despite a misleading 0-7 record and last place finish, they had a better tournament, leading late in the first quarter of their clash against the USA, going to overtime against Australia and losing by one point to the host country Lithuania.
All that leaves Raafat and company with high expectations going to Zaragoza from 23 June-3 July.
We have big expectations. Hopefully we will reach at least the Semi-Finals. That’s our goal. - Raafat
Raafat was part of a young group of players who were invited for the first time to the biennial U18 global Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Germany in late March. He was one of nine players born in 1999 or 2000 who were playing against many of the top nations around the world - and against older players at that.
"We learned about the speed of the game and how other teams play," Raafat said.
It’s just amazing how they play. It’s good for us. It’s going to help us a lot for Spain. We will be better in team work and preparation because we saw how others play with the speed of the ball. - Raafat
The team at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament did not have two of the country's best players in Ahmed Khalaf and Esam Mostafa, who both played at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship despite being three years younger than the rest of the competition.
"Bebo [Khalaf] is an amazing player. He's got such a great sense around the basket. He can shoot the ball, he can block shots. He's almost unstoppable," Raafat said about Khalaf, who will become the first player to play at two FIBA U17 World Championships.
Raafat is ready to make his own mark on the game - even though he never really planned on it being in basketball.