Former Foster star Yusef Aziz still dreaming big

From Holland to Germany, Brazil to Kuwait, Yusef Aziz has been half-way around the world in the past seven years. With all of that moving it would be easy to think he is running away from something. The truth is, Aziz is running toward something — basketball. After years of globetrotting, the former Foster High School star has settled in to Kuwait City, where he’s currently playing his third season for the Suliabikhat Sports Club. Aziz, now 29, grew up in Tukwila and led the Foster basketball team to state in 1998 and 1999. It was during those years as a Bulldog that basketball took on a new light for the former Foster High star.

Yusef Aziz

From Holland to Germany, Brazil to Kuwait, Yusef Aziz has been half-way around the world in the past seven years.

With all of that moving it would be easy to think he is running away from something.

The truth is, Aziz is running toward something — basketball.

After years of globetrotting, the former Foster High School star has settled in to Kuwait City, where he’s currently playing his third season for the Suliabikhat Sports Club.

Aziz, now 29, grew up in Tukwila and led the Foster basketball team to state in 1998 and 1999. It was during those years as a Bulldog that basketball took on a new light for the former Foster High star.

“When you’re young you play basketball for fun,” he said. “It really became more personal at Foster when we had good teams. There was more at stake. I was playing in front of big crowds and my parents. Foster is where basketball became a passion of mine.”

Aziz averaged 20 points per game as a senior and set his sights on playing at the next level. He took recruiting visits to Nevada and Eastern Washington. He even verbally committed to Nevada.

Then something not only changed Aziz’s mind, but his life as well.

His son, Jalen, was born.

In order to stay close to Jalen, Aziz instead started taking classes at Highline Community College.

“I wasn’t even planning on playing,” he said. “I was just going to sit out and figure out what I wanted to do.”

Stepping away from the game, his biggest passion, didn’t last long for Aziz, and he quickly returned.

And, as anticipated, he did so with a splash.

Aziz averaged 21 points per game in two years at Highline and led the Thunderbirds to the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges title in his sophomore season. He transferred to Seattle Pacific University, where he enjoyed more success, averaging 16.7 and 20.3 points per game and helping SPU into the playoffs.

After he graduated from SPU with a Sociology degree, a number of sports agents approached him about the possibility of playing professional basketball. He worked out at a pro camp in Frankfurt, Germany and was offered a contract on the spot.

Since then, it has been a whirlwind of professional basketball all around the world for Aziz.

Yet, he’s still working towards following his father to the NBA.

Zaid Abdul-Aziz was an All-American at Iowa State and spent 10 years in the NBA with Seattle, Houston, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Buffalo.

“I’ve definitely got to thank my father for the genetics,” Aziz said.

Aziz had a workout with the Seattle SuperSonics in 2003, then played with the Atlanta Hawks in the 2006 summer league.

“It’s like the ultimate competition, everyone knows what’s at stake,” he said. “It’s important in understanding what an organization wants from you as a player. Also, picking up drills to carry with you is great.”

While Aziz hopes for another NBA shot, he’s loving his life now.

He’s also getting used to some of the quirks of international basketball.

Brazilian basketball is played at a much faster tempo. In Europe the pick and roll dominates the game.

And his current league has its own caveat: Only two professional imports per team and only one can be on the floor at once.

“So I end up playing with four locals on the floor, which can be challenging because they’re not at as high of a level as we are,” Aziz said.

Outside the court, Kuwait City is an intriguing place to live. The Arabian Gulf is close for recreation, but the lifestyle is very different from in America.

“There’s a huge difference,” Aziz said. “The culture is very deeply rooted in tradition and deterrent is the strength of the culture. It’s a very safe place. There’s not a whole lot to do, but the lifestyle is very conducive to playing.”

In the offseason, Aziz lives in Atlanta and spends as much time as he can with Jalen, who’s now 10 and an aspiring basketball player. He and his wife, Nisreen, were married Jan. 1 of this year.

 

Back 2 Basics

When Aziz came back home from Brazil during the offseason in 2007, he helped out at a basketball camp for children. Aziz looked out at 100 kids at the camp that cost $350 to attend and something dawned on him.

“Its a great camp, but I didn’t feel like it was affordable for everybody,” he said. “So I decided what I wanted to do was provide the same experience for kids, but provide it free of charge.”

Aziz helped to form Back 2 Basics Kids Foundation in 2008 and now serves as the executive director. The non-profit organization provides programs for children ages 6 to 18.

“All of these kids sometimes measure success on what they see on TV, especially with pro athletes,” Aziz said. “But not everybody is going to be an NBA player. There are things around sports as a whole that can be a vehicle to other things in life. We help prepare these young boys and girls to have their lives be successful.”

Go to www.b2bkids.org for more information.

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