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32 Yousef Khayat (LBN)
David Hein's Eye on the Future
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Khayat becoming role model in Lebanon - thanks to career in France

REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - Youssef Khayat will not turn 19 years old until next March, yet youngsters in his homeland of Lebanon already see him as a role model. That's because of the path he took in his early career. A journey which brought him to France and now has him back in Lebanon ready to make his debut for his country's senior national team.

Khayat received a nomination for The Cedars' up-coming FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers, in which Lebanon will play two games against Indonesia on November 26 and 29.

"It feels very, very good. It was my dream ever since I was a child to be in the national team. So being here is a blessing. I'm very excited to play," the young Lebanese prospect told Eye on the Future.

Khayat cannot wait to play for Lebanon alongside two of the country's leaders - and two players he saw as role models himself.

Wael Arakji

"I'm very excited to play in front of the home crowd. Also to play with Wael Arakji, someone who I idolized growing up and who helped me along my journey. And Amir Saoud, who helped me a lot as well," Khayat said. "I trained with Arakji sometimes in the summer. He was always supportive and always giving me advice how to improve my game."

A journey less taken

Khayat's journey started in March 2018. While most young Lebanese basketball players remained in the country, the then 14-year-old went to France for a camp and tryout with Nanterre. He said a coach at Limoges was also there and asked Khayat to come there for a practice with the team as well.

"I worked out with Limoges' U18 team, and they liked me so they offered me a contract," he remembered.

In August 2018, he and his mother left Lebanon for southwest-central France to start his career with Limoges.

"It was kind of easy because I went there with my mother. Even though it was another country, having my mother there was comforting. Even though it was a new culture, background and everything, I integrated very rapidly to the system in France. The guys were very welcoming and supportive."

Standout for Lebanon

Khayat's arrival in France was just one of many big moments in 2018.

Despite being two years younger than the rest of the competition, Khayat made an impressive FIBA event debut with 8.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals at the FIBA U16 Asian Championship in April 2018.

On August 1, Khayat helped Lebanon beat Iran 66-64 to win the FIBA U16 West Asian Basketball Association Championship. One day later, he traveled more than 5,500 kilometers from Tehran, Iran to Bangkok, Thailand to play at the FIBA U18 Asian Championship 2018. And he averaged 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds as the youngest player in the competition - playing in a three-year older 2000-born generation tournament.

"It was very tiring but very exciting to play against people older than me and more experienced than me. To see the kind of level at U18 was very exciting," he said.

A whole new game

The experiences on the Asian continental level proved perfect for what Khayat would face in France.

"The whole system was different. The whole game was different. Even though Lebanon has certain similarities, the whole thing was different. The aggressiveness was different. They share the ball more. It was a whole new experience," he recalled.

Khayat worked his way through the Limoges ranks and played with the team's U21 team already in 2018-19. He would go back home to Lebanon in the summers to see his family and friends. Sometimes surprising them with the strides he had made.

"When I went to France I was 74 kilos and in one year I gained 11 kilos and so they were surprised but impressed too," he remembered.

The 2019-20 season was cut short due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Khayat went back to Lebanon in March 2020 to spend the time with his family. He returned to France in August 2020.

This past summer, Khayat committed himself to another level to the game.

"I trained differently this summer. I did more weights but also physical therapy. I had a couple of injuries from last year that caused me to miss some games," said Khayat, who averaged 7.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.3 steals in 20 games in Limoges' U21 Espoirs team in 2020-21. "This summer I was more focused on my body and focused on what I eat and how much I sleep. This year I improved all this and went back to France to be a leader."

Last season, Khayat did not have a lot of impact on offense but was there defensively. But this season, Limoges fans could think a new new Youssef Khayat came back from Lebanon.

Through eight games, Khayat is averaging 17.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.0 steals - three times scoring over 20 points and also picking up one double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds against Roanne.

"It's a very good feeling being a leader, playing each game like it's the last. Each game I have to put in a lot of effort to help my team win. It's very nice to have this responsibility," he said.

A "French" player for the future of Lebanon

Khayat is an entirely different player than the one that left Lebanon at 15 to go to France in August 2018. In fact, playing his fourth season in the Limoges youth ranks, Khayat considers himself a French basketball player - someone who plays the game like the French do.

"Four years with the same club is a long time. I'm a French basketball player."

Now Lebanon's young "French" player is ready to begin leaving his mark on the senior national team.

"I will be excited but also concentrated to go out and show my playing style," he said about his up-coming Cedars debut. "I think it will be tough but we will be ready. We are working on improving the system."

Khayat knows the eyes of many youngsters in Lebanon will be cast upon him when he gets his chance against Indonesia.

"There are a lot of young people looking up to me, people who want to be like me and play with the senior national team and play abroad," he said. "Right now the situation in Lebanon is not that good. So a lot of young people want to go to Europe, especially to get basketball experiences. So having someone like me to look up to is very supportive to them."

Youssef Khayat is ready to take a role model role - despite still being just 18 years old.

David Hein

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

David Hein

David Hein

Walk into the media tribune of any major basketball event and there's a good chance you will come across David Hein. Having covered dozens of FIBA events, including numerous women's and youth events, there are few players Dave doesn't know about, and few players who don't know him. His sporting curiosity means he is always looking to unearth something new and a little bit special. David Hein's Eye on the Future is a weekly column digging out the freshest basketball talent worldwide and assessing what the basketball landscape will look like a couple of years down the line.