Alsuwailem vs Alshabebi: From national team rivals to first pro club clash
BEIRUT (Lebanon) - The clash between Shabab Al Ahli - Dubai and Al Hilal in WASL Gulf was highly anticipated. The main factor being that these two teams were undefeated, meaning that one perfect record had to be left with an unblemished "L" once it was all said and done.
However, it was also a marquee matchup as it presented the opportunity for two of the best big men in the Gulf - Mohammed Alsuwailem and Qais Omar Alshabebi - to go up against each other.
Both players were coming off big double-doubles, but at the end of this game, Alsuwailem came out with the stronger individual output.
The towering center put up 20 points on 9-10 shooting to go with 13 rebounds (for his third straight double-double), 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Alsuwailem had his way on offense, whether it was in the paint or sometimes even in transition. As a matter of fact, Alsuwailem even had a couple of possessions matched up directly against Alshabebi where he ended up scoring twice.
Alshabebi, on the other hand, recorded a solid line of 10 points and 7 boards. While this might seem to pale in comparison to the pure statistical output of Alsuwailem, the impact that the UAE standout had on the game should not be overlooked. Where he stood out the most was his hustle and energy on both ends of the floor, which resulted in leaking transition buckets and offensive boards.
Both players were also key pieces on the defensive end and impacted the game in different ways.
Shabab Al Ahli were able draw Alsuwailem out of the paint a bit by allowing his assignment Nick Minnerath to roam on the perimeter where he made 5 three-pointers. Minnerath making those threes was certainly important for Shabab Al Ahli, but being able to limit some of Alsuiwalem’s presence near the rim was also just as impactful.
Meanwhile, the UAE club assigned Alshabebi to guard Al Hilal’s Clint Chapman for the majority of the time they were both on the court. Chapman, who headed into the game averaging 29.5 points per game, ended up with 10 points on 4-11 shooting with Alshaebebi almost shadowing his every move.
In the end, the ultimate advantage goes to Alshabebi as he and Shabab Al Ahli were able to remain undefeated in a 75-70 victory over Alsuwailem and Al Hilal.
On the surface, the connection between these two players stems from them being the important pieces for their clubs in WASL.
With Al Hilal, Alsuwailem has recorded a double-double in every game and is averaging 17.0 points and 14.0 rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent from the floor.
Alshabebi is also putting up impressive numbers with Shabab Al Ahli, averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest.
However, the bond between these two goes a bit deeper as could be seen when the two greeted each other ahead of tipoff.
"Alsuwailem, he’s my brother," said Alshabebi. "We’ve known each other for a long time. He is one of the best players I have played against in my career."
The respect goes both ways as well for both players who sport number 12 on their jerseys.
"Qais is considered one of the best players in the Gulf region," said Alsuwailem. "It is always a strong confrontation. He is a great player."
Even though this was their first meeting in a club competition, the two have played against each other a number of times in the national team setting. That’s where all of the mutual respect began to grow and why they were both hyped up to play against each other.
"It was a long time since we last played against each other and I was really looking forward to that match up," said Alshabebi.
Almost 5 years. That’s how long is has been since these two players played against each other, all the way back in 2018 at the FIBA Asia Cup 2022 GBA Pre-Qualifiers. They played against each other with the national team twice that year… both times resulting in epic games that both would remember to this day.
The first of two matchups was on February 26 in Bahrain, where Alshabebi and UAE won 90-81 in overtime.
"I have one memory from a game that Alsuwailem and I had. It was one of the best games," the 31-year-old recalled. "We were up by 20 points going into the 4th quarter and the game was extended to overtime."
Alshabebi scored 5 of this 24 points in that overtime session, helping UAE avoid a collapse. He’d also grab 14 rebounds and swat away 6 blocks in the win. And maybe that’s why he remembers this particular game a bit more vividly.
Alsuwailem had a decent game in that loss with 12 points and 8 rebounds, but chose to recall the other game between the two big men that was played later that year on June 30 in UAE.
"It was a great match and it was only decided in the last seconds," said the 24-year-old center.
The lead changed hands 15 times in that game and despite Saudi Arabia being in the lead by as much as 8 points in the final quarter, Saudi Arabia could only celebrate the victory when Alsuwailem made a clutch block and knocked down a free-throw… after being fouled by Alshabebi.
Alsuwailem had 15 points and 9 rebounds matched up to Alshabebi’s 13 points and 10 boards. The biggest difference between the two teams was that Saudi Arabia and Alsuwailem came away with the win 88-85… and qualification to the Asia Cup Pre-Qiualifiers.
The long road back
General Asia basketball fans might be more familiar with Alsuwailem. The rising star was tearing it up at both the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers (11.6 points, 10.4 rebounds per game) and World Cup Qualifiers (10.8 points, 10.5 rebounds per game) until he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of playing in the Asia Cup.
"It was very difficult to be cut off from the sport that I had loved for a long time," Alsuwailem expressed. "It was a bad feeling."
Not being able to be on the court with both the national team and professional club, it was a dark time for the youngster. But in the end, light always shines through.
"It was a disturbing feeling of not returning to the court again, but with determination and persistence, every difficulty becomes possible to overcome."
"It was just a matter of determination and time," said Alsuwailem of the process to get back on the court.
Now, Alsuwailem is proving through his play in WASL Gulf that he is back and could even be better than ever.
Strive for greatness
Alshabebi is also out to prove a point here as well in the inaugural season of this league. While he hasn’t been able to command much of the spotlight playing for the national team yet (though averaging 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the First Round of the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 Pre-Qualifiers is solid), Alshabebi has been an impact player in FIBA’s club competitions.
It was at FIBA Asia Champions Cup 2016 where he averaged 15.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, helping Shabab Al Ahli go all the way to the Semi-Finals.
A year later at Asia Champions Cup 2017, upped the production to 25.9 points and 12.7 boards per contest, highlighted by two 37-point games.
Alshabebi had come a long way from starting to play in public parks to his first Shabab Al Ahli tryout in the summer of 2004, all the way to become the face of the franchise that he is today. All of that is based off his mindset that all players should strive to improve and get better each and every day.
"As players, we have to always be unsatisfied basketball-wise because the day that we feel satisfied in our careers, that’s the day that we should retire and that’s my opinion," he said.
"Playing at a high level is something every basketball player should do," he added.
"Give it your all."
Here in WASL Gulf, the 2.00M (6'7") center has been proving that he will give it his all and will always be unsatisfied with himself, to keep on getting better and better.
All of that is going on in WASL.
Whether it’s the opportunity for Alsuwailem to build up steam in his return from injury, the opportunity for Alshabebi to continue his path improve, or the opportunity for the paths of these two players to clash in a unique setting… it’s all going on here in WASL.
"WASL is the new trend in Asia basketball and so far I am so excited about what it has for us," said Alshabebi. "The atmosphere of the competition is very positive that it makes every player brings his A-game to court."
"It was the first time ever I got to play against Alsuwailem outside the national team setting so it’s a lot of firsts. First WASL. First time playing against Al Hilal in my career. First time playing against Alsuwailem outside the national team setting."
"It is wonderful and a good idea to have such competitions every year to develop the players," added Alsuwailem.