Lee Aaliya, the Argentine basketball phenom on route to the NBA

The 18-year-old has been cleared to play at the US college level and has already been contacted by 20 top NCAA universities

Lee Aaliya (18) could be playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA) sooner than anyone thought it might happen, as the Argentine basketball phenom has been cleared by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to play in its basketball championship in the United States. Aaliya now looks to follow in the footsteps of Generación Dorada members Manu Ginóbili and Luis Scola as the next Argentine in the NBA.

The NCAA is the organization that regulates students’ athletics programs and competitions in the US, and is the most common pathway for young American players to make it to the NBA. Aaliya would be a case of the rare foreigner who makes it this way, as most usually arrive after playing in professional leagues in Europe and other places.

According to college basketball expert Jonathan Givony, as many as 50 US colleges have contacted the Argentine trying to recruit him, including 20 of the country’s elite programs. Playing in the NCAA is the most usual pathway to the NBA, as the competition’s top prospects declare themselves eligible for the league’s draft.

This comes after Aaliya, who began playing at Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata but currently plays for Atenas in Argentina’s National Basketball League, was selected as part of the second-best lineup in the FIBA U19 World Cup this year.

Standing at 2,05 m, he was one of Argentina’s U19 National Team’s best performers in that tournament, where they finished fifth. He averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in the competition, and has now been called-up by former NBA-player and current Argentina National Team coach Pablo Prigioni to take part in a series of friendly games.

Should Aaliya join any of the teams competing in the NCAA, he’d become the third Argentine currently in the NCAA, alongside Francisco Cáffaro who plays for Santa Clara, and Francisco Farabello, who’s at Creighton University. 

“My dream is to become a professional basketball player, I would love that. My hope is to reach the Spanish league, or [play in] Europe, maybe even the NBA”, Aaliya said a few weeks ago during a U19 World Cup press conference. If he eventually does join an NBA team, he’d become only the third Argentine player to make it via the NCAA, after Juan Ignacio “Pepe” Sánchez did it in 2000 and Patricio Garino in 2017.

Aaliya is the son of Jeff Aaliya, a Ghanaian wrestler who arrived in Argentina in 1997 and achieved some fame a few years later when he portrayed the character of Musambe Tutu in “100% Lucha”, an Argentine wrestling TV show that ran between 2006 and 2010.


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