The Korean Basketball Association’s attempts to naturalize star forward Aaron Haynes ahead of the Incheon Asian Games this year have been thwarted by legal restrictions, but the organization kept the foreign athlete in the dark through the whole process, the American basketball player told The Korea Herald on Monday.
In an effort to boost the Korean team’s roster for the upcoming September-October tournament, the KBA had tried to grant Haynes ― who has been playing in Korea’s professional basketball league for the past six years ― Korean citizenship so he could play for Korea.
The attempt was abandoned when the KBA belatedly realized that players for the national team need to have continuously lived in the country for at least three years. Although the cited regulation was introduced in 2010, the authorities were unaware of this when they started fishing for foreign-born players.
Haynes said the KBA never provided the specific details for his naturalization process.
“They never did (follow up on the naturalization). I never had any kind of dialogue with the KBA or KBL. I was informed through my agent which KBL informed him on May 20th,” Haynes told The Korea Herald by email.
“My first reaction to the naturalization was that I would be honored to represent Korea. However, I was concerned if this was possible,” Haynes said, adding that the basketball body just asked for documents, but did not provide him with any details during the process.
The 2.01-meter forward, who reportedly turned down an offer from another basketball league to join the national team’s training camp, only learned last week that the naturalization was a no-go. “I was very disappointed of the outcome and heartbroken,” he said.
Despite the initial disappointment, Haynes said it was “no one’s fault,” saying the KBA had rules to follow. Basketball circles criticized the KBA and KBL’s seemingly blase attitude in dealing with the issue.
The authorities sent the national team head coach Lee Sang-beom to look for potential candidates only after his KBL team Anyang KGC had finished its regular season in March. Even if Haynes cleared the “three-year hurdle,” it is unclear if the special naturalization process would have been completed in the few months before the Asian Games. The basketball events are slated to run from Sept. 20-Oct. 3.
Naturalization allows dual nationality but requires a complicated process and tough screening by the Korean Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Justice.
Despite the naturalization issue, Haynes said he still hopes to return to the KBL.
“If at all possible, I will still love to play for the national team and represent Korea. If not, continue my playing days in Korea until I retire,” he said.
Haynes played his sixth season in the KBL in the 2013-14 season for the Seoul SK Knights. A Fordham University product, he is considered one of the best scorers in the Korean league and earned back-to-back scoring titles in 2011 and 2012.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)