Drew Gooden will not be cleared to play for Finland in FIBA World Cup


Drew Gooden was hoping to play for Finland in the upcoming FIBA World Cup. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Drew Gooden will not be able to represent Finland in the upcoming FIBA World Cup because his application for dual citizenship will not be cleared in time for the tournament, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The Wizards big man, whose mother is Finnish, was not on the 12-man roster Finland submitted Wednesday for the competition, according to reports out of Finland. The tournament will begin Aug. 30 in Spain. Finland’s first game will be against the United States.

In a recent phone interview, Gooden explained that he grew up with his father, Andrew, in Oakland, Calif., but made summer-long trips to Finland every two years to spend time with his mother’s family. He roamed his grandparents’ farm — situated about four hours north of the Finnish capital of Helsinki — milking cows, hunting, fishing, and tending to chicken coops.

The biennial visits left an impression on Gooden, who identifies as Finnish.

“Half of my family is still over there and I communicate with them all the time,” said Gooden, whose father met Lear while playing professional basketball in Finland. “So it’s like I have time spent there. It’s not like I’m doing this because I just happen to be half-Finnish. No, I really actually have ties to Finland and the culture.”

But the situation was complicated because Gooden played for Team USA in a tournament in Brazil in 2000 while attending Kansas and he had never applied for dual citizenship before. He waited until this spring to begin the paperwork process — he recalled starting on it during the Wizards’ first-round playoff series victory over the Bulls — because he held out hope of representing the United States again.

“As a kid you always dream of winning the gold medal,” Gooden, 32, said. “You think you’re going to be on the Dream Team or one day it be possible that you can do something like that during your career. It was a point where I got to 26, 27, 28, where that might’ve not been happening, might not have been a possibility for me, that I can compete and represent another part of me, which is Finland. I feel like ‘Why not?’”

Gooden was optimistic of his chances to play for Finland and was in daily contact with the team’s coach as the team practiced in Finland. But he admitted there was a chance his plan would fall through and said he would attend the World Cup to cheer on Finland regardless of his status because he hopes to foster a relationship with Finnish basketball.

“If something happens and there’s a bump in the road where this is not possible this year, I’m still going to be going there and supporting the team, supporting the players in Spain and start to build a relationship for the future for years to come,” Gooden said. “Either way you want to see it, I’m still going to get my dual citizenship and I am going to become a Finnish citizen, whether I’m playing on the team or not, eventually.”

Jorge Castillo writes about the Washington Wizards.
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