Small town Kirksville, Mo, was an important place to me the entire five to six years I was there, and even though I’ve gotten the chance to travel the world a little bit, you’d be surprised how much I miss that town.
My time as a Bulldog is full of fond memories of life and basketball, and wearing the purple and white allowed me to develop relationships with people that are like family to me now. I’m writing you all as a second-year professional basketball player, currently playing in Shkoder, Albania, for the Vllaznia Shkodra professional basketball team. This is my second year signing with a club in Eastern Europe — last year I was with BC Balkan in Botevgrad, Bulgaria — and if any of you are familiar with the culture and lifestyle in the Balkans, then you know it’s like living in two totally different worlds.
Even a game like basketball, with a common set of rules and regulations, is played and taught differently depending on what region of the world you are from. The difference in style of play and competition between these last two years has been like night and day. In Bulgaria, I went to a well-established, talented, veteran-led basketball team with great coaching. Adjusting to a professional level of play and learning to avoid getting knocked to the ground by our 6’11″, 275 lb centers came slowly through somewhat of a transition period. In Albania, however, I arrived on a team lacking leadership and overall knowledge of the game. Even though I’m a relatively young guy on the team, I was aware of many moments of confusion between the Albanian players and newly arrived American imports in terms of what strategies and styles we should use. It’s one thing for players to get confused, but it’s also a challenge when your head coach barely speaks English. Needless to say, I missed Coach Foster!
Getting to play at this level is the result of disciplined work and a lot of support from family, friends, coaches and many others who are involved in or support your athletic programs. I used to obsess over getting to this point since the summer before my junior year. I would lie in bed for hours on summer nights not being able to sleep, just wishing I could get to where I am now — a professional in the sport I love. Once I arrived, I immediately saw how challenging this career path is. Language barriers, going months without seeing friends and family, and at times lacking an outlet to have fun or relieve stress can really get to you. Being overseas actually gave me a great deal of respect for the international students at Truman. Those students go through the same things I do on a daily basis, and I commend them for traveling thousands of miles from home to further their education.
While my time hasn’t been the vacation or glamourous lifestyle people often believe it is, I’ve had many unforgettable encounters and made memories I’ll never forget. I’ve gotten the chance to once again play in front of packed arenas with the most wild fans you would ever see and explore beautiful mountain ranges unlike any other place I’ve ever witnessed. Those experiences make you feel as though the struggles you go through are worth it in the end.
As tough as the last couple of years have been — making a hard decision to leave my first season early and return to school and even waiting months for a new job, not knowing if I would play again — it all taught me a valuable lesson. As much as your desire to succeed revolves around ultimately meeting an end goal, a lot of times the most memorable and important parts are the experiences you conquer and lessons you learn on your way. I have grown so much just from opening my mind to new cultures, actively listening, learning, and discovering more about myself and what I truly desire. As much as I love playing, I feel as though now one of my greatest impacts involved with this game will be to teach others how to play and enjoy it in ways others had taught me. I plan to begin this part of my mission by returning to Kirksville this summer and putting on a youth camp with Coach Theo Dean in late June to interact with and teach the kids in the area. These experiences are moments that I’ll forever be grateful for, and I’m lucky that a round ball gave me the opportunity to learn, see the world and more importantly, give back to the sport and others who have a passion for it like I do. From here, I have more ambition and goals that are driving me, but the road to them is one I’ve yet to figure out. What I can say though is that I’ll be enjoying every minute of this new path, no matter where it takes me.