A late bloomer, I began playing basketball at the age of 15, pretty much just because I was a good bit taller than all my peers. By 18 I stood at 6’8”, and a hobby that began out of ambiguity had grown into a deep-rooted passion for the sport of basketball.
More importantly than a passion, my career had also gained me a scholarship to play at Belmont University, a powerhouse mid-major in Nashville, Tennessee. What ensued was the four best years of my life up to that point. My passion for the game was tested as I no longer was a big fish in the small pond of Arkansas high school basketball, but rather a very small fish in the big pond of Division I college basketball. The lows were so low that at times the question Do I even still want to do this? crossed my mind more than once. On the other hand, the highs were so high that I want to play until my body gives out was a commonplace saying for me. By the end of my college career the highs outweighed the lows. Thus embarked my journey to play professionally overseas. First stop: Frankfurt Germany.
What will it be like? Will there be a lot of fans? I’m getting paid to do this!? I wondered as I flew across the Atlantic, giddy with excitement. Little did I know that it would be the hardest year of my career. The team that signed me was in the third league in Germany, not a league many aspire to and certainly a step down from Division I play in America. Being in the third league, they only had room in the budget to pay for one import player (me). Initially I was excited to experience a new city with some fellow Americans, but that would not be the case.
The team leaned on me heavily throughout the season. Statistically it would be the best season of my career. Aside from averaging 28.5 points and 9 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the floor, I led the team to the best record they'd had in years. But life is more than basketball. Being a foreigner, and the only one nonetheless, my teammates were not particularly fond of me. Part of it could have been jealousy, but some of it was just the fact that they had lives before I got there and still have lives today that I am not a part of. There is no wrong in that on their end, but it did lead to a tough year for me. Something everybody told me that I didn’t take seriously was that I would have more free time than I knew what to do with. Despite practice every day, shooting extra and lifting weights, every Netflix show was watched/binged/rewatched/rebinged, and more Fortnite was played than I feel comfortable admitting.
After ten months of this, my stellar performance allowed me to sign with a team in the top league of the Czech Republic. I arrived here in Ostrava early August, and right from the start I knew it would be different. I have four other English speaking teammates: from Canada, one from South Carolina and one from Serbia. Just like from high school to college, I made a huge leap to a league that is respected throughout Europe, and the challenge to compete at a high level in the new pond stands tall. However, I know that I love this game and am willing to do whatever it takes to be successful both individually and as a team here in the Czech Republic. With the new level of playing comes a new level of daily basketball grind I have ever known.
Every day here goes something like this…
Bzzzt Bzzzt Bzzzt. My phone buzzes as the alarm goes off, signaling the start of another day. Like almost every other day, it starts at 9:30 a.m. with a quick coffee and breakfast before 10:15 practice. The walk to practice is short and brisk as my flat is just across the street from our gym. Morning practice consists of shooting, skill work, and revisiting plays. Easy is not a word I would use to describe the morning practice, but it isn’t as difficult as the afternoon practice. Sometimes instead of morning basketball practice we have a weight room session or a conditioning workout (hopefully these disappear as the season starts).
At 11:45 when practice ends, most of us go to lunch at a Greek restaurant down the road that sponsors the team, allowing us to eat there for free. Post-lunch almost always consists of a quick two-hour nap and a small meal to get ready for practice at 6 p.m. If there are errands to run, haircuts to get, or groceries to buy, these few free midday hours are the time to get them done. The evening session always presents a challenge: typically an hour and a half to two hours of live drills, running our sets live and defensive work. Despite not working as many hours as somebody my age who works a 9-5 job, these two hours a day make me feel like it.
After practice we stretch as a team then go to our respective apartments to get ready to do it all over again Being in the Czech Republic, I am seven hours ahead of all my friends and family back in America, making night time the best time to FaceTime friends, catch up with people, or play Xbox with my brothers (always Fortnite, I really love Fortnite). Then it all starts over the next day.
During preseason this is our schedule: six days a week with one day off. The grind is hard and long. At times I forget what the day is, not thinking about my week in terms of weeks and weekends, but rather in terms of how many practices before a free day. Even though it can sound grueling, I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else in the world. I play basketball for a living, get to travel Europe and meet all kinds of amazing people I never would have met otherwise.
Check back next month to hear more from Nick about what it's like to play and live in the Czech Republic!