COVID-19 has upended the world in every way imaginable, and the world of international basketball is no exception. Since the Coronavirus has been rampant in Europe longer than it has been in the United States, international basketball players have been exposed to the struggles and difficulties of living through a pandemic for a long time. In addition, the influx of American basketball players in other countries means that they have an interesting perspective. One of these players is Byron Richards, an American who's been playing for CB Benicarlo in Spain for the past four seasons. We caught up with Byron about what it's been like these past few months.
After graduating from South Carolina in 2010, Brandis Raley-Ross started his career playing basketball around the world. He has played in nine countries so far in his career, most recently in Libya. In addition to his playing career, Raley-Ross also started a business, Immaculate Training, that provides player training and European exposure for aspiring and current pros. We caught up with him and spoke with him about his experiences playing abroad.
What team do you play for now, and where in the country is it located?
I play for Al Ittihad, a historic sports club located in Libya. Prior to joining this club I played in Zagreb Croatia for Cibona.
Are there any other Americans on your team?
Yes, there is one other American, Dion Wright, on my team; he’s 26 years old and from California.
How would you compare the style of basketball played in your league to American basketball?
Playing in the Middle East I noticed right away they prefer to play fast uptempo basketball without a lot of tactics (set offenses/defenses). Players in this region of the world are naturally athletic and fast with quick feet. The difference is that in the U.S., there is a higher quality of athleticism and skill.
In Europe the game is played at a slower pace with more tactics. European teams like to have big guys clog up the paint. They also use the European foul to stop the fast breaks. So the game is slower with an emphasis on shot making.
You've been a pro for a long time with a wealth of experience. What's been the secret to your longevity?
Going on 10 years of experience to be exact. I credit my longevity to being a sponge and student of the game. I always have invested in my body. Eating healthy energy foods along with cutting out junk food and fast food. Also having a weekly routine of massages, stretches and icing sessions. It sounds like a lot, but in order to play at a high level you must have discipline and your body must function at a high level.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to a player who has just begun a career playing internationally?
To me a player must be 100% locked in on improving everyday! Always be the first to the gym and the last to leave. Research about the culture of the country prior to arriving. Learn how to speak the local language (hello, good morning, good afternoon, good night, and thank you)!
Have open dialogue with your coach, GM and owner of the team. Ask your coach everyday “what must you do to improve as a player and to help the team win?” Also make sure you are gathering game film of each match to watch for yourself.
Stay away from clubs, night bars and any illegal substances that will hinder your performance. Being a professional is unlike college. One mistake and you're gone!!!!
What goals do you have for the rest of the season?
To win a championship and finish strong! Every other goal I have will manifest after the championship is won.
What has been your favorite thing about playing abroad? What's been the most surprising thing?
The favorite thing for me is being part of the different cultures and meeting new friends and connections. The most surprising thing is how passionate the fans are regarding their sports teams. Fans will show up and cheer the whole game. The competition of sports seems to unify people all over the world.
Darell Combs is a second-year pro who is currently hooping in the United Kingdom for the Worcester Wolves, a team in the British Basketball League. Combs is averaging 13.9 points and 4.4 assists for the team, career highs in both categories. We were able to catch up with Combs about what it's like to live and play in the UK.
Where is your team located? Are there any other Americans on your team?
I'm located in Worcester [a mid-size city in southwest England]. We have two other Americans on the team - Robert Crawford and Deshawn Freeman.
How would you compare the BBL style of basketball to American basketball?
The BBL is a smooth league. It’s really no different then America. It’s a great league and very competitive.
This is your second year as a pro after your rookie season in Italy. What has been the biggest difference between your first and second season?
My first year was up and down. I went through some things. Things didn’t go how I wanted them too. Very rocky for me but I learned from it. This second year, everything is cool. I’m getting better every day and learning here in Worcester. I'm just taking it day by day to get better every day and learn. It’s been a smooth year.
What goals do you have for the rest of the season?
A goal I have for the rest of the season is to finish strong and play hard each and every game so we can finish strong as a group.
What has been your favorite thing about living in Europe?
My favorite thing about living is Europe is me growing up as a person. I've had to adjust to the culture and I have been able to grow as a man each and every day.