I left for India at the end of May to follow an opportunity and a dream to play professional basketball. Currently, I’m about a month and a half into my first stint, a little more than halfway through, and I can definitely say it has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I’m actually really excited to sit down and write this blog because it is the first time I’ve been able to stop and think and talk about all of my experiences since I arrived here in India.
I don’t have any regrets, but there are things I wished that I was more mentally prepared for coming in. The first thing I quickly learned was Professional Basketball, especially overseas, is probably 10% about basketball and 90% about how you adapt to different situations. Basketball adjustments were a little challenging at first, but it has clearly been the easier part of the two. The main changes were getting used to the speed of the game with a 24 second shot clock, the international 3 point line, and the size and skill level of players. Playing at Herndon HS, most teams we played against generally had a big man who was 6’3 – 6’5 tops, and even playing with the Nova Cavs on the AAU circuit the stronger teams may have one guy that’s 6’8” or 6’9”. Playing here in the IBA (India Basketball Association) I have already played teams who have two 7 footers on the court at the same time! At just about 6’0 myself, getting to the rim is a little different with those two giants protecting the rim. But the main challenges I have faced, have taken place off the court.
One of the most ironic things I found out was that according to people here in India, I don’t look Indian. Not just how I dress but how I physically look too. Its gotten to the point where people here have asked my race and then called me a liar for saying I am Indian. I found it funny to be here in India where my family is from and to get weird looks everyday because I don’t fit in.
Growing up in America, we are raised in a bubble of security and privilege, so we take a lot of things for granted because they are easily accessible to us every day. Things like air conditioning, hot water to shower, clean tap water, WiFi, a solid barber, and even toilet paper. The first hotel I stayed in I would pray for hot water for my shower because I had no idea what I would get each day until I turned the faucet. Traffic laws here are “drive where you want just don’t crash”. Lane lines may be painted, but a 2 lane road will have 5 lanes of traffic. You’re even allowed to drive on the wrong side of the road here as well, so riding in a car is like a free for all, with cars, animals, and people in the street going both ways and narrowly avoiding an accident every time. Food has been a whole different battle altogether. Personally I hate Indian food so I knew that was going to be a struggle coming in. Within my first few days I saw a Subway so I was thinking “God bless I’ll be okay.” I walk in and look at the menu and it’s all different. Chain restaurants in India all have cultural menus to cater to their population, so you can’t walk into a McDonald’s here and get a Big Mac because it is probably not on the menu.
My two biggest hardships have been distance and the language barriers. Distance seemed obvious at first because I am halfway around the world but a lot of things came with it that I never thought about. I can’t get in the warehouse, weight room, or with my trainers from home (Alvin) whenever I want. Talking to family and friends back home is hard when there’s a one 9.5 hour time difference. I might be free to talk at 3pm but back home its 5:30am and everyone is still asleep. Being by myself in a brand new place has been difficult to say the least, there are times where the loneliness hits a lot harder than others. The massive language barriers have effected everything here both on and off the court. Off the court I can’t really go out and interact with people or have regular conversations because most people don’t speak English or they don’t understand my accent. At the barbershop I had to show the guy a picture of what I wanted and hope for the best because he had no idea what was coming out of my mouth. On the court has been especially hard considering my team is comprised of people from America, Australia, Nigeria, and India. I have one teammate that speaks English fluently, one who is semi-fluent and the rest speak a variety of other languages. Communicating with teammates is next to impossible and communicating with the coaches is just as difficult. I actually got cursed out in practice today and I had no clue he was upset and no idea why until I got a translation 5 minutes later.
Despite all the difficulties, I would make the choice to come here again in a heartbeat. I have new friends and teammates from 6 continents and about every country and race you can think of. I’ve met celebrities on a regular basis and my games will be viewed on TV in 36 countries. I was fortunate enough to get drafted and signed by the Hyderabad Sky, and with the decreased cost of living here, the money I make every week is more than many people make here in a year. This journey has never been about money, so that’s something I will never take for granted.
I’ve been told through my life that if your job is something you love, you will never work a day in your life. By being here I’m living out my dream, the dream of my family and friends, and the dream of every player that wanted to go pro but never got the chance. How is that not something I can be grateful for?
The biggest piece of advice I can give to any player with similar opportunities is make sure you truly love the game because the challenges of every day life are only 10% basketball. You have to love the game to a point where it is an obsession, to the point where it is almost unhealthy. Your love of the game, that 10%, needs to make up for the struggle of the other 90% of everyday life. People are so quick to throw around the term, “Ball is Life”, but I had to fly 9000 miles around the world to learn the true meaning of that. My schedule revolves around basketball from the minute I wake to when I finally get to sleep. Most days include 3 practices or workouts so I am almost always on the court or in the weight room. If not, I’m icing, stretching, prepping, eating, having team meetings or meeting with media. The time between workouts isn’t time off, it’s recovering while preparing for the next practice.
One of the hardest questions that I have had to answer is… “Oh my God, you’re a pro aren’t you having so much fun?” Yes and No. Yes, I’m getting to put a ball through a hoop for a living and that’s fun, but at the same time this is not about fun anymore. When basketball becomes your job, it becomes a business and that is something I had to learn quickly. What used to be about having fun becomes about winning games, winning championships, and making money. I am the youngest player in the league by a few years. Many of my teammates are in their late 20s and 30s, they are married with kids and this is how they support their families. When money becomes involved the team dynamic changes drastically. Everyone still wants to win and be on the best teams, but the money you’re making is money that a teammate could have been paid instead. They are playing for themselves and their families, so your teammates are just waiting for you to mess up. If you have one bad day, one mental lapse, one small injury, that is all it takes for your teammate to get ahead of you and set themselves up for a better paycheck. This competition, this pressure is constant so I always have to be playing at the top of my game and looking over my shoulder.
I wouldn’t trade that pressure for the world, and I am halfway around the globe because of it. I couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity and excited for what’s to come. What started out as a 5 year old shooting granny style on the driveway in Herndon, turned into a hoop dream come true in Hyderabad, India.
(I’ll be posting a new blog of my experiences here in India and playing with the Hyderabad Sky about once a month so I’ll keep you updated!)