Former KSU athletes play basketball overseas

Senior forward Chris Evans (right) drives to the basket during a 69-68 victory over Bethune-Cookman, Nov. 20, 2012, at the M.A.C. Center.

Richie Mulhall

It is a Tuesday morning in Trikala, a city in Northwestern Thessaly, Greece, located just northwest of Athens.

Former Kent State basketball player Chris Evans, who graduated from Kent State in May of 2012 – wakes up in his one-bedroom apartment and rises from his queen-sized bed to start the day.

There will be two practices to day for Aries Trikala B.C. professional basketball club, so he better be ready to work. After all, he is a professional now, and professionals are pretty well taken care of  — not to mention the lush living conditions and rich luxuries he enjoys, especially for rookie fresh off the plane from America.

New car, nice apartment, flat screen TV, exorbitant paycheck and lucrative contract — Evans has it all.

It all comes with the territory of being a professional basketball player competing in the A1 Division – the top Greek League.

Evans grabs his gym bag and proceeds toward the front door that beckons him to practice. Weight training starts this morning, and Evans has to be there on time. After all, it is the “professional” thing to do.

He heads out the front door and begins the 15-minute hike to the Trikala Indoor Arena, which only holds about 2,500 people – less than half of Kent State’s M.A.C. Center. The arena is a straight shot from Evans’ apartment.

After Evans hits the weights and practice one of two concludes, the guys get a short break for lunch and leisure until 5 p.m., when practice resumes.

Evans breaks off from his team for a brief stroll downtown to explore the city of Trikala and all that the Greek culture has to offer, including the food. Evans really likes the food here, especially the hot chocolate and Greek danishes.

He enjoys walking around the city and interacting with the “normal people,” as he refers to the citizens of Trikala. Sometimes people spot Evans and the crowd and regard him with star-struck eyes as if he were LeBron James passing through a Giant Eagle in Akron

“If I’m walking through the city, people recognize me here,” Evans said. “When you’re a professional, a lot of things are very different; You have to conduct yourself as a professional and just let people know you’re here to play quality minutes and earn the respect of your teammates being a rookie.”

After a second practice in preparation for Thursday night’s game against Ilysiakos, Evans goes out to dinner with his fellow teammates. His team consists of players from all over the world, including countries like the obvious Greece, U.S., Italy and even South Africa, but there seems to be no apparent communication barrier between Evans and his foreign teammates. English is widely known throughout the country as a second language.

Plus, Evans’ good friend Mike Porrini is also present for dinner. Porrini, who played basketball with Evans at Kent State, was just recently signed to the team and has been acting as Evans’s American sidekick through the ongoing process of becoming acclimated to life in Greece both on and off the court.

“He just makes life here in Europe a lot easier for me,” Evans said. “He was playing in Turkey in previous years, so he knows what to do and what not to do.”

The next day is game day for the Aries Trikala B.C. Evans puts up 16 points and records four assists as Trikala narrowly defeats Ilysiakos 88-87.

After game day concludes, Evans does his best to rest his body and soothe his muscles after another hard-fought victory. Maybe tomorrow will be the one day this week Evans’s personal masseur will arrive to ease the tension in Evan’s back legs and whatever else may be aching him.

This is the life of one of many professional basketball players lead. These are the players who decide to take their talents to a whole other country — a whole other world — after college.

When many college basketball players graduate and conclude their studies, they will often do one of two things: try to gain entry the NBA or pursue a career with their degree.

Some athletes, though, may choose to take the route less traveled. They may choose to traverse the vast waters of the ocean to another country that offers a rare but rewarding experience to participate in the sport they love — only this time, it’s for cash.

Justin Greene, former Kent State basketball player and 2011 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, said it has been a common trend for college athletes to try to play professional basketball in some capacity after graduating college.

“No matter where you play, whether you play at Duke or Syracuse, Ohio or Northern Illinois, it doesn’t matter — Guys are gonna try to play basketball for money,” Greene said. “I wouldn’t say everybody’s trying to do it because I have had teammates [overseas] who didn’t want to play another college game after college, so it all depends on if you have that passion and that love for the game.”

Over the years, a number of Kent State basketball players have chosen to pursue a life of basketball beyond the blazoned blue and yellow walls of the M.A.C. Center.

One such player is 27-year-old Mike Scott, who is currently a free agent residing back home in the states, waiting for a new deal to swing his way any day now.

Since Scott graduated back in May of 2008, Scott has traveled all over the globe and played for professional teams in Turkey, Hungary, Germany, Serbia, Belgium and most recently France.

Having played basketball in six different countries for seven different teams, Scott’s perspective on professional basketball slightly differs from that of Evans.

While the rookie Evans incessantly uses the word “professional” and is still caught up in all the glamour and hype of being a professional athlete, the veteran Scott speaks more humbly about the true nature of the business.

“In this business, you have to be selfish, you have to be independent, you have to take care of yourself because at the end of the day, especially when you’re overseas, nobody cares about you as an individual – it’s about what you can produce,” said Scott. “You have to really look out for yourself and take care of yourself. You’re out there and you’re solo.”

All three former Kent State players said although it’s great to have the fame, the brand new cars, the money and have “everything you virtually want there at the snap of your fingers,” the number one sacrifice of playing in a foreign country is loneliness, according to Greene.

“When you’re still in high school and you’re still in college, you’re a kid, and people treat you like a kid,” Scott said. “But once you get into that professional world, it’s cutthroat. If you can’t produce, [teams] are very very quick to go a different direction.”

When a lot of these fresh graduates immediately hop on a plane and fly overseas by themselves within a moment’s notice after signing their first professional contract, they feel alone and detached from their new society, stuck in an estranged country with no family and friends to guide and support them.

“Some guys want to get away from their situation in America, and use being overseas to brighten them up and see different things and be around different people, but me; I was more in between because I definitely missed my family a lot,” Greene said.

Even though playing overseas might seem quite lonesome at times, Evans, Scott and Greene all continue to keep in touch with family and friends back home and here in Kent.

Kent State assistant coach DeAndre Haynes, who has had professional his own experiences playing basketball overseas and played basketball at Kent State with Scott from 2004-2006, has formed a tight-knit network among former Kent State basketball players and does his best to help these guys along, especially Evans, who is still fairly new to the whole process of being a foreign professional basketball player from the states.

“I just try to be there for all of them and just try to prepare them for playing over there,” Haynes said.

Greene, who is currently home in Brooklyn, New York, awaiting a new contract offer from the Musel Pikes in Luxembourg, occasionally goes back to his old roots and stops by the M.A.C. Center every once in a while to workout with the younger guys and stay in shape.

He and Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff still remain close friends, too.

“Coach Senderoff knew me since I was 18 years old; He came out to New York to see me, he was always at the school recruiting me,” Greene said. “He’s a really good friend of mine.”

So what’s next for these three former college standouts turned professional stars?

NBA-hopeful Evans will continue to play in Greece until he can someday “land a spot on an NBA roster and show NBA teams that I can contribute to what they need for the NBA roster spot.” He had a workout with the Sacramento Kings last summer, but the tryout fell through, causing Evans to weigh his overseas options.

Scott will enjoy his time off at home with his family in Indianapolis until another team decides to offer him a contract and pick him up.

As for Greene, he is just happy to be playing the game he loves most – the sport that “changed his life.”

When Greene was a young boy growing up with his mom in South Carolina, he didn’t even play basketball. It wasn’t until he moved to New York to live with his father when he was 12 years old that he began “playing basketball outta nowhere”

After a “rude awakening” during Greene’s first year of varsity as a sophomore at Lincoln High School, Greene’s basketball career took off from there, and he hasn’t looked back since.

He is now realizing his dream.

“Everything worked out great,” Greene said as he reflected on how far he has come. “I would have never envisioned this in four years of my life. I would have never thought I would be a professional basketball player.”

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].