Top Left: Brandon Robinson, Top Right: Eric Kibi, Bottom: Scott Bamforth vs DeAndre Lansdowne

Germany, Canada, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Denmark, Spain, France, Slovakia, Iraq, Argentina and Netherlands: those are the 11 countries where I have played professional basketball since I graduated from Abilene Christian University in 2012. 
Chastity Reed is a good friend of mine, she was a WNBA draft pick by the Tulsa Shock in 2011. We also played at the University of Arkansas Little Rock during the same 2010-2011 season. UALR was one of only 11 universities that season in NCAA Division I basketball to send both its men’s and women’s programs to the NCAA tournament. Chastity is the all-time leading scorer at the school to this day. When I tell you she is a bucket, I am not lying. In the pure prime of her career at just 31, she is currently playing at Panathinaikos, her ninth country since she graduated in 2011. 

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Want a few more examples? Ok. What about three other good friends of mine with three totally different paths. J.R. Giddens, Scott Bamforth and DeAndre Lansdowne. I met all three in Albuquerque, New Mexico when I moved there from Canada in January 2007. Giddens at the time was a superstar guard at the University of New Mexico, a former Kansas recruit and McDonald’s All-American. He went on to become a future first round NBA draft pick by the Boston Celtics in the spring of 2008. He is also known for almost beating LeBron James in the 2003 McDonald’s All American dunk contest. After 2 seasons split between the Celtics and the New York Knicks between 2008 and 2010, J.R went on to play 12 professional seasons overseas with stints in Poland, Spain, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Lebanon and Mexico. 
In January 2007 I arrived in Albuquerque and these two guys were tearing up the New Mexico high school basketball scene. DeAndre was my teammate at Sandia High School, while Scott attended one of our rival schools, Del Norte High School. They went on to be named Co-Metro players of the year in their senior seasons in 2007-2008. They both had unique and different paths to Europe that I hope every player reading this blog can relate to. 

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DeAndre was a NCAA Division II All American at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and until this day is still the all-time leading scorer at the university after graduating in 2011. Upon graduation “Dee” initially retired and even worked at Home Depot until having a complete rejuvenation in 2013. After a stint in Mexico, Dee and I were teammates in the Pro B third league in Germany in 2015 while trying to learn how to drive a manual car for the first time together in Herten, a small city in Germany near Cologne and Dusseldorf. Without speaking much about numbers, the salary earned in our time in Germany could not have been much more than minimum wage, but it was never about the money. It was always about the marathon and the journey. Chasing a dream worth way more than money, seeing a bigger picture and not giving up where most quit at this point. 
Dee ended up leading the league in scoring that season while also becoming one of the rare players to go from Pro B to the German BBL. After two seasons in the BBL he had a one-season stint in the Italian top league with Brescia. This season he is the captain of SIG Strasbourg in the French top league and is competing in the Basketball Champions League.
In that 2015 season in Herten, I was fired after five games. Of course, it was a tough pill to swallow but a part of the journey I will never forget to this day. Moving on in the season, I ended up with stints in Luxembourg and Montenegro before finishing the season at home in the National Basketball League of Canada. That was probably the most difficult season of my career. One season, 4 teams. I could give an excuse for each situation, but I never do. In Germany, I went from averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds in the pre-season to scoring a total of 17 points in the first 3 regular season games combined, which if most don’t know, is a fireable offense in the overseas basketball world. I look in the mirror for this one. In Luxembourg, I was fired after scoring 30 points, 17 rebounds and a win. I walked out of the locker room with a smile and ready to go enjoy a glass of wine on a Friday night with my girlfriend at the time after a great team win but instead what I saw was the team president handing me a flight ticket home to Canada, stating: I did not fit their style of play. Instead of drinking a celebratory glass of wine at the team’s five-star restaurant, I will not lie, I broke down and cried with my girlfriend on my bathroom floor that evening. It was the second time being fired in the span of two months. If you want to talk about rock bottom as a basketball player, this is it. I was off to Montenegro the next morning, after my agent found a quick solution that at the time felt nice and safe but boy was I wrong. I arrived the next day in Belgrade, Serbia at 7pm.
Our high school coach, Adrian Ortega, a man I have so much respect for until this day, he instilled discipline within us. Never cheat the game. If you have a bad game you double up the reps the next day. Let’s get on the shooting gun the next morning at 7am. If you have 33 points and 18 rebounds the night prior, don’t be bigger than the game and be late to practice the next day – all small details I still remember. But what happens if you’re doing all the right things and you’re still bouncing from one team to another. A Jared Dudley, a Danny Green, a Trevor Ariza – a journeyman abroad in Europe without the millions. How much do you love the game, how hungry are you? How disciplined are you? A 47-year old Serbian coach spits in your face in Montenegro because you missed a defensive rotation. What do you do? Do you hit him back or do you take the high road and be a professional. Okay, you take the high road and be a professional, but then your salary is late because you are losing games. This is the kind of nightmare I experienced in Montenegro. NBA players spoke about being homesick in the bubble this past summer, but playing abroad is a whole different mental strength that you have to reach. What happens if you have a Paul George game 7 game against the Nuggets? In France, this type of game resulted in fans being so upset that they purchased you a ticket home and placed it on the windshield wiper of your car.

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Now onto Scotty Bamforth, another good friend of mine. Scott also passed through Montenegro, playing for Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, a EuroCup team and also the best team in Montenegro year in and year out. Scott had a very different journey to this top tier club. After finishing high school, like myself, he took the junior college route for one season before forming one of the best backcourts of all-time with future NBA All Star, Damian Lilliard. I have heard many hoopers say that the high-level European players have it easy, but in this business nothing is ever handed to you and everything is always earned. I’ve known Scotty for almost 15 years and I can tell you, you’ll never see a work ethic like his, best pure shooter I have ever seen with my own eyes. Leaving New Mexico he was told, he’s a 6’2, slow white guard he will never reach Division 1. He went to JUCO, was an All-American, now what? Then they said he will never succeed at Weber State. He only went on to become one of the best shooters in NCAA history. Then they said he cannot play high level professionally? After a few NBA workouts, Scotty started his European basketball career at Sevilla in the Spanish ACB, the second-best league in the world. His teammate? A young Kristaps Porzingis. He went on to play four more seasons in the Spanish ACB and established himself as one of the best scorers in the league. After a stints in Italy and Montenegro he is currently playing like DeAndre in the French Pro A league for Le Mans. Having seen his path, and adding in an Achilles injury as well as an ACL injury, how can you say he hasn’t earned every penny.
The Marathon Continues:
As far as myself  my marathon continues. Even at age 30, I am hungrier than ever to reach the higher leagues. My best basketball is still ahead of me. They say 30 is the new 20? I believe that. I had a career year at the age of 29, won an African continental title at 28 with my national team DR Congo. Slow grind they say. My success came slow, and is still coming slow. Every player peaks differently.
Both DeAndre and Scott are playing at levels I want to reach, but a marathon is about running and focusing on your own race. I always say never count another man’s pockets and I hold true to this. It would be easy to say, I trained with both guys every summer for many summers, I work just as hard, why am I not there? Another  beautiful part of the journey is being mature enough to be happy for your peers. We have almost all lived the same struggles; late payments, sleeping in an airport, language barriers, homesickness, depression, missed birthdays, lonely Christmases and New Years Eve alone in an apartment in Europe. I could go on. Everyone has their time, Brandon Robinson, one of the most skilled players I have ever played against. I have been playing against him professionally since 2013. We faced off once again last season in Argentina. Brandon in November 2020, after leading his team to the FIBA Americas Championship title was named MVP. But Brandon said he still reads until this day the contract offers he received in his email for barely minimum wage since he turned pro in 2011, out of  Division II school, Clayton State. He went from paying for his own tryout in the Canadian NBL to Rookie of the Year the same year? To stints in Puerto Rico, China, Chile, Germany, Canada, Argentina? A ten-year Pro? You can’t make this stuff up. You can never cheat the grind, it always gives you your dues.
What do we all have in common, Chastity, DeAndre, Scott, Brandon and I? We are all in our 30s. We have stayed true and disciplined to ourselves even when others counted us out. That is almost a combined 40 countries we have all travelled as journeymen, chasing this childhood dream.
Ageing like fine wine, in the prime of our careers, many more glasses of red wine at the five-star restaurant to come…

My name is Eric Kibi, I am professional basketball player. I have been playing professionally for the last nine years. But most of all I am also a blogger and journalist. I graduated with a mass communication degree and plan to use it to the full of my abilities. I have a huge passion for Africa, sports, health and fitness, music and more. I look forward to sharing it all with you through my blogs. I have been freelancing writing blogs for various sports websites and magazines since 2015 and look forward to continuing.



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