So…how’s your Turkish?

About 2 months ago, the flight I was on touched down into New York’s John F Kennedy Airport. While on the flight, I had been replaying In my mind the roughly 2 months I’d just spent in Turkey, and trying to figure out how I had gotten into the situation I was currently in; being sent home in the middle of a basketball season.

I had been playing for a team that was based in Izmir, the third largest city in all of Turkey. It was a beautiful place to live, complete with palm trees and ocean views everywhere. I had arrived to Turkey back in August excited about the upcoming season, as I knew it was a good team in one of the best leagues in the world I’d be playing for. 

The first week of practice quickly made me realize just how difficult playing there was going to be. After having only one day after arriving to get my wits about me, I was thrust right into the team’s double sessions. Each of our sessions during the day were at least 2-3 hours long, and were very running-drill heavy. By the end of the third day, between the extreme practices and still being much less than 100 percent because of the large time difference and travel, I ended up becoming severely dehydrated and had to sit out one of the practices. Thankfully, I was back to normal within a day or so, and with no time to spare – we had a preseason game against another Turkish team right at the end of my first week.

The game went quite well in the beginning. Our team jumped out to a quick lead, and seemed as though we could potentially run away with the game early. But as we got closer to halftime, the extreme practice schedule began to catch up with us, and the lead shrunk. That trend continued into the third quarter, where the other team was able to take a pretty sizable lead on us; one that we could not come back from. Blame it on tired legs, tired minds, or any other excuse you can think of related to fatigue, but we ended up getting losing by about 20 points to a team that was supposed to be roughly our same level.

Sometime during the game(I’m still not sure when), I managed to injure my bicep tendon, right up where it attaches to the shoulder joint. At first it was not too difficult to deal with, but over the next several days it started getting worse and worse. Within a week and a half or so, I was to the point where I could not even lift my left arm up to put my shirt on. But all the while, I had still been participating in every practice as well as playing in our preseason games. This was made all the more difficult, because in the first 3-4 weeks I was there the workload was as great as I’d ever experienced – I think we may have had 1 or possibly 2 full days off during that time frame, and almost all of the “on” days were either games or 2 sessions per day.

About a month in, we took a trip to Greece to play friendly games against a few teams there. As I had never been to Greece before, I welcomed the trip; both in hopes to explore the city of Athens a bit(the second of two cities we would travel to during the trip), as well as to get a bit of a break from the constant practices. When we arrived, I spoke with the General Manager of the team, to make sure he understood that I needed to see a doctor about my arm. I had brought this up to the team a few times before. Unfortunately though, as happens a lot to Americans playing in Europe, I was told they would set up a doctor appointment soon only to never have one actually set. This time though, I made sure he knew the seriousness of the situation.

I gutted my way through the two games in Greece, the first being in the small coastal town of Patras against a lower level Greek team, and the second being right in the middle of Athens against the Euroleague powerhouse team Olympiacos. The games went as most would probably expect, with us winning the first fairly easily, and losing against Olympiacos by roughly 20. My shoulder seemed to get slightly better in the second game, but I think that was more a product of having increased adrenaline since we were playing one of the best teams in all of Europe. After the game, it felt essentially the same as it had before the trip started.

After arriving home from Greece, I was finally able to see a doctor – the team set up an appointment with a doctor who was referred to as the “best shoulder specialist in all of Izmir”. His initial diagnosis – a torn labrum. This was worst case scenario based on my symptoms but was also what I had self-diagnosed; I had torn that same labrum 10 years earlier while at UConn, and the symptoms were almost identical(though this time was considerably more painful). An MRI was set up to be sure, but both myself and the doctor feared the worst. 

Thankfully, when the results came back it showed that it was not a torn labrum, but in fact a bad case of biceps tendonitis. I was supposed to have a recheck with the shoulder specialist, but instead I was given the news by one of the other doctors affiliated with the team – a doctor who 2 weeks earlier had taken 15 seconds to look at my shoulder, determined I was “fine”, and then told me to keep practicing. I was never able to speak to the specialist again. The team told me that they tried several times to reach out to the doctor but were unable to. Whether this is actually the case or not, I’m not sure, but I would hope they were being truthful to me.

The treatment that the team and the doctor determined for me, was to sit out for 3 days while doing shoulder cuff strength exercises, and then get back into normal activity. My shoulder did improve slightly during this 3 day period, but not anything close to the level needed in order for me to do the things I normally did on the court. We played our last preseason game a short time later, and I was once again less than effective compared to what I was usually able to accomplish on the floor.

Following a week’s worth of practices after that final preseason game, we played our first regular season game; a home game against one of our team’s rivals in the Turkish League. The game started off great both from a personal and team standpoint, with us jumping out to an early lead, and me scoring 4 of the first 8 points of the game. After that however, I didn’t score again, and things started to go downhill for the team as well. We ended up losing the game by double digits, which was not at all expected. While walking home from the game, I placed a phone call to one of my agents, letting him know what the situation was both from a team standpoint, as well as my health. We both agreed to continue to give things a chance with the team, before possibly looking at other options. What I didn’t know though, was that it wasn’t going to be my choice.

The next day, the General Manager called me into his office after our morning practice session. When I sat down, the other people in the office left, and the door was shut behind them. 

Before the GM could even get up from his desk and started to speak, I said “I know what this is haha…you’re bringing someone else in to replace me, aren’t you?”

He sat down in the chair next to me, and shook his head yes.

He explained to me that the coach had decided he wanted to bring in a different player, and the new player was to arrive within the next 48 hours. Given that I had not been overly happy with the situation there, this was not as difficult a conversation as it otherwise would have been had things been going to plan. 

I ended up staying in Turkey for about the next week, while we attempted to work out a buyout of my contract with the club. Even though in my contract it was clearly spelled out that all of my money was to be guaranteed to me regardless of what happens throughout the season, the team did not want to pay me all the money I was due. Unfortunately, because they held my letter of clearance(which allows me to go play for another team), and because they technically didn’t release me, I had to settle for a deal that was nothing close to what I was actually due. But, I needed to get home to see my doctor before he left for several weeks.

On October 19th I said goodbye to Izmir, and boarded a Turkish Airlines flight back home to New York. I had no clue what the future held for me at the time, and even as I sit here writing this now from all the way on the other side of the world, I could’ve never imagined that this is the place I would end up. But just as it has many times before in my career, a single unexpected phone call after being at home for two months completely changed my path.

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