Updated: Oct 18, 2021
This piece was written by Jamal Clay, a frequent contributor of Globally Ballin and the founder of "The Athletes Forum"
After playing basketball for 4 years at the University of Maine, I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do. Didn’t have my breakout season for hoops until my final year at Maine so when my season was over, I was being recruited by tons of agents to continue playing basketball at the next level. My breakout season following my senior year really guided me to continue playing basketball at a professional level. Signed with an agency and went down to Philly for a pro camp before eventually signing with my first pro team in Turkey. Obviously for me, the goal was to reach the NBA, but it was difficult for me. I played a traditional “big man” at the college level and the only way my game was going to be translated to the league was to work on my guard skills. I needed time. So, going overseas was the best option for me to develop as a player at completely different positions. I worked on my shooting, my ball-handling, and all aspects of a 1-3 position player to be able to compete at the professional level consistently. It wasn’t a drastic change for me as I always was capable of playing PG - C but I had to hone in on my skills at the guard-forward position to truly make an impact at the next level. That’s what carried me to my first pro contract in Turkey.
My first year overseas was a huge culture shock. Coming from America and never leaving the continent in my life, to heading to a Muslim country on the other side of the world was very different! I never hesitated tho. I was actually kinda excited to learn new things and take my skills to be tested at the next level. Ya know, I worked basically half my life getting to where I am now, and I wasn’t going to let 3,000 miles be the factor of change my whole aspect of the game. Luckily, I immersed myself in the culture and realized that I wasn’t home anymore. I didn’t have my friends and family to be right there with me like I did in Maine. I had to adapt to the “fight or flight” mode knowing how much time and effort I put into this game. I completely dedicated my life to this sport and being away from friends or family was not going to stop me from doing what I love. Over the years of bouncing around from country to country, I started to learn how different other people lived and how they look at life. I appreciated more how different people were around the world and l learned how much better things were in different countries. Living, healthcare, treatment of other human beings, etc... All different good or bad and it kinda opened my eyes with how life was outside the USA.
It’s now been 10 YEARS since I’ve been a professional basketball player. 1 year off for rehab of my knee surgery but 9 years on a professional team in Europe. And to be honest, I love it even more now than I did during my first year. Life has been crazy since becoming a pro athlete. I feel like I’m looked at a little different from most people in Maine. Almost as a public figure if you will. Not many people from Maine have continued their basketball careers to the professional level and I’ve done it to this point for 10 years now. It still amazes me to this day. I started playing basketball in 7th grade (late to the game... I know) and if you do the math, I’ve been playing professional hoops almost more than I did when I even started to play basketball. It’s crazy! 7-8th middle school hoops (2years) 9-12 grade in HS (4 years) and freshman through senior year in college (4 years). That’s insane to think about. My journey has been completely different from that of many other people.
Anyway, my life has an adult whos’ expertise with basketball has given me the plate form to come home and use my name to help kids and programs all over the state. I love giving back. Maine is a big deal to me and if I can be a small part of taking Maine basketball, in general, to the next level or even giving kids hope that it IS possible to get to the highest level, then that’s what my goal is when I return home every summer. So I do the interviews, I do the podcasts, the basketball camps, coach AAU, train kids individually, do speeches. Whatever it takes to either spread the mindset of hard work or show them what it takes to exceed in the game of basketball.
What I’ve learned most about living abroad is how different countries work compared to my own. Politics are different, food is different, a lot of people’s thought processes are different, and I love the differences showing how diverse the world is. If there was advice I’d give to fellow Americans, it’s to open up your comfort zone to other places so you can learn a thing or two about how the US is not the center of the world lol a lot of countries do things a lot better than America as well as the other way around. But living in a different culture and seeing first-hand how different the world is, has been a fantastically eye-opening for me.
Going into my 9th-year in playing professional basketball, I have earned my “veteran status” badge for all the foreigners playing overseas haha. My experience has ranged all over Europe at many different levels throughout the past 10 years. This year, after coming from Latvia then ending in Russia, my agent and I have been focusing on teams that would be the best fit for me according to position and the league in which the opportunity is.
This early summer I have signed with the Lithuanian team, BC Lietkabelis , who has been a high-level basketball team in the European scene for years. We will be playing in two different leagues this year, EuroCup (Known to be the 2nd best basketball league in Europe only under EuroLeague ) and the LKL (which is the top league in Lithuania). I will be going against high-level teams from all over Europe as well as in our domestic league in Lithuania. The competition is going to be phenomenal and the exposure for myself and our team is huge to showcase ourselves. I’m highly looking forward to getting after it with my new team in Lithuania. I couldn’t be happier signing with Lietkabelis. I’ve heard so much about the team and the city of Panevėžys. Being a part of the very prestigious Lithuanian team and fighting for medals is an honor, to say the least. I’m going to be a fighter for the team and the city!
Never would I have ever thought growing up in Auburn, Maine that I would have made an amazing career out of playing basketball. Not many Mainers have become professional athletes and I take great honor that I have had the opportunity to continue to do what I love for so long. I think one of the best things about it is, IT'S POSSIBLE, and showing players at all levels that are from Maine, that it can be done. I blessed to be a part of the steppingstone for Maine athletes.
I’m excited for my 9th year. I truly am. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed but I also deeply care about how every team I play for does. I’m a winner. I fight. And I’m looking forward to fighting alongside Lietkabelis in all of our games coming this fall. Excited to get back to work on the court!! Will be seeing my new basketball family very soon!