Since playing basketball for Oakland University, Reggie Hamilton, pictured with the ball, has played professionally in multiple countries.

Since playing basketball for Oakland University, Reggie Hamilton, pictured with the ball, has played professionally in multiple countries.

Photo provided by Reggie Hamilton


Americans in Europe

Former OU hoops players reflect on playing professionally in Europe

By: Mark Vest | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published July 27, 2018

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When people think of professional basketball, the NBA is likely the first thing that comes to mind.

However, some players who have had success at the NCAA level have found that there are other viable options, including playing in Europe.

Some European countries have their own professional leagues, and it’s not unusual to find American-born players on their rosters.

Two players who have played professionally in Europe are Corey Petros and Reggie Hamilton, both of whom played at the NCAA Division I level for Oakland University.

 

Hamilton’s story

After leading the NCAA in scoring his senior season at Oakland in 2011-12, Hamilton agreed to play for Victoria Libertas Pesaro, which is a team located in Italy.

After his arrival, he was approached by a fan who helped him quickly learn one of the country’s customs.

“The very first person who approached me was a male,” Hamilton said. “In the Italian culture, the double kiss on the cheek thing, that’s normal with them. It caught me off guard because I wasn’t aware of the culture. … That was the very first interaction that I had getting off the plane.”

According to Hamilton, there was a lot of history for the team he was playing for, and “they took their basketball extremely serious.”

Aside from an unexpected kiss, he was also greeted by other fans after his arrival in Italy.

“At that point, I was just excited,” Hamilton said. “Like, ‘Man, these people love me. This is a great feeling. Like, I’m loved already.’ And now looking back, I should (have) been thinking like, ‘Oh man, the pressure. They expect greatness out of me right away.’”

What Hamilton discovered is that “over there, like, you’re their version of (an) NBA player.”

That kind of status can have its perks. Hamilton was given a Mercedes-Benz and moved into a condominium located on a beach.

However, being the equivalent of an NBA star is something that “could be good, and it could be bad.”

Hamilton recalled that, “I had to, like, turn off my comments section on Facebook because a lot of fans, even the nice ones, it was just crazy. I would get bombarded with messages on my Facebook every day.”

Hamilton learned that, as is the case in the United States, fan support can be a fickle thing.

“At times, it became stressful,” Hamilton said. “I was putting a lot (of) pressure on myself to perform well. … I wanted to make these people happy. … They see Americans like, ‘OK, you’re from America, you’re the superstar, get off the plane and start with 30 points right away.’ They don’t care about any adjustments that you have to do or anything like that.”

After the “tough adjustment” Hamilton went through, he eventually ended up moving on to play for other teams, including one in Japan.

Although Italy has some good things going for it, including having pizza that “nothing compares to,” Hamilton said he loved the Japanese culture, and that it was his “favorite experience as far as sharing a culture outside of the U.S.”

When asked what Japan was like, Hamilton said “very disciplined.”

“When it came to the elders, the respect level was high,” he said. “I remember every time we had a practice, whenever the coach would walk in the gym, every basketball would stop dribbling. No one would be shooting anymore. Everyone would bow to the coach. … I think that’s a lost art in America. I don’t think we respect the people who paved the way for us as much anymore.”

Although Hamilton worked as a graduate assistant for Oakland’s men’s basketball team last season, he said he’s been “training to maybe head back overseas.”

Wherever he goes from here, the Chicago-area native has already had some uncommon journeys.

“There’s not a lot (of) people that make it out (of) there and get to go do the things that I’ve done,” Hamilton said. “So, I’m truly, truly thankful.”

 

Petros’ story

The Utica Eisenhower graduate led the Horizon League in rebounding in both his junior and senior seasons at Oakland. After his senior season in 2014-15, Petros knew he was going to get to play professionally, and that it was just a matter of where.

After he got an offer from a team called Rilski Sportist Samokov in Bulgaria, Petros decided to take it.

And although he thought it was the best choice basketball-wise, as it turned out, there were also other perks associated with going to Bulgaria.

“It was a beautiful country,” Petros said. “I was in a really small town. You could walk from one town to the other in 15 minutes. It was a really cool experience. … I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was kind (of) blown away by the beauty of it.”

Although Petros described living in Bulgaria as a “culture shock,” having some American teammates with him helped make his transition easier. And because he and his teammates did things together, Petros said he didn’t need to go anywhere by himself.

He had his own apartment and shared a vehicle with teammates.

And although Petros said that the food in Bulgaria is good and that the people are “super nice,” living there “was a completely different lifestyle change.”

“In America, it’s so fast paced,” Petros said. “They’re so much slower paced (in Bulgaria). So, I think they value time a little differently than we do in America. That was something I had to get used to.”

As for the main reason he was in Bulgaria, Petros said he thought he had a good year for his team and adjusted pretty well. He equated the style of play to “like a high Big Ten, ACC or Big East kind (of) level.”

Although some may fixate solely on the NBA, Petros thinks a lot of players who have played overseas understand the value of it.

“For one, when you’re the American over there, you’re usually one of the main players; you’re usually one of the main starters,” Petros said. “Two, it gives you a lot more exposure, a lot more experience than you would sitting on (a) bench somewhere in the NBA, if you’d be able to make (a) team. And the money’s always good there as well. All in all, I think it’s a good alternative.”

After playing one season in Bulgaria, Petros decided to return to Michigan. He wanted to “settle down” and marry his girlfriend at the time and become a financial adviser.

The world isn’t exactly full of people who can say that they had the opportunity to travel to Europe and get paid to play basketball.

Petros is one who can say he has, and the chance he had to do so doesn’t seem to be something he has taken for granted.

“Having the opportunity was a blessing,” he said. “That was my goal as a young boy: to play professional basketball.”

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