Korey Billbury / Contributor
This is a business, be a pro. Remember that young fella, it’ll come in handy later. There’s a sad reality I have the responsibility to share with you dreamers. College careers don’t always mean a ticket to the NBA. Now of course, some of you probably knew that. But as my wife tends to tell me, there’s a difference between listening to reply and listening to understand. So with that said, let’s go, follow me.
"In the words of my grandfather, the game doesn’t owe you a red cent.”
More than 1,800 points, 800 rebounds, 200 steals and all-conference selections. Need I go on? You get the picture. What seems to be a great college career. Undoubtedly, I wanted my shot at the League. After all, it’s what the game owes me right? Wrong. In the words of my grandfather, "the game doesn’t owe you a red cent.” I’m guessing that means a penny? I’ll stick with that. The summer after my senior season at VCU, I had my share of NBA workouts and interest, but ultimately missed the bullet train to an NBA roster spot. Defeat doesn’t began to describe the shadow that will stand over me for the months to come. But, with two children, a wife and a mother to take care of, I didn’t have the choice to sulk. I had to keep moving. Right turn.
Here comes the most inglorious and glorious part of professional sports, playing overseas. To many young kids, you hear the tall tales of guys making it rich across the waters. The tax cuts, lavish lifestyle, royal treatment, etc. Let me be the first to tell you, it's all a lie. That’s right. A big bold face lie. It doesn’t happen like that. In fact, it’s almost the complete opposite for rookies. Let me give you an insight to my track. I started off in Italy. Recanati, Italy, to be exact. A small city of a few thousand with a port about 15 minutes down the road. Downright beautiful piece of land. Rolling hills, countryside houses with sunflowers for miles (or kilometers shall I say). Absolutely without question one of the most eye appealing countries you’ll ever visit if you’re fortunate. Okay, those are the positives. After all, I didn’t come here for vacation. It’s time for business. First practice rolls around. I’m a fresh-faced 23-year-old rookie with enough confidence to fill the stat sheet. New team looks great, love the coach, but here comes the front office staff. Left turn.
No one told me they didn’t take a liking to rookies around here. I imagined it to be similar to the NBA, welcomed with excitement. I make it to the first couple weeks of practice and our first exhibition game. I’m doing great. The second exhibition game is underway and I play incredibly awful. I go 1-of-15 from the field with only six points and four rebounds. I could feel the eyes of our general manager cutting through my skin from the bleachers. On the ride home I get a text message that appears to be an excerpt from a Harry Potter book it was so long. It was my agent. “The general manager is very disappointed in how you played tonight. He may not make any changes now, but you have to pick it up next game.” I 100 percent agreed with him not for the sake of keeping my job, simply because I love the game. Who wants to play bad? Exhibition games three through nine fly by. I’m still playing very well. I bounced back great after the second match. I’m at about 17 points and seven rebounds per game now. Oh, but there’s one big exception. We are getting our behinds handed to us on a silver platter! Losing by at least double digits every contest. And for that very reason I was released. This is a business. Downhill spiral.
"One moment you’re on the ground, the next you’re in the air. Literally. We are back on the road again."
Here I am, headed back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, after a short three month preseason in Italy. It feels awful. The kind of feeling you get after losing the game by a buzzer beater. Complete letdown. I sit at home for six weeks with no calls. Will I ever play this game again? Did it end that quick? God was on my side. I get a call from my agent in early December. “There’s a job in Belgium, first division.” I pack my bags and I’m headed there within the next two days. Tides can turn that quick. One moment you’re on the ground, the next you’re in the air. Literally. We are back on the road again.
I land in Belgium. Such a beautiful place. The people are friendly, speak English and genuinely go out of their way to help you. Facilities are nice and clean. Most importantly they have American food! The Lueven Bears have a young team, young coaches and more Americans on the squad. The picture seems almost too good to be true. It was. The business side of the deal was pretty bad. I had no car, forcing me to walk 30 minutes in freezing weather twice a day to practice. No washer or dryer, no European number, etc. Things that were all agreed upon in my contract. Oh, on top of that my “apartment” was literally a room equipped with a broken heater and hot water that ran no longer than five minutes. But here’s the catch! You are still expected to perform at a high level, or guess what? You will be on the first flight back to the U.S. The season is came and went, I am back in America now. Although we didn't win any championships, I finished averaging 11 points and 3 rebounds per game. I learned so much from my time in Belgium and now have another shot at the NBA this summer. Straight lane.
The wonderful world of professional sports! It’s a beautiful thing. Don’t let the things I mentioned discourage you.
There are many fairy tales and many nightmares in the business. Everyone’s path is different. That is a fact. So when your road blocks and sharp turns come, keep driving, even if it means to another country! Focus on your destination, not the things you pass by on the way. Oh yeah, remember. This is a business, be a pro!
You can follow Korey's adventures on Twitter.
June 19, 2017