Former Northern Nasn and Norfolk State guard Michael Deloach
TARNOBREZG, POLAND - The road to the NBA isn't an easy one. But former Northern Nash and Norfolk State basketball star Michael Deloach was willing to take that road - even if it meant playing in Europe.
But playing professional basketball in Poland definitely wasn't on his radar after completing a 116-game college career that saw him score 1,796 points and finishing just ahead of NSU's most celebrated hoop alum - four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Bob Dandridge (Milwaukee, 1971; Washington, 1978).
However, a sudden mid-August phone call from his agent urging him to hop a plane to Poland put him on track to realize his dream. He was headed to Tarnobrezg, Poland - via a flight to Chicago and then a nine-hour, 7,000-mile non-stop ride to Europe's sixth largest country to begin his professional career.
"I had to drop everything. I had only two days to get there," said Deloach via a telephone interview via the Internet from his two-bedroom apartment provided by his team, Siarka Tarnobrezg. "There was so little time to say goodbye to my family and friends. It came as a shock, really."
The team had him on the floor playing the very day he arrived. Talk about earning his pay.
Siarka Tarnobrezg is a member of the Polish League that plays only 22 regular season games. It's a far cry from the NBA's grinding 82-game schedule.
"We only play one game a week, either Saturday or Sunday," said Deloach, who is one of five Americans on the team's 15-man roster. "If it's a TV game, it's on Sunday. We practice every day we don't play. Our coach does not speak English, so he has to use an interpreter to communicate to the Americans on the team."
The team is a local darling, despite not sporting a winning record (3-10 at this writing). The city, with about 30,000 people, pack their local 1,400-seat arena to see every home game.
At Norfolk State, the 2010 Intermediate Studies graduate was a prolific scorer playing the No. 2 guard and was a speed demon making drives to the basket. But at 6-foot and 175 pounds, NBA scouts had problems with his stature playing the No. 2 spot and passed on him in last summer's NBA Draft.
Now in Poland, he's trying to make the transition to point guard - his best option to possibly make an NBA team's roster. He's currently learning the point guard ropes from second-year starter Stanley Pringle, who played his college ball at Penn State. Deloach is getting around 16 minutes of playing time a game while averaging seven points a contest. He is one of the team's top shooters - canning nearly 54 percent of his field goals.
The Polish League only allows three Americans from a team on the court at any one time - one of the many quirky rules he's had to face. And fouls calls come hard - literally.
"You about have to tackle someone before a foul is whistled," said the two-time All-MEAC selection, who had a career-high 15 points in the second game of the season. "You can block the ball off the rim (a goal-tending call in the States), they are much stricter on calling traveling and you rarely see a charging call."
The League also uses the infamous red, white and blue ball (ABA devotees will remember it), which Deloach detests.
"I'll lose it at least 10-12 times even in practice," he said. "It's so slick and slippery. I hate it!"
But he has had to make adjustments to his everyday life off the court, too.
Along with the apartment and a comfortable five-figure salary, the team provides him with a car. Luckily for Deloach, unlike most of Europe, Poles drive on the right side of the road.
The Internet is a God-send for Deloach. Using programs like Skype, he's able to stay in touch with his family and friends from halfway around the world. And sites like ESPN.com and Yahoo.com keep him in touch with what's going on in the sports world in the U.S. He can even log onto a site like WHIG.com to check out tape-delayed broadcasts of the Twin County sports scene and his beloved Knights.
"I love it," Deloach said of cruising the Internet. "I don't know what I'd do without my computer."
Unlike in bigger cities like Warsaw and Krakow, there are no McDonald's or Burger Kings in Tarnobrezg. He relies on his limited cooking skills to get him by. The local fare is not quite to his liking.
"Most of the time I cook pasta and chicken and eat fruits and vegetables," Deloach said. "But I miss the food in the States. I could really go for a steak right now!"
League play will wind up in late March when he'll get to head back home to get ready for try-out camps and summer league ball.
"I really miss my family and friends being so far away, but getting to the NBA is my ultimate goal," he said. "I know this is the path I have to take to get there."