From DIII to Overseas Pro
Not too many players go from playing NCAA Division III to playing professional basketball at a high level overseas. David Haughton is that exception and what makes his hoop journey even more remarkable, he is only 6’5 playing the center position. (Most centers are 6’10 and above) Follow his entry as he takes you through his first few years of professional basketball in Estonia and Greece.
(Edited by Mac Casey)
Hello everyone. My name is David Haughton, I’m a 25 year old Power Forward/Center from New York, and this is my third year as a professional basketball player. I played two years in Estonia and am currently playing in Greece A1 for Trikala. After playing Division III basketball for four years, my pro career began with Tarvas, a professional club based in Estonia. Joining Tarvas was one of the most difficult experiences in my basketball career, for many reasons that I’d like to share with you here.
First, adjusting to the time difference was not easy. Being seven hours ahead of everyone in NY meant I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until almost 4:00 or 5:00am. What made it even worse was that I had to wake up by 8:45am to make 10:00am morning practices. Once I arrived at practice, elements of culture shock set in. In the beginning I had no idea what people were saying. I just remembered feeling a lot of eyes on me from every direction. Being there in the beginning made me realize all the little things that can make a big difference. In the states I could crack jokes with people that would usually have them in tears. But when people don’t even realize you’re trying to be funny, instead of laughs you get clueless looks in return. Even the slang I used would have to come with the definition, so that those around me could understand. Eventually though, I started speaking up more to my teammates, and started to learn more about them and their culture, which is pretty awesome. I even got to learn how to speak their language (Estonian), which is beautiful!
My first games there were the hardest. I would become so nervous, not because I was scared but because I still couldn’t believe that this was real… so I guess you could say I was anxious. I went from playing with an American team the night before to now playing with a European team. I was suppose to be back in N.Y. the day I had my first game. That didn’t happen because the general manager of Tarvas, Madis Sumanov, saw the way I played against his team while I was on tour with the American team. With that being said, he was one of the reasons as to why I was given an opportunity. The crazy thing is that while I was on tour, I told myself that it would be cool to play in this gym for a season. It was huge, great atmosphere, bright lights, and it just looked welcoming. The style of play in Europe is much different than what we see in the U.S. I would get called for so many travels, or somebody would slap the ball off the rim after I shot it. When that would happen I’d get a dumb look on my face, because who knew that was even allowed? Sometimes it was hard for me to understand the coach during timeouts due to the language barrier, but whenever he asked me if I understood I’d just nod my head and say yes. Usually I would just ask the players what he meant, but eventually I got used to it and was able to better understand.
Other things that were tough for me to go through in the beginning included being away from family and friends. Missing events, graduations, my mom’s and everyone else’s birthdays would remind me of home. I even missed Thanksgiving and Christmas. These were some of the hardest things to miss out on in life, but sacrifice always comes with the game.
Two months into the season a funny thing happened. My coach started calling me Kyle Hines, and while I had no idea who this person was at the time, come to find out we were both the same height and playing the same position. Finding out more about a peer like Kyle, playing in the Euroleague with me, was a huge eye opener and also motivated me at the same time to press on. I wanted to understand how far I could go here. Playing against bigger players than me was always fun, because I’ve always loved a challenge, especially after a long week of practice and training. At the end of that week, I can never wait to see how much stronger I’ve become. Games were exciting, especially the home games, where the fans were awesome and loud and, win or lose, always showed love after the games.
After playing those two years in Estonia I returned to the team for a third season. Pre-season was going great, my team was brand new except for one player, and we all bonded quickly. We were winning games and having fun while doing it. But a few days before the regular season started my agent called me and told me that a team from Greece A1 division, one of the most competitive leagues in Europe, wanted me. I think most people in my position would have said yes without any hesitation! But it took me almost an hour to decide despite being given just 10 minutes. So many things were racing through my mind. I was making phone calls, and meeting up with people. The reason why it was so hard for me to say yes right away was because the life I built in Estonia became a second home for me. Everybody showed love and respect towards me, they didn’t look at me as only a basketball player but also a person with great morals and work ethic. My teammates were my brothers, I was close with the coaching staff and manager. There was a bond that was built. But I had to remember why I came here in the first place and what my goals were. My mom always told me that change was hard, but it’s what makes a person grow at the same time.
After agreeing to play in Greece, I was still able to join my Tarvas teammates for one more official game in Estonia. We won that game and I left my mark, finishing with 23 points and 13 rebounds. I found out on the bus that my flight would leave the very next day, and my heart dropped into my stomach. It was bitter sweet moment leaving the team the next day.
I arrived in Greece on a Wednesday, and the first thing I noticed was the huge change in weather. I was sweating everywhere. The trip from the airport to the gym was about 4 hours and I joined practiced the same day I got there, only to encounter yet another whole new style of play. The first official game for this league was on Saturday, which meant I had to adjust quickly and memorize the plays in a short time period. The first game we played was against Aris, one of the top 5 teams in this league. Before the game even began though, our bus was escorted by police cars (front and back), which was totally new to me. It felt like some type of top flight security mission, lol! In my head I’m like, “oh shoot is this for real?!” Warming up for the game and playing in an arena for the first time was mind blowing, especially going from about 1,000 fans to playing in front of almost 5,000 fans. The difference had me at a loss for words, with different emotions running through my whole body. Although we lost the game by 10 it was a great experience. I finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds, and I’m now ready to become even better! Thanks for reading, until next time everyone.