How Hard is Overseas Basketball? 
Three strikes and you’re out.
While that catchline may be synonymous with baseball, in overseas basketball the saying carries just as much weight.
Whether playing near the Caribbean coastline or on the Mediterranean Sea, remember that thought before you board the plane:
Play well within the opening three games or you’re gone.
After years of competing and watching my fellow peers, this simply becomes a part of the expectation in professional basketball.
For many players though - especially rookies - they are oblivious to this reality and are shocked when pro teams send them home in less than a week.
So read on if you want to get ahead of the pack and understand the expectations before you hit the hardwood.
think like a overseas basketball player: Every day is an elimination-game
Here’s the deal:
If you want to succeed in overseas basketball, you must always be ready because it moves fast.
I’m not speaking of the actual game (although that also applies) but rather the expectation of having to perform immediately.
It’s not uncommon for teams to:
…all within the span of a few days during the season.
Once there, it’s on.
There is no warm-up.
There is no time to reflect on your hoop dreams.
There is no grey area for how you’re playing.
You either get results (i.e. wins & stats) or you don’t - in which case you’re cut.
That means players are expected to play under any circumstance imaginable:
Terrible gym conditions (i.e. dusty, cold or slippery gym floors, concrete flooring etc.)
Hostile fans (I’ve seen many games end in fan-player brawls, flare guns shot, tear gas sprayed, gang members running on the court sucker-punching a player because they did something they didn’t like. Can you play through that?)
Without knowing the plays
Without practicing with your teammates
Without speaking the language or having an interpreter available
Without proper medical treatment or training staff available
Refs deliberately favoring locals (do not expect a single call to go your way. Refs are cursed at, hit and even stalked post-game in overseas basketball. I’ve had many openly tell me they’re scared to make a call against certain home teams because of this)
Literally off the plane (I once saw an import arrive from a 10-hour flight, drive 3 hours to our game and check in mid-way through the 2nd quarter of a playoff semi-finals game as soon as he had his uniform. Get the job done anyway)
Expectations are huge and there are no excuses.
Burn that into your brain now.
This holds especially true for newcomers attempting to break into the game as thousands of players are constantly trying to get their foot in the door.
Overseas Basketball: how do you know if you’re good enough?
With such a difficult work environment, it’s important to understand how you’ll be evaluated.
In the bigger picture - meaning over the course of the season or your career - a newly signed player will typically be graded on three factors:
How Newly Signed Overseas Basketball Players are Evaluated in the big picture
Try to check all of these boxes and you’ll be fine.
But also remember a few key points:
Team Success: Just because you are winning doesn’t mean you are safe. How you win is important.
Personal Success: “Good” success doesn’t necessarily mean scoring a lot of points - although it can. This will depend on the league and team you’re on (more on this later).
Team Revenue: Many professional basketball teams - especially in the lower or middle-tier levels - do not make a profit at all. Usually they are passion projects, political platforms or vanity projects. But if you are a fan favourite or “box office” then all the better.
It gets deeper though:
If personal stats, team success and club revenue is how you are evaluated in the bigger picture, then the smaller picture looks like this:
Unlike in the NBA where players sign multi-year contracts for guaranteed money, that is almost never the case in overseas basketball.
That means players must bring their A-Game every night or run the high-risk of getting sent home which could result in:
Losing out on money
Damaging your reputation (regardless of whether you getting cut was right or wrong)
Damaging future career opportunities
Impacting your confidence moving forward
When you were playing on your high school, university, semi-pro or travel basketball team, you likely had a stretch where you struggled.
Maybe it was a shooting slump.
Maybe you got benched for a while.
Regardless of the situation, chances are, you bent - i.e. got benched - but didn’t break - i.e. got cut.
It is an entirely different beast.
There is no bending.
They just break.
How to deal with teams as a professional basketball player
With an overcrowded market and such high performance expectations for imports, being cut from teams is as common as a lay-up.
It happens to everyone.
And often times, it is entirely out of your control and - honestly - unjustified.
I have seen many players average 20-10 (points, rebounds/assists) and be sent home without explanation.
Just two seasons ago, my club went on a massive nine-game winning streak while defeating the defending champions in a crazy come-from-behind buzzer-beating win.
The day after, our starting point guard was sent home.
(The opener of this video is the buzzer-beater in case you were curious…)
They said he wasn’t scoring enough and they wanted to go in a new direction.
But when getting cut happens - because it will if you are challenging yourself to get to better leagues - don’t go to social media to bash the coach.
Don’t blast the organization.
Remember, this is professional basketball and this is its expectations.
It’s not personal.
And it’s not considered out of line.
So here’s the bottom line:
This unknown gem of pro basketball - meaning its cut throat nature - is one of the main reasons why countless hopeful pro players quit on their hoop dreams within the first few years.
For many people the expectations, disappointment and the financial struggle (to begin) are just too much to bear.
But you must be able to take it all in stride and understand your greater vision and career purpose.
If you can do so and understand this before you begin your journey, having to deal with these circumstances won’t be nearly as difficult.
5 keys to remember when asking yourself, “How Hard is Overseas Basketball?”:
Everyday is Game 7: You must lead by example as an import and be the best player everyday
Always be ready: You have to immediately perform and be ready no matter the circumstance
You have three chances at a new pro club: Understand the professional team owner’s expectations from the start
Team Success, Personal stats, Team Revenue (in that order): Provide all three for a long career
Everyone gets cut: Don’t take it personal, don’t burn the bridge and don’t get discouraged from it
If you found this helpful, comment, like and share to anyone who would benefit from reading more about the mindset coming from veteran professional basketball players.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about how hard it is to play overseas basketball?
Comment below and let me know!
Jose Colorado is a five-year professional basketball player helping others achieve their goals of pro basketball through a proven, research-based approach.