Adam Sollazzo isn’t taking anything for granted these days, not even 5,000 miles from home.
The former East Tennessee State point guard is a few weeks into his rookie season of professional basketball. He’s playing for CSS Bega Timisoara in Romania, and he’s thankful for the opportunity.
“Every morning I wake up and feel blessed to have basketball as my job,” Sollazzo said. “This is what I’ve dreamed of my whole life.”
In his first preseason game, Sollazzo had 13 points — including a dunk — along with six rebounds and five assists. He played only 25 minutes after being saddled with foul trouble while trying to adjust to new defensive rules.
Adjusting to international rules was just part of the transition.
“It took some time getting used to everything, being seven hours ahead of my family and friends,” Sollazzo said. “But now I’m really enjoying the lifestyle and culture. The food has been amazing, and they give you tons of it.”
It didn’t take long for Sollazzo to figure out his favorite Romanian food. It’s a desert called “papanasi.”
“It’s like a doughnut with fruit sauce,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Sollazzo is one of three Americans on his team, joining South Carolina’s Dominique Archie and Arkansas’ Delvon Johnson.
“He was on the team when we beat them,” Sollazzo said of Johnson, a former Arkansas center.
Indeed, Johnson had five points for Arkansas when ETSU defeated the Razorbacks, 94-85, in 2009. Sollazzo played four scoreless minutes that night.
At least one familiar face will be wearing an opposition uniform. Ronnell Wooten, the former Kennesaw State standout, plays for Craiova in Romanian Division A. There are 59 Americans playing in Romania’s three divisions of pro basketball.
After graduating ETSU with honors and a 3.72 GPA, Sollazzo had brief tryouts with a couple of NBA teams, and they left him encouraged.
“My ultimate goal is to someday play in the NBA,” he said. “After my Atlanta Hawks workout, I realized that dream can come true. Four guys from that workout were drafted and I felt my level of play was the same.
“I’m willing to work harder to reach my dream.”
At least for his season, Sollazzo will concentrate on helping his Timisoara team win in Romania’s Division A. The regular season begins this week. As he looks forward to his career, he can’t help but think back to his ETSU days.
“I just want to thank everyone in the Johnson City area for giving me an amazing four years that I will never forget,” he said. “If anyone’s ever in Romania, give me a call.”
While Romania isn’t exactly a basketball hotbed, it has produced two NBA players. Gheorge Muresan, one of the tallest players (7-foot-7) to ever play in the NBA, and former Tennessee star Ernie Grunfeld are the only two Romanian-born players to ever be in the NBA.
Sollazzo is just one of several former ETSU players playing in the professional ranks.
— Dillion Sneed is back in Japan playing for the Iwate Big Bulls. The globe-trotting Sneed has also played in France, Holland, Italy, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Qatar and Portugal.
— Micah Williams just signed to play for the Sheffield Sharks in England after spending last season in Japan.
— Isiah Brown recently left for Sweden for his first try at pro basketball.
— Mike Smith is reportedly back in Germany for his second season with Eisbaren Bremerhaven.
— Justin Tubbs is playing for Maccabai KB in Israel this season. He won the dunk contest in the Georgian Super League last year.
— Greg Hamlin is joining Tubbs at Maccabai KB. He played in Malta last season.
— Kevin Tiggs will play in Dijon, France, this season after playing in Ukraine and Cyprus.
— Jerald Fields is still going strong. He’ll play in Finland for Kataja this season. He has played in France and Belgium in addition to being with two other teams in Finland.
— Courtney Pigram could wind up back in the NBA Developmental League this season, where he averaged 12 points a game last season. He’s played overseas in China and Spain.
— Eryk Thomas played the past three year in Finland, Lebanon and Ireland.
— Siarre Evans, the former Lady Bucs star, will play in Finland this year after playing in Luxembourg and Greece the past two seasons. She once scored 50 points in a game as a rookie in Luxembourg.