Isiah Brown is living his dream of playing professional basketball. He just had to travel a long way to do it.
Brown is one of several former East Tennessee State basketball players continuing their careers in foreign lands, playing in Turkey for the Istanbul Technical University team.
“It’s just a great opportunity to do what you love,” Brown said.
Brown just began his second season as a pro, having averaged 14.2 points a game in Sweden last year.
Just call these ex-Bucs the real globetrotters.
Adam Sollazzo is playing this season in Italy, while Dillion Sneed is in Japan, Mike Smith is in Belgium and Justin Tubbs will play in Canada. Petras Balocka — remember him? — is playing in Austria. Balocka was at ETSU one year before transferring to Hawaii.
Other than the obvious adjustments of language, food and culture, Brown said getting used to the different style of play on the basketball court has been a challenge.
“The Turkish Basketball League is extremely tough,” Brown said. “It’s more physical than how European basketball is typically played. Usually in Europe it’s more finesse or skill. The refs call things differently here. Americans have to adjust to the calls the quickest. Traveling is the most common call.”
Sollazzo, has learned a thing or two about traveling himself — and not the kind that took him to Italy. He has discovered that one of his best moves at ETSU, a driving spin to the hoop, is frowned upon in Italy.
“Unfortunately, my trademark spin move is illegal here and a travel, so I’m trying to work on new aspects of my game,” said Sollazzo, who plays for Ravenna, a city in the northeastern part of the country.
Sollazzo, a point guard at ETSU, has been playing a little more at the shooting guard spot. He recently went 4 for 6 from 3-point range in a game. He averaged 19 points a game last season while playing in Germany.
“I’m working on becoming a great shooter,” he said.
Most American players have to overcome the language barrier, but Sollazzo — the first American to play for his team — has found another way to communicate.
“We’ve been using our hands to talk like true Italians,” he said.
One of Brown’s best friends, Tubbs, will be leaving shortly for Canada to play for the Ottawa Sky Hawks. Tubbs played in Israel last year after spending the year before in the former Soviet state of Georgia.
“It’s a great experience for me so far and I wouldn’t trade it for much,” Tubbs said of his travels to foreign lands. “My game has changed a whole lot since college. I’m forced to handle the ball a lot more than I used to for the Bucs.”
Tubbs, an acrobatic guard who came to ETSU after transferring from Alabama, made a few national highlight shows while at ETSU with his 360-degree dunks.
Sneed, who can be considered the “old pro” of the group, is in the midst of his eighth season playing overseas. He’s in his fourth year in Japan, where he has become quite a star.
Sneed plays for Osaka Evessa in Japan’s second-largest city and was the leading vote getter on the East team last year for the country’s all-star game. He was his team’s leading scorer last season and has won a league championship and two regular-season titles while in Japan.
“My game’s pretty much the same as it was at ETSU — just a hard worker — but I just have more skills now than before,” he said.
The most memorable part of Sneed’s game while he was at ETSU was his thundering dunks that would leave the basket shaking for a while. The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder has continued that kind of play as a pro.
Along the way, Sneed, who has also played in Portgual, France and Argentina, has carved out quite a niche in Japan.
“I have four teammates from last year who signed with me here and I’m pretty much used to the league and the culture here, so there’s no real adjustment anymore,” he said.
Smith, the Atlantic Sun Conference’s player of the year in 2011, averaged 8.3 points a game as a rookie in Germany two years ago. Last season he was drafted by Iowa in the NBA Developmental League only to suffer a season-ending broken wrist in his first practice.
Brown says he’s quick to point out where he played in college to anyone who asks.
“It’s great to do well,” he said. “And then the competition is curious. ‘What school did you attend?’ ETSU.”
It seems like no matter where Sollazzo is playing, he’ll never forget his days at ETSU.
“I would like to tell the Bucs’ team and future Bucs to take pride in playing in college,” he said. “Don’t think to the future and the money because there is no better feeling than playing in front of your school with that ETSU across your chest and knowing your brothers have your back.”