Former Bucs in Europe weather the storm

Joe Avento • Mar 13, 2020 at 4:57 PM

T.J. Cromer and Adam Sollazzo want the folks back home to know they’re doing fine, even though they are living in countries where the novel coronavirus has hit particularly hard.

“Honestly, it’s not frightening playing here because I trust God,” said Cromer, who is playing basketball in seriously affected Italy. “For the most part it has been pretty normal in the city that I am in because we haven’t had many cases of the virus.

“The only precaution we were told to take was to not go places where the will be a lot of people, to wash our hands after we go anywhere and to keep distance between people when out in public.”

Cromer led ETSU to the 2017 Southern Conference championship and played in the NCAA Tournament with the Bucs. He plays for a team in Udine, in the farthest Northeast corner of Italy, and has been there for seven months.

“I’m not ready to come home just yet because we’re in a safe zone and have been tested already,” he said. “My team has qualified for the playoffs. I don’t want all that hard work to go to waste unless things get more drastic.”

He did add one caveat.

“If it gets much worse, I’m coming home,” Cromer said.

One of the biggest challenges for Cromer and his wife, Jazmin, has been to keep their 2-year-old daughter occupied in a country that is virtually locked down.

“The only things that are open are grocery stores and the pharmacy,” he said. “We can’t go to the park or go site-seeing like we normally do.

“Having my family here with me definitely made me do more research on the virus. I had to become more knowledgeable on how to prevent my family from becoming infected. So I would say we’re more cautious than scared really.”

Meanwhile, Sollazzo, who also played in the NCAA Tournament with ETSU in 2009 and 2010, is in Spain, where 60,000 citizens are on lockdown. He lives in San Sebastian with his wife, Kari.

“It has just recently started to become a little frightening,” Sollazzo said. “With all the media attention it makes you a little uneasy being outside, not only in Spain, all over the world.”

Sollazzo, whose team won its league’s Mid-Season Cup, is on hold as play has been suspended.

“We are currently still practicing, although some other teams’ gyms have been closed,” he said. “We are tied for first, so if our season is canceled I could be going through the same thing our Bucs are.”

Sollazzo is in his eighth year playing overseas. He spent five years playing in Italy.

Cromer and Sollazzo are two of a handful of former ETSU players earning their living playing basketball in other countries. Isaac Banks is in Ukraine, Jalan McCloud is in Germany, Devontavius Payne is in England, Desonta Bradford is in Belgium, James Harrison is in Romania, Tevin Glass is in the Dominican Republic and Hanner Mosquera-Perea is in Chile.

As news of the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament spread Thursday, it reverberated around the world, and the former Bucs noticed.

“My heart hurts for the seniors that can’t play in March Madness,” Cromer said. “That’s an experience I wish my little brothers could have experienced because it’s a feeling like no other. I just pray things get better.

“With the time difference it was hard to watch the ETSU games, but I definitely looked up the results after most games, especially the big ones. Those guys had a legendary year. It’s hard to get 25 wins, let alone 30. So hats off to them. It made me proud to be a Buc for sure.”

Sollazzo added, “They have had an unbelievable year and I’m extremely proud of them. I can’t imagine what the guys are feeling right now. March Madness is honestly one of the greatest experiences of my life, so I was really praying those guys would get to experience it.”

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