Terry Smith : “If I never would had this friend to call his uncle for me, I probably would be done”

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The american combo guard Terry Smith (31 years old), who get an armenian passport, has a great pro career overseas. But it possibly couldn’t have happened. Here is his story and his experience all over Europe.

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Terry Smith, from Syracuse, New York. I’m 31 years ago and a combo guard. I already played in France two years ago, in Asvel.

How did you started playing basketball?
I am from New York, so everybody plays basketball. All the kids around the neighborhood plays basketball. I was very bad because I had no one in my family who played basketball too. I started with the other kids, they were a lot better than me. I wanted to be good just to play with my friends and the other people in the neighborhood.

At the time, did you played against current other pro players on the playgrounds in New York?
Actually from New York, not many. Not many guys are from New York, but I played against a lot of guys who played in the NBA. I started on the Dickman, it’s a tournament during the summer. Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and a lot of NBA guys played in the Dickman. I played there when I was younger.

What is your basketball path since you were a kid?
I had to take the bus 1 hour every day from my neighborhood to go to my high school. Then, I went to the university of Pennsylvania. I played four years there. After that, I went to Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Croatia, Turkey, France, Russia and Spain. I almost played everywhere in Europe.

At the beginning of you pro career, what kind opportunities did you had after College?
I had no opportunities. I had one contract offer in Germany, in the fourth division. I didn’t understand how it works in Europe, I didn’t know the Euroleague and Eurocup, the french Pro A, etc. I didn’t know there is different levels. So, when I got the contract, I just took it. I went to Germany, the situation wasn’t great. I left in December. I had no job after that. So I went back home to be a substitute teacher in a school because I had no money, nothing. It lasted five months. After that, I went to look for a job with my College degree. So I did an internship in the Pentagon in Washington DC. For about two or three weeks, a friend of mine gave me a call. He said: « hey, do you have any job? ». I answered that I was working in the Pentagon but I had nothing with basketball. « send me your tape » he said. So I gave him my tape and maybe two or three days later, I had a contract to go to Czech Republic for two years. His uncle was the coach, he liked my tape and signed me. I played well and that is when more opportunities came. I was able to build my resume in Europe. But if I never would had this friend to call his uncle for me, I probably would be done. It was in 2009.

Are the places different from each other?
Absolutely. Every country has his own style, his own type of people. And the basketball is also different.

What is your favorite country?
I have to be honest. For me, it was Spain. I loved it. Plus, I was blessed to play in Badalona which is right next to Barcelona. So I was in Barcelona every day. The weather and basketball were great. The league is very professional, they said it is the best league in Europe. I agree on it. But the french league is very athletic and very good too. I am not taking anything away from the french league. It just spanish league is different about the style.

And what about the worst countries to play?
For me, when I played in the eastern of Europe, it was tough. It’s different because you are not as protected there. You go, you sign a contract, but you don’t know when you will receive your money. Maybe you lose one game and they will take a part of your salary. They can remove the lights in your house because you had a bad game. That is stuffs like this. You don’t have anyone to call to protect you. It’s not very correct. But it depending on the teams. I am not saying every team are like this, there are only some teams.

How did you manage that difficulties?
First, I had a culture shock. I was saying « what is this? ». I couldn’t also understand the letters because they are different. Here, in France, the letters are the same : S, E, N, A, T. When you go to Bulgaria or Ukraine, the letters are turn to something else. You can’t read anything. But eventually, you get used to it, you can adapt like anything. You make the best of the situation. I am here, I don’t want to complain every day, so I accept.

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Ukraine is known in Europe for paying very well its athletes. Did you appreciate the experience?
They actually did. I get payed in Ukraine but there was a war that year, between Ukraine and Russia. So everyone had to evacuate. I had to leave in February. The president of the team came and told us that he can’t guarantee our safety. He gave us our money that he owed us, and we took the plane to leave. Immediately, from that meeting in the office, I got a flight to Dubai. It wasn’t far, there was a direct flight from Kiev to Dubai. I relaxed there for 4 or 5 days, waiting for a call from my agent to get a new contract in Croatia. I went there. It was actually pretty nice. There was the beach, a good weather, and basketball was pretty good too.

When you were a kid, did you imagined to live things like that ?
If you asked me where is Croatia when I was in high school, I was say « is that a food? ». At that time, I really didn’t know too much about Europe, especially countries like that. Everybody knows countries like Spain or Germany. I had no idea about some of the other places. But now, if you ask me, I know every country, cities and the flag. I have been blessed to be able to travel because of basketball.

Countries like France or Spain are also more like the United States. Do you agree?
About the culture and life, absolutely. I feel comfortable here in France. For me, it is just normal. I don’t go outside and feel like they never seen a people like me before. The buildings are normal too.

More and more American players are getting european passports. You have one with Armenia. How did you get it? And how is the experience so far?
They were just looking for a combo guard. My agent sent my stuff and they liked it. This country is located close to Asia, in the middle eastern. It’s not really Europe. It was not bad, I was in Yerevan which is the capital city. I was there for four months, before I went to Spain last year. I recently get a call to play for them, but I don’t know yet if I am able to go there. The first game is on November 23. It would be a great honor to play for Armenia.

Opinions on these passports are mixed in Europe. What is your personal opinion?
It’s ok. I mean, some countries don’t like to take americans like Serbia or Croatia, but if they do, it makes the competition more competitive.

By the years, did you felt a constant evolution in your career?
Absolutely. I learned from so many different people, coachs, goods teammates. They helped me.
Obviously about the leagues, every year, I am growing up. I reached a higher level every year. I started so low, I had to pick my way up every year. Every year, I have grown somewhere and prove myself that I can play at that level.

During your career, did you ever had an opportunity to make it in the NBA?
In 2013, I was working out with a lot of NBA trainers. I felt I would have a chance to play the NBA summer league but it didn’t work out. That was my only chance that really happened with the NBA.

To conclude, what are your expectations about the future?
I am just praying that I can stay healthy. If I can stay healthy, then I will play as longer as my body let me play.

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Danny Fouqs