COVID-19 still forcing overseas basketball players to make tough decisions

 

By: Amelia Benkert


A year later, COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc on the overseas basketball community

When the global pandemic halted all basketball in March of last year, American overseas basketball players such as Jon Octeus and Chris Cokley were forced to quickly create a new plan for their futures. Still, eleven months later, players fear how the fallout will continue to influence their professional and personal lives for years to come. 

However, Octeus is no stranger to instability. In the fall of his first professional season overseas, the Purdue grad suffered osteochondritis - damage below his left kneecap, caused by hyperextension of the knee. 

After returning to the states from Germany, Octeus focused on healing his injury, as well as studying the game of other players. While he was unable to physically train his body, Octeus used this time off to train his mind. 

 

“Through my injuries early in my career, I really had the opportunity to analyze myself as a player,” said Octeus, “and also set up my career for the long run.” 

Once recovered, Octeus stayed in the USA - playing for the Indiana Pacers' Summer League team, as well as Armored Athlete in TBT 2017. 

“I saw this as time to prove my ability," said Octeus, "not just to everyone watching, but also to myself.” 

In March of 2020, Octeus was playing in Germany for a different team, but returned home to Florida after the virus quickly spread throughout the country. Inspired by his passion for helping others, Octeus started a meal prep company called "More Than A Hooper's Diet," based out of Orlando. The company’s mission is to provide healthy meals that “satisfy the mind, body, and soul.” Each subscription is matched with one meal donation to an individual facing food insecurity. Octeus hopes to feed millions all over the world with its efforts.  He spent last summer hooping for Men of Mackey in the TBT bubble.

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Like Octeus, Chris Cokley left his team in Luxembourg in March when the virus arrived. Since then he has been training in his home state of Georgia. 

“Overseas basketball is always stressful, regardless of a pandemic," said the Herd That power forward. “A player’s next step is never known beforehand and it's hard to plan.” 

Despite finding personal stability while at home with his family, Cokley remarked that "the hardest months were when COVID-19 shut all basketball down. It was hard not to think about all the opportunities I was missing out on.”

 

Despite the opportunity to work on themselves off the court, the economic side effects of the virus worry players such as Cokley and Octeus. As the pandemic worsened, the number of available positions overseas plummeted. In addition to budget cuts, teams with available positions are now paying significantly lower salaries. Accepting a contract with a salary cut is a sacrifice - one that many players can not risk. 

“Understanding the different markets overseas and trying to then compensate for that," Octeus noted as being helpful in determining the risk factors of signing a contract. In August of 2020, Octeus inked a deal with the Shiga Lakestars of the Japanese B. League.

 

Through the peak of the virus, luck quickly became the determining factor in finding a job overseas. Chris Cokley, who averaged 19 points per game in the TBT bubble last summer, is still waiting for his first post-virus job opportunity to arise. 

“Keeping level-headed in my course has been the most positive thing."