Soccer Was Life
My basketball story started like most of the other European born kids.
By playing soccer.
Almost every kid, including myself, starts playing soccer at a very young age.
Soccer is the predominant sport in Romania. Every kid has a soccer ball at their house. If you do not have a ball, a plastic bottle will do.
No goal with posts to shoot at? No problem. Two big stones will do.
I was crazy about soccer. My classmates as well.
Well, we were supposed to start school at 8:00 am. So what we decided to do was that we would sacrifice half an hour of our sleep, and meet at 7:30 am on the high schools’ soccer field and played until we started the first class.
But that was not enough.
In between classes we had a 10-minute break and a one 20 minute break (lunch break).
But instead of relaxing, we would SPRINT outside because we did not want to waste any second of playing soccer.
When school was over, we sometimes stay after for about one hour and played some more.
During the weekend, I would go to Ictar-Budint to play soccer with my childhood friends.
If you live by the 10,000 hours rule, then I should have been the next Messi by the age of 14. That’s how much soccer I played. I even tried out for the junior team of Poli Timisoara at that time.
What Is Basketball?
Basketball was never on my mind.
Before I chose basketball, I actually tried tennis, handball, judo…
Yeah, can you imagine a 7 ft tall professional judoka?
Yeah, me neither.
My dad, a professional rower, wanted me to also follow this path if I wanted to.
I was also considering volleyball, swimming, but never basketball.
That was probably the doing of my mom who said that I cannot play basketball because I will grow even taller!
But the truth was that I was going to be tall no matter what.
In 8th grade, I was already 6’6″.
I “started” playing basketball in the courtyard of my high school.
But back then basketball was just a child’s for me.
No, I do not want to say that it was easy for me to play the game or that I was gifted and made for it.
It was literally just shooting at the hoop with two hands. And by being taller than everybody, I guess you can say it was pretty easy for me to rebound, block shots, or shoot over people.
I was the best player on the court!
I was the tallest player so I guess that made me the better player. I started to like it.
But I knew nothing about it.
And when I say nothing, I mean ZERO!
I did not know about CSS Bega, or about BCM Elba. Don’t even mention NCAA or even NBA!
Who was Michael Jordan?
Who was Kobe?
I had no idea.
So It Begins…
I was selected to be part of the 7th-grade team at Jean Louis Calderon. We started to play against other schools from Timisoara. We manage to win every game and qualified for the West Regionals Tournament in Arad.
The place where I can say it all started.
Just the fact that we qualified for that tournament, it was an amazing feeling. Everyone at our school was hyped, including us. We were stars.
For those of you that don’t know, high school competitions are nothing like high school competitions in the U.S. My high school gym had no seats for fans. The only benches were the ones where the players were sitting. The out of bounds lines were part of the wall. So if you hit the wall, the ball was out. If you went for a layup, 9 out of 10 times you would hit the wall.
No cushion, no nothing. Straight into the hard cold wall.
We never practiced as a team. We would gather at our games, our coach, or even us would make the starting lineup. There was no strategy, no plays, just hoop.
But for me, it was so fun. I felt some sort of pride in being part of a team. A team that made it to the regionals. I was representing our school. I was ready to give it all for my school, for my teammates. I became a competitor.
At that tournament, we were playing in a bigger gym, with some fans at the games. There was an atmosphere. My first game where they were also recording stats. It felt real, it was the most gamelike experience I ever had. It was amazing! I loved it! I enjoyed it every moment of it. I wanted more!
My school finished second at that tournament and won the silver medal. My first medal, I would never forget it! I was sad, but happy at the same time. I was thrilled to have this achievement but angry because I didn’t win the gold medal. I became a competitor. I also won the Best Rebounder Award in the tournament. It clicked to me. This actually can work! Basketball can be a thing!
Afterward, my classmates and I, some of my teammates and me, depends on the availability, we would not go to play soccer, but instead hoop.
From there, I had a teammate, Mogosanu Ovidiu, that also played for CSS Bega. He heard of me, he saw me, and he told his coach, Mircea Albu, to see me. He came, he recruited me, I went to CSS Bega and on 14th of March, 2008, I was licensed at CSS Bega Timisoara at the age of 14.
“Alex let’s go play soccer!”
“I think I’ll just hoop.”
And the rest is history.