That’s a video of fans of Pinar Karsiyaka, the Turkish team that Jon Diebler has suited up for during the past two seasons. Based in Izmir, the squad has become home for Diebler, who has moved into a starting role and welcomed the craziness that goes along with playing overseas.
“Our fans are unbelievable,” Diebler told BuckeyeSports.com. “It’s like Ohio State football but there’s no rules. You can kind of do whatever you want. I’ve seen some unbelievable stuff in my two years in Turkey. Even in Greece when I was there, the fans are just very passionate. They love their sports whether it’s soccer or basketball. They support us all the way. Win or lose, they’re incredible.”
Playing in front of passionate arenas full of sold-out fans is one of the pluses when players go overseas after failing to make the NBA, but there’s plenty of drawbacks too. Such is the life of the fringe NBA prospect, something last year’s Ohio State leading scorer, LaQuinton Ross, learned when he signed this week with Victoria Libertas of the Italian league yesterday.
He joins a healthy roster of former Ohio State stars who have had to go across the pond to make a living playing professional basketball. As of this past season, Ohio State had program alums playing in Germany (Daequan Cook), Italy (Amedeo Della Valle, Je’Kel Foster, Ron Lewis), France (Terence Dials, David Lighty, Deshaun Thomas), Latvia (P.J. Hill), Greece (Othello Hunter, Zisis Sarikopoulos), China (Byron Mullens), Bulgaria (Evan Ravenel), and the United Kingdom (Jeremie Simmons).
It’s not exactly the professional dream many of them had growing up, but it’s a chance to experience the world and play the sport they love for money, all with the shot of ending up back in the NBA as an ever-lingering possibility.
“It’s been a great experience,” Diebler said. “I’ve had a lot of fun. My wife and I have enjoyed it. We were in Greece our first year, Turkey our last two and we’re going back to Turkey again. The people are great.”
That doesn’t mean that it’s all fun and games. Dials has spent the last three years in France after stints in Switzerland, China and Cyprus, giving him a unique perspective on what it’s like to make a living in multiple countries.
“It’s a grind,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand the overseas grind. It’s a lot of time away from home. Everybody has a family here and you’re over there by yourself trying to make a living and trying to do what you love doing. It’s not all glitz and glamour. It’s a grind, but we have fun doing it. This is our passion. This is what we love to do.”
That’s often what keeps players going is the love of the game. That’s especially true for someone like Diebler, a gym rat who first starred as an all-around scorer at Upper Sandusky (Ohio) High School and then worked his three-point shot into one for the record books during his time at Ohio State.
A shot at the NBA never came but Diebler knew the basketball itch wouldn’t be going away any time soon.
“I knew I wanted to play professionally,” Diebler said. “I didn’t know where I would end up, but it’s been a blessing to be able to see the world and travel and be with my wife every step of the way. I’ve been able to meet some amazing people, play some basketball. I mean, I play basketball for a living, so it’s a blessing for sure.”
Both Diebler and Dials said they have been approached by former OSU players about what it means to play overseas, and each have been eager to give the advice.
“I tell them to enjoy the experience, value the experience,” Dials said. “Continue to work toward your dream, and that’s the NBA. Don’t ever give that up – there’s plenty of examples of guys coming from Europe to play in the NBA, even if it didn’t work out right away after school. I just tell them to continue to fight and try to make it to the big dance.”