Ball Overseas: Manhattan's Devon Austin Carves Out a New Life in Portugal

Ari KramerSenior Analyst IINovember 12, 2009

It is 10 o’clock on a brisk morning in Figueira da Foz, Portugal, and Devon Austin’s alarm clock wakes him from a tranquil night’s sleep. After getting out of bed, he heads to the kitchen of his two-bedroom apartment to prepare a sandwich of bacon and eggs for breakfast.

A member of Portugal’s Casino Figueira Ginasio basketball team, Austin needs to arrive at the Pavilhão Galamba Marques, Portuguese for the Galamba Marques Pavilion, by noon for practice.

For now, though, he relaxes and enjoys the pleasant view of the Atlantic Ocean from his eighth story window.

Eventually, Austin, who spent the last four years of his life as a Manhattan College Jasper, departs on his five-minute walk to the arena. Throughout the next two hours, the hard-working small forward lifts weights and works with coaches on individual skills—ranging from shooting to rebounding to ball-handling.

Famished after practice, Austin and some teammates enjoy lunch at Figueira da Foz Restaurant, which is located inside the arena. There, the former Jasper encounters the most prevalent difficulty among Americans who play basketball overseas: the language barrier.

“There’s not much of a variety [of food]. I mostly eat pork, fish, and chicken here,” Austin commented via email. Regardless, ordering food is still complicated. He also has had trouble shopping and needed his native teammates to help him create a bank account.

Although it’s difficult to relate to non-English-speaking teammates off the court, the New Yorker really likes his teammates and says, “They are all really nice people.”

After lunch, Austin still has a few free hours before his next practice, so he goes home to rest. He usually takes an hour-long nap, but sometimes he watches television and hangs out with Brandon Dagans, his roommate and the only other American on Ginasio.

Also adjusting to his first year of professional basketball overseas, Dagans, a graduate of Division II Lewis University in Illinois, is a perfect companion for Austin.

Of course, they have basketball in common, but more importantly, they share the same language and the same apartment and have become extremely close as a result. They do almost everything together, whether it’s hanging out, dining, watching television, or playing ball.

Rest is brief, and the duo heads back to the arena for a five o’clock practice in which Ginasio reviews plays and works on defense while scrimmaging. It might be professional basketball, but Austin says the practices are less intense than they were in college because the coaching staff doesn’t want to fatigue the team for its weekly game—teams of the Portuguese Basketball Premier League only play on Saturdays or Sundays.

Practice concludes after 90 minutes, and the native New Yorker returns with a few teammates to the same restaurant for dinner.

Afterwards, he and Dagans return to their apartment. With an opportunity to catch up on life in America, Austin equips himself with his laptop. It is only the middle of the afternoon back home, but the former Jasper uses Skype and AOL Instant Messenger to converse with family and friends, whom he acknowledges he deeply misses.

A good son, Austin makes sure to speak with his parents every day. “My parents are proud of me, but they miss me being home. I talk to them every day and let them know I’m okay,” emailed Austin.

Understandably, it has been a difficult transition for Austin’s parents, who used to attend most Jasper home games while their son donned Manhattan’s green and white uniform. Now, they can only hear Austin’s personal recaps and analyze Ginasio’s box score, which is not immediately updated online. It’s very different than seeing the games in person.

While Austin types away, he also has the television on because he loves his TV shows. “I've been watching Flash Forward, Modern Family, and Cougar Town. But I really like to watch reality shows like the new season of For the Love of Ray J and that kind of stuff that comes on MTV, VH1, or E!,” Austin said.

As the night wears on, Austin and Dagans generally leave their apartment for the casino, which the small forward characterizes as “not anything special.” For Austin, it’s really just a chance to get out and to meet new people—people other than his teammates.

When they return, the duo will occasionally find an NBA game on television. Austin is a fan of the New York Knicks, but he also enjoys watching the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics because they represent the best of professional basketball. A rare simultaneous Kobe and LeBron admirer, Austin admits, “Sometimes I find myself up at three in the morning watching NBA games.”

He might be 3,000 miles away, but Austin still follows the situation at his alma mater. “I saw that Manhattan was picked eighth in the preseason [MAAC coaches poll], but,” continued Austin, “I think that they will surprise people. I definitely think that they have one of the most talented [MAAC] teams, and they also have experience.

“I believe that they will be one of the top teams in the MAAC this season and have a good shot at winning [the conference championship] in March if they play together.”

Basketball is Austin’s greatest passion. Every hoop lover’s dream is to reach the NBA, but for now, European basketball is adequate for Austin, who can see himself playing overseas in various countries over the next few years. “I've always wanted to travel the world,” said Austin, “and basketball is a good way for me to do that.”

For the next few months, though, he'll be in Figueira da Foz, playing ball, adjusting to Europe, and enjoying the overall experience.

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