Different place, same game
Lee, Stelfox adjust to pro hoops in Latvia
A pair of former Grand Valley State University basketball players are learning to adapt to an unfamiliar style of play while living in an unfamiliar country.
After signing with professional teams in Latvia earlier this month, Tyrone Lee and Alex Stelfox are hoping to make names for themselves in a country where the majority of people don’t speak English.
“It’s real different, especially the language,” Lee said. “It takes a while to get used to. I really miss the food, family and friends and I just miss speaking English. I miss people being able to understand me because right now I have to use a lot of hand gestures … it’s hard to communicate.”
The Detroit native was recently recovering from an ankle injury, but had earned his way onto Jurmula Fenniks, a team located in Jurmula, Latvia, which is near the coast of the Baltic Sea.
He was a two-year player for GVSU after transferring from Oakland Community College and was named to the GLIAC All-Defensive Team following the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
“He had a tremendous senior year and he was a real team leader for us,” head coach Ric Wesley said. “I’m proud of the growth and development both as a person and as a player. He got his degree last year and was able to find an opportunity overseas.”
Lee said he misses playing in front of his peers in the student section at Fieldhouse Arena. He said the fans of Jurmula Fenniks could be described as “older guys who are just basketball fans” who are known to bet on the outcome of games.
While the 6-foot-8-inch forward is still adjusting to a different brand of basketball, it’s safe to assume he’s still a crowd pleaser.
“It’s a lot different on the court,” he said. “There are a lot of different rules and the playing style is a lot different but I will have to adjust. I’m more of a 1-on-1 player, but here it’s a lot more about the team. I have to pick my punches by scoring off the pick and roll, but they love seeing dunks. A lot of guys can’t dunk here so the fans love that.”
His goal is to work his way through the various levels of European leagues and onto an NBA team. For now, though, he is trying to work through the isolated feeling caused by the language barrier.
Stelfox can relate.
“Finding an area that has wi-fi is like waking up on Christmas morning,” she wrote via email. “It’s very tough. I miss just being able to read English signs or communicating with people knowing they speak English. Finding my way through town is very difficult.”
Stelfox signed with Liepaja Papirs after leaving the German-based TG Sandhausen, after “moving up” to find a better organization that competed against better competition.
A four-year fixture for the Lakers, the 6-foot-2-inch center from Bowie, Md. was the 2010 GLIAC Freshman of the Year and finished her career with the fourth-most blocked shots in school history (120).
In Latvia, however, Stelfox is being paid to produce at the other end of the court.
“I’m the American player, so they expect me to do the majority of the scoring,” she wrote. “They pay me to help them win games. You have to bring your best effort each and every game, or you’ll get cut.”