Really Long Shot

Kevin Fletcher aims for the NBA --from Europe.

Kevin Fletcher hopes so. "This is a pivotal year for me," he says. "I've always been able to move on to the next level, and [Poland] is another big test. If I do well, I can start earning $100,000 or more and maybe get noticed, but I'll have to cut it in a better league."

Polish basketball is competitive -- Fletcher will face players like former Temple star Lynn Greer -- but the very best European teams are in Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy -- a lesson the supposedly invincible U.S. Olympic basketball team learned the hard way on August 3 when the Italians blasted them 95-78 in an exhibition game. If things go right, Fletcher could find himself in Madrid or Rome in the next few years, on a club even more closely monitored by the NBA. "I need to tighten up my big-man game," he says, "to improve my post moves, and finishing around the basket. I have to develop. To go on [to the NBA], it would take a collision of luck, hard work and preparation. But it's not out of my dreams yet. I'm still striving for it, and my agent tells me to stay focused."

Still, if it doesn't happen, if Fletcher's back-door route to professional basketball ends in Gdansk or Trevisia or Barcelona, that won't be the worst thing in the world. "What I've learned in Europe," he says, "is that when you're away from home ten months a year, you have to adopt an entire life, not just play basketball. You have to make friends and get some things going other than basketball. In Portugal, we played before crowds of 1,000, sometimes 1,500, but because you're in the paper every day and you're a big American, you get noticed. But that's not everything. I learned all I could about the people, the language, the culture. I enjoyed that, and it helped me grow as a person. In Poland, I'll do the same thing. Another adventure."

Still, the old desires endure, tempered by some doubts and second thoughts. Home for the summer -- "my schedule is a little like a teacher's," Fletcher says -- he's been playing in three summer leagues, working out at the gym and helping his mother, Jeanny Busacca, by working in the yard. That's where his old hoop is, and when he looks at it, mixed memories come flooding back. "The thing is," he says, "in the period in my life when I was growing most, I was playing least. So it's a reminder of lost time that might have helped me in my career and my life, to get me to a better place than I am now as far as basketball goes. A Division I school. Maybe an NBA career. There could have been other opportunities, so I'm trying to make up for that now by working hard. Maybe I can get there another way. But if I don't, I'm happy where I am. Not satisfied. I still have the hunger, but I'm happy where I am. It's a dream job. Wherever you are, you try to have a complete life."

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