Where Are They Now, 2009; Part 53
March 10th, 2009

Larry Turner is signed with the powerhouse Vermont Frost Heaves in the even more powerhouse Premier Basketball League. Averages don’t appear to an option, but here’s a recent boxscore. Would you be able to look at that box score and pick out Larry Turner, of all people, as a former signing of the L.A. Lakers? No. But it happened. How bizarre.


Samo Udrih averages 9.2 points and 3.4 fouls for Estudiantes Madrid. All things considered, he’s better than Beno.


Cory Underwood started the season with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds in the D-League, averaging 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. He then negotiated a release from his contract, whereby he promptly signed in China and tore his meniscus. After a 23-point, 12-rebound debut for the DongGuan New Century Leopards, Underwood then put up 8 points and 4 rebounds in his next game, followed by a 0/0 performance, then a 0/1 performance, culminating in a 32-minute, 7-point, 4-rebound outing in his final game before the team released him. If they were unhappy with his performance, then maybe they shouldn’t have made him play on a torn meniscus. Underwood has since returned to the D-League and the Thunderbirds, and has not played a game for them since returning.


Ramon Van de Hare is about to turn 27 years old, and currently averages 8.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in the incorrigible Cypriot league for AEK Larnacas. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – that whole “draft any seven-foot Euro that averages 1 point per game” trend of a few years ago was excessive.


– The only Nick Van Exel sighting that I’ve got is an appearance at a Cincinnati Bearcats practice last month. No word on what he actually does with his time now.


– The same is true of Keith Van Horn, the luckiest man alive, whom I can only assume is back doing what he was before being handed a free $4.3 million; spending time with his family and not intending to play any basketball.


Ratko Varda is playing for Khimki in Russia, signed as a replacement for the injured Maciej Lampe. Now let me tell you something about Ratko Varda – he’s only 29 years old, but he’s the slowest 29 year old that you’ve ever seen. It’s amazing to think that this man’s professional life calls for him to do a lot of running and jumping, because he really can’t do it. However, he is immensely strong, and, having grown a lot of hair and a beard and covered his body in tattoos, he looks pretty menacing at all times.


Jeff Varem was playing in Iran, but has since moved to the Alaska Aces of the Philippines. I have no numbers for you, but I am assuming that you don’t really want them.


Fran Vazquez averages 8.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for Barcelona in the EuroLeague, alongside 10.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in the Spanish league. If you’re a Magic fan buoyed by those numbers, and now inwardly believing that those represent the makings of your future backup centre, and that all hope may not yet be lost, allow me to step on your feelings again by reminding you once again that Orlando picked Vazquez over Danny Granger.


Vladimir Veremeenko is with UNICS Kazan in Russia, where he plies his trade as a dangerously slow small forward, albeit to decent effect. Veremeenko averages 11.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in the EuroCup, alongside 9.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in the Russian league. He has also stopped bouncing the ball quite so much before shooting a foul shot.


– Finally, here’s the story that I have been absolutely itching to tell you for about six weeks. It’s all true too (apart from a few slightly tweaked names to protect people’s identities) and that’s why it’s potentially interesting.

About two months ago, I travelled across the country to go and visit my friend Phil up t’north. On the Saturday night of my visit, we decided to go out, partly because we’re young twenty somethings, but also because his flatmates were annoying. (And also because the gas boiler was making bad noises and we thought it might blow up or something. Later on, it kind of did.) It was me, Phil and his girlfriend that hit the town, and we found the pub nearest to his house and settled down for some hardcore soft drink consumption. (We know how to party, we do.)

It was in this pub, on that night, at that time that Phil and his girlfriend had a fight and split up, right there in front of me. (The argument was something to do with a sofa. Didn’t quite understand it to be honest.) As you may have gathered, the situation became a little bit awkward. Not knowing what to do, I did what any good friend would do – I got the drinks in, sat back, and listened to a lengthy rant. As Phil’s heart bled all over my shoes, I helped him shove the entrails back into his still-twitching corpse, and suggested that we leave it for tonight and see where things stood in the morning. He agreed, but, unfortunately, this left us with nothing to talk about. The break-up was a massive elephant in the room, sitting between us, astride the table, thrusting itself into our faces at all times.  We had decided not to talk about it, but we couldn’t seem to help it. Whatever conversation we tried to force out, we both knew that the other was processing what had just happened in their head. Therefore, with the alternatives lacking, we decided to do what any like-minded men would do in the situation; we’d talk to some random people about football.

It worked a treat. Soon, we had entered into a random back and forth with a Nigerian man named Ben, with whom we were having an impassioned chat about what intangible qualities John O’Shea brought to the Manchester United defence. The discussion was insightful, humorous, and made me feel like I had more than one friend in the world, a rare and special feeling indeed. At some point, though, we started getting hungry, and decided to continue this conversation back at Phil’s house with a pizza while watching Match Of The Day.

Ben bought us our food, which was nice of him, and we set off for home in the pissing rain. When we got in, the football conversation picked up where it left off, now further buoyed by the tantalising arrangement of undercooked imitation pizzas. Conversation soon got around to the continued influx of foreign players into the Premiership, and about how detrimental it was becoming to our national game. Communally, we agreed (somewhat baselessly) that what was needed most from the national game was a sense of humility within the players, and greater respect for authority.

It was at this moment Ben brought up a basketball parallel, when he mentioned about how a basketball playing friend of his had to learn a similar lesson in humility. At this moment, Phil said “Mark likes basketball, you should talk to him about it”, slumped back in his chair, and then didn’t speak for the next 90 minutes. Ben persevered, and quickly followed up this opening gambit by stating that this friend of his was recently drafted by an NBA team. Excitedly, I ask “who was it?”. He replied “Ejike Ugboaja“.

The conversation flowed from there. It soon turned out that Ben is one of Ugboaja’s closest friends, a fact he quickly validated by showing me both of their Facebook accounts. A lengthy story followed, in which Ben (whose name isn’t really Ben, by the way) told me as many anecdotes as I could goad out of him about the Nigerian national basketball team, a team with which he is closely affiliated if not an actual member. Amongst these anecdotes was the story of how Ejike was selected out of a group of players (including Ben) participating in a national team tryout. Upon making the team, Ugboaja developed a bit of an ego, and started acting moody and aloof with his former friends. However, a quick word from former Charlotte Bobcats coach Sam Vincent (who was, at the time, the head coach of the Nigerian national team) saw a change in Ejike, and he dropped the ego, dispensed with the swagger, and reverted to being the humble, generous man that he always was, willing to learn, accepting of criticism, and keen to “give back” to his homeland. It was a tender and touching story befitting of any Associated Press fluffpiece. I would have wept if I could have understood half of what Ben was saying. (His accent was kind of strong. This is why that story took about 90 minutes to tell.)

More importantly, Ben quickly proved that he knew more about Ejike Ugboaja than I did. I asked where Ejike was playing right now, as I was almost certain that he was unsigned. Every resource I could find supported this; I knew he had played in the D-League last season, but that he wasn’t in it this year, and I was basically certain that he was currently unattatched. (Readers note: I don’t memorise all the current player’s destinations deliberately, but when you spend as much time following them as I do, some of them tend to stick with you. Ejike’s was one that stuck.) So, at one juncture, I asked Ben where Ejike was playing, and Ben responded that he was playing in Iran. Sure enough, he was right; upon closer inspection, Ugboaja is playing for Azad University Tehran BC, information that was very hard to find out back in January (and which isn’t easy to find out now, either – only if you know in advance to to add “Iran” as a suffix to your Google searches do the results become plentiful.) Ben had proven his worth, made my night, advanced my life, and bettered this post. Completely by accident, and in a country where Kenny Gregory used to be an MVP candidate, I had met one of the best friends of an NBA player. And not just any NBA player, either, but a FRINGE NBA player with a hard-to-spell name. The best kind of NBA player, that. Good times.

(Other stories include a seminal tale about Olumide Oyedeji’s inability to find a bed in the whole of Nigeria that fitted him. Oh, the fun we had with that one.)

We stayed up until 7.30am that night, talking about more basketball, football, the break-up that we’d just witnessed, how cantankerous and manky the pizza was, amusing ways to pose with an umbrella, why goth chicks are far hotter than they should be, the sheer thrill of Northern Irish women’s voices, and all manner of other intelligent and high-brow conversations. But nothing will ever top the random discovery of Cleveland Cavaliers second-round draft pick Ejike Ugboaja’s closest chum in a pub near Preston. Nothing.

(Note: inviting random men back to our house is not something that we normally do on a Saturday night.)

Posted by at 11:18 PM