The last time we saw Robert Lewandowski, he was the lone player trotting out to greet his family on senior day at Texas Tech.
Though last season was a major struggle for the Red Raiders on the court, then-coach Billy Gillispie often praised Lewandowski for his leadership during a difficult campaign.
As has been his plan since his college career began, the Overland Park, Kan., native is now playing basketball professionally, overseas in the Czech Republic, where he is averaging 13.7 points per game while playing on the same team as former Tech forward Brad Reese.
In a short time, Lewandowski has already seen and experienced a wide variety of sights, sounds and cultures, and he says he’s enjoyed every step.
The Avalanche-Journal recently caught up with Lewandowski via email to discuss the game overseas, his (sort of) brush with fame and what he thinks of the current Tech team.
Question: So you’ve been one busy, globe-circling basketball player these days. Now you’re playing in the Czech Republic. What’s that experience been like for you?
Answer: Basketball has always been a blessing to me. It has provided me the opportunity to meet amazing people and see places most people only dream of. I have literally been all around the world, and I love it. I miss home and the people there, obviously, but this opportunity is amazing.
Q: How did the decision come about to play overseas? Did you know that’s what you wanted to do during your senior year?
A: From the time I got to Tech my freshman year I knew I was going to be playing professionally somewhere. I don’t say that to sound cocky. Mostly it’s just God-given physical advantages. Coaches always say, “You can’t teach height,” and that is a huge advantage for me. I put in the time and work to become a better player, and the coaching staff at Tech was a huge help, too. Everyone is there to make you a better player and help you move on to the next level.
Q: I understand you played in Poland first? How did you like living there?
A: Poland was great, and so is Czech Republic. Each town has its own personality, just like in the States. And each town and country has its culture. Some are similar, but it’s awesome to be able to learn some things from new people. Opens your eyes to a bigger world than the one you were raised in.
Q: There’s a soccer star from Poland named Robert Lewandowski, right? Did folks there ever ask you if you were him?
A: I never got confused for him, but people sure wanted to talk about it. It was always a good ice breaker, though, even for the folks who don’t speak any English. All they would have to say was “Robert Lewandowski” and “futbol” and we instantly had a connection, even if it was a small one.
Q: What is the biggest difference between the international game and the one you played in college?
A: I have tried to explain it to people at home, but it is difficult to put into words. Even watching it doesn’t do it justice. In Europe, there is a lot less one-on-one and people always make the extra pass after the extra pass. It’s amazingly unselfish and really fun to watch. The style is something all Americans have to get used to, though.
Q: What have the fans been like in arenas you play in? I’ve heard stories that in some countries they can be pretty brutal, even throw things. Have you experienced any of that?
A: First, let me say this may be one of the best parts about basketball overseas. In places where basketball is popular, the fans are as wild as a college student section. There is always a huge bass drum that someone is beating, and my current team has trumpet players. That kind of passion is something you don’t see in pro basketball in the US. It’s usually just one crazy guy with his face painted. Here there are hundreds who do it.
I haven’t had anything thrown at me, but after winning a very physical game on the road that came down to the final minute, fans from the home team came on the court and were yelling at the officials. When that didn’t work, they started yelling at us. They were lined up, about 30 of them, screaming and making hand gestures.
I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but they weren’t congratulating us. We had to just turn and walk away. There was no security to stop them, no one telling them to get off the court. It was very intense.
Q: What’s the strangest thing you have eaten since you’ve been overseas?
A: I haven’t had anything too off-the-wall while here in Europe. I went to China at the beginning of the summer last year and tried a chicken foot. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but they eat them like beef jerky over there. To be honest, the food here is really good. Everything has a homemade taste to it. There aren’t a lot of chain restaurants, so everywhere you go the menu will be slightly different and the taste will be original.
Q: Have you been able to follow Texas Tech at all since you’ve been abroad? Do you think this team has improved?
A: I have been able to follow Tech. There is a seven-hour time difference, but I have caught a few games.
Coach Walker has done a great job stepping up and implementing his system. The team does a great job a pressuring the ball and forcing turnovers. It is fun to watch them get up and down. You can definitely see how much work the young players have put in to become better this year than they were last year. I think they are much improved.
It’s great to see Jaye (Crockett) doing so well, and Tolbert, too. And I know guys like Dejan were just waiting their turn to just play. They have all worked really hard and overcome a lot the last couple of years and I am proud of them and lucky to have played with them, even if it was for only a year with some of them.
Q: What is the one thing you miss most in everyday American life that you don’t have over there?
A: The one think I miss most in everyday American life that I don’t have over here is Bailley, my fiancee. I used to see her every day, spend quality time with her, invest in her and her family there in Lubbock.
We still talk every day, multiple times a day, through Skype and letters and such, but nothing is better than being with her. She has supported me and our relationship even though we are so far apart, even while she finishes nursing school at Tech. She truly is God’s gift to me. I can’t wait to get back to the States and marry her.
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