Antonio Deogratias fully expected to enjoy a long and successful career in the British Basketball League (BBL). But when his club Leeds Force dissolved in 2018, he had no choice but to move on to pastures new.
Uprooting your life is never an easy decision, nor is it one an athlete should take lightly. In a sport like basketball, where the sport’s global outreach is continuously expanding, it’s surprising to see so many fierce competitors stay in Britain for their entire careers. Is it not better to continue to test yourself, to venture into the unknown?
That’s the question that played on Deogratias’ mind. He could have chosen a more comfortable life by staying in England and pursuing a contract elsewhere in the BBL. However, he traded that personal stability for a professional challenge, moving to north-western Spain to play for fourth-division CB Virgen de La Concha de Zamora.
“I loved playing in Leeds. Everyone who knows me knows that Leeds is like my second home and I really wanted to just enjoy having a long career in the BBL. But with [the dissolution of the Force] happening, I knew I needed to make a transition. Going overseas was the best way for me to make that transition and better myself as a player.”
Still, settling into new surroundings is undoubtedly difficult. But transition is easier when you have shared interests and, most importantly, shared goals. When you’re focused on achieving the same outcome as everybody else around you, you quickly form a close community and a unique bond.
That special link is even greater abroad, at least according to Deogratias: “Basketball is such an in-house community. It’s a tight-knit group in the UK but when you go overseas it’s a culture.”
Although he admitted playing overseas was never initially part of the plan, he believes the decision is paying off, not least due to the far greater depth of funding and development in countries like Spain than in the UK. Now he wishes to encourage others in a similar position to take the leap as it provides them with opportunities they can’t get from staying in one place.
“I feel like with basketball, to actually maximise your career, you have to go abroad. I don’t want to say anything bad because I feel like Basketball England are doing a great job developing young talent, developing the leagues that we have now.
“But for most players, having that opportunity, playing against Europe’s best or playing against teams where they have a different style to you, and you can see where you measure to them, it gives you a level of experience that you would not have had at home.”
Having had a tough upbringing, one that was marked by the death of a dear friend and surrounded by drugs and violence, Deogratias fully believes in giving back to the community. Since playing in Spain, he has been an active ambassador for Let’s Do More, an organisation who aim to spread positivity through basketball.
“People might think I play basketball for the fame or money, I don’t. I play basketball because people see where I am, it gives an opportunity for kids to see where I come from, to see that they don’t have to settle for drugs, violence and poverty.
“Let’s Do More allows basketball to spread positivity and allows kids to develop their game as a basketball player and also become a better person, knowing that tomorrow they could be a leader, tomorrow they could have a future.”
Deogratias’ story is a classic case of sport being more than sport; sometimes it is about new experiences, embracing different cultures and helping others to develop personally, as well as professionally. Certain opportunities don’t always present themselves, so take the ones that you get – and if you have to, make your own.