For the past three years, Martyce Kimbrough’s view through his college dorm room window looked upon the quiet campus of the University of Findlay. Today, the scene outside his apartment is the bustling city center of Gijon, Spain, alive with outdoor restaurants, boutique shops, and families picnicking in the famed Jardin Botanico Park. While Kimbrough, a Lima Central Catholic graduate, may be immersed in a completely different culture, he continues to chase his lifelong dream. Kimbrough is in his first season as a professional basketball player, competing with Circulo Gijon in the Spanish Professional League.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to do what I love every single day and actually get paid for it,” Kimbrough says.
The Spanish Professional Leagues are considered the best basketball in the world after the NBA. There are six divisions in Spain and Circulo Gijon is in the third division. Dakota Mathias (Elida/Purdue University) is also competing in Spain with Divina Seguros Joventut, a first division club located in Barcelona.
Kimbrough describes the level of play in Spain as “demanding.” “I found out pretty quick that the basketball in this league is faster and more physical,” Kimbrough says. “There is a 24 second clock so there isn’t a lot of time to run specific plays. Many of the players are a lot older and experienced and very passionate.” The veteran players in the league are not about to make the game easy for a new young American who has brought his game to Spain.
“We had a scrimmage the day after I arrived against a first division club,” Kimbrough says. “I was still jet lagged but wanted to show what I could do. I drove the ball to the rim on my first possession against some big 7-footer and he sent the ball and me into the stands. I was sore for a week.”
Each team is limited to three Americans on their roster and much is expected of those players imported from the USA. If a team loses a game, the brunt of responsibility and consequences often weighs heavier on the American players.
Kimbrough’s roommate and fellow American is a player that basketball aficionados may remember. Robert Swift was a lottery pick by the Seattle SuperSonics in the 2004 NBA draft, jumping directly to the NBA from high school. The 7-footer’s rise and fall in the NBA and resurrection in Spain, was the subject of recent Sport Illustrated story.
Kimbrough’s game has picked up right where he left off while playing at the University of Findlay where he scored more than 1,700 points and set numerous 3-point shooting records. He leads Circulo Gijon in scoring and 3-point shooting and is working hard at adjusting his game to the European style of play.
“The professional style of play here in Europe is different,” Kimbrough says. “In America, professional teams try to isolate their athletes to go one on one and there is a lot of deep 3-point shooting. Here, there is more ball movement and player movement, very little standing and reacting.” He compared it to the way the San Antonio Spurs play under coach Gregg Popovich. “I’m adapting my game to become more efficient with everything I do on the court,” he says.
His immersion into a new culture has come easily to Kimbrough. “The language barrier has not been too difficult,” Kimbrough says. “Almost everyone here speaks two languages (Spanish and English) and all my teammates are fluent in English. My coach only speaks Spanish, so in huddles he talks to the team and then he steps back and one of our teammates relays the information to the Americans. I’m also taking Spanish language lessons at night and I’m getting better at it every week.”
Kimbrough described his organized, daily routine. “I do a lot of stretching and yoga in the morning and try to be the first one on the court for our early practice so I can get in some extra shooting,” he says. “For lunch I’ll go to one of the four restaurants where we can eat for free. The food here is really great.”
Following the second practice of the day Kimbrough has learned to improvise because the club does not have an ice bath. “Some days I’ll walk down to San Lorenzo beach and take a cold swim in the Atlantic Ocean,” he says. In the evenings he follows the advice of one of his heroes, Kobe Bryant. “I meditate a couple times a day,” he says. “It helps me handle any stress.”
Circulo Gijon’s passionate fan base has made an impression on Kimbrough. “Soccer is the number one sport in Spain,” Kimbrough says, “but they love their basketball. The fans bang on drums, blow horns and scream chants the whole game.” Early in the season the team is fighting to even its record but Kimbrough remains optimistic. “Our chemistry is still forming and we’re getting better each game,” he says.
Martyce Kimbrough’s basketball journey has delivered him 3,871 miles from home. “I miss my family and friends and Kewpees,” he says. “But I’m happy and I’m still playing the game I love. I feel very blessed.”
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.