OAKWOOD — Adrian Penland is well aware that he’s gotten a pretty fair shake out of life. For the past six years, this West Hall High graduate has been living his dream playing basketball overseas.
Ever since he was in college at Lander University, Penland’s goal was to put together a successful career in Europe. Now he’s making a living playing at the professional level, where those in the league are idolized similarly to players in the NBA.
"Growing up, as a little boy, I never thought I would be where I am now," Penland said. "I love what I do, I love Europe, the food and the culture is great."
This season, Penland played for Lappeenranta, a factory-owned franchise, in Finland. It was a successful year for the Oakwood native, scoring a league-high 20.8 points per game, to go along with 4.2 assists and two steals. This season just adds to his ever-increasing list of countries he’s played in, including China, Greece, Poland, Israel, Italy, England, Germany, Belgium and Holland, among others.
Penland says that the leagues offset the cost by providing a car and apartment in the city for which they play.
Penland readily admits that his three seasons in Greece (2005-2007) were his favorite due to the high level of basketball and being centrally located in the hub city of Athens. But as a European pro, he understands that flexibility is key and moving on to the next opportunity is sometimes a must.
Moving to Finland for the most recent 40-game season was another stamp to put on his passport and made for more stories to share with those back at home. Cold weather, navigating frozen roads and eating dinners consisting of pork chops, steak and mashed potatoes, are all things he’ll remember most from Finland.
During his career, Penland has also dabbled in the native languages, learning some Greek and Polish along the way. He admits giving Hebrew a whirl, but it was too tricky.
"Living in Europe, you realize every country is different, and has it’s own identity," said Penland.
Of course, living thousands of miles away from home is not always easy. Penland admits he often misses his family, friends and the congregation at Free Chapel Worship Center. Having his girlfriend, Jewel Stevens, along for the ride takes the edge off of being homesick.
"There’s no place like America," Penland added. "But playing basketball is my job."
With one season under his belt in Finland, Penland’s now looking to find the best fit for next year, says his agent Joshua Goodwin, with Houston-based Higher Level Sports. Right now, leagues in Turkey, Israel and the Ukraine seem to be the most viable options for the 2009-2010 season. The NBA is also a possibility, says Goodwin, with a call-back for a tryout with the Atlanta Hawks this summer another option.
Goodwin says that Penland, a guard, remains in high demand, despite playing one of the most saturated positions.
"Adrian is a great guy and a great basketball player," Goodwin said. "He’s always been really easy to work with."
Similarly to Penland’s plans to embark on a professional career in Europe, when in college, he also has a road map for the future. He plans to spend at least five more years playing in Europe.
Then, he wants to embark on a career as an assistant coach at the Division I-level or even the NBA, before eventually settling as a professional sports agent.
But for now, Penland is content with globe-trotting across the pond, and seeing what different countries have to offer.