By TED RADICK
PANDORA — Feeling chilly?
Pandora-Gilboa basketball player Anna Abelovska sympathizes, to a degree. No pun intended.
“It gets this cold in Slovakia,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s worse.”
With the challenges a foreign exchange student faces, academically, socially and athletically, a little winter weather is a trivial distraction. In every sense, including braving the freeze, Abelovska is fitting right in.
She was one of P-G’s top cross country runners in the fall, and has extended that success on the basketball court this season.
“I got wind that she played basketball in Slovakia and wanted to come out for the team,” Pandora-Gilboa coach Jessica Liedtke said. “We’ve had foreign exchange students in the past, and the thing is they didn’t really know what basketball was. We had to teach them from the ground up.
“With Anna, she came in knowing everything there is to know as far as the rules go. That was really nice for us, and once she started practicing with us it was quickly apparent that she had a lot of talent.”
“That,” Liedtke said with a chuckle, “was a nice surprise.”
European players have been making their mark for decades now in the pro and collegiate ranks. It starts there just like it does here, with youth basketball.
“When I was in middle school, my brother had a really good basketball teacher and she asked if I would like to try it,” Abelovska said. “I tried, and I really liked it.”
There’s been a few adjustments she’s had to make, but the game is largely the same the world over.
“There are some rule differences,” Abelovska said. “We play more like NBA rules, one quarter is 10 minutes and we have a shot clock. Our games are a little bit faster.”
Referees are the bane of players around the globe.
“Maybe here, I feel I have to pay attention a little bit more for fouls,” she said. “Sometimes I feel that in my country, we can play a little bit harder. But, it’s still basketball.”
The transition has worked out well. Abelovksa, a 5-foot-10 forward, is the Rockets’ third-leading scorer at 7.2 points per game. She’s shooting 59 percent from the floor and averages 4.0 rebounds per game.
“She is very quick, very talented,” Liedtke said. “She has all the right moves and she’s very aggressive. The one thing we’ve had to work with her on is having a scorer’s mentality. In Slovakia, she’s more of a passer.
We’ve had to tell her, ‘If you get close to the basket, just take it up.’”
That adjustment may well come in time, just as making the adjustment to living in Pandora took time.
Abelovska is from Dobrá Niva, a village roughly Pandora’s size in central Slovakia. She attended school, and will again next fall, in nearby Banská Bystrica. Her family, when she was younger, briefly visited the U.S. once before but her arrival in Ohio last August was an eye-opener.
“Everything was like it was from a movie, everything,” she said. “The houses, the roads, the schools, it was like it was from movies we watch in my country.
“I think it will be pretty hard to leave. But I’m sure I can come back and visit.”
Homesickness, she said, hasn’t been much of an issue.
“I talk to my parents every Sunday, and we write emails,” she said. “I thought it would be harder. I try to be really busy here, so I don’t have time to think about Slovak stuff like missing my family and friends.”
Years of studying English gave her a good base that’s only improved in her time here.
“Her command of English was good from the get-go,” Liedtke said. “She really understands what we ask of her and if she doesn’t get it, we explain it a slightly different way and she catches on pretty quickly.”
“In the beginning I was sad sometimes because I couldn’t say in English what I was thinking,” Abelovska said. “I had to be quiet. After a while, I started to understand a little bit more and I got more confident with my language skills. I still can’t translate everything from my language, but it’s really a lot better now.”
Playing basketball in front of her classmates has been a thrill for Abelovska, who plays for an athletic club in Slovakia as schools in Europe don’t sponsor sports teams. Attendance at those games can be sparse.
In Pandora-Gilboa’s season opener against Leipsic, she began the game on the bench but entered in the first quarter and soon scored her first basket.
That got a rousing roar from the stands.
“Oh my gosh, that was amazing,” she said. “It was one of my best experiences here, I think. Everybody supports each other here, everybody goes to the games. Even when they have to pay, they come, and that’s really, really cool.”
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