Tuesday, July 21, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Eskridge finishes first season as pro

Leader sports editor

Terrell Eskridge just completed his first season as a professional basketball player. Eskridge, a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville, played point guard for the Belmopan (Belize) Red Taigaz in the Confederation of Central American Basketball.

Eskridge was the team’s second leading scorer, second-leading rebounder and led the team in assists. He averaged 10.6 points, eight assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. He played in the league’s All-Star game and was one of only three players from the United States in the league.

Belmopan finished second in the regular season and lost a best of three semifinals series 2-1 to eventual league champion San Pedro.

But being a professional basketball player in Belize is not quite as glamorous as it sounds, although as an American, he did get more celebrity treatment than most other players.

“I was like the guy everybody keyed on,” Eskridge told The Leader after returning home from his rookie season. “I was an All-Star. Little kids wanted my autograph. I don’t think of myself as an All-Star.”

Besides, the All-Star treatment, being an everyday player in Central America can be a grind. Heat and humidity are exhausting. Gyms aren’t always air conditioned, and sometimes aren’t even gyms.

“One team we played outside,” Eskridge said.

The pay is livable, but not great, and wasn’t always on time. Eskridge made a little more than $800 per week, and he was one of the highest paid players in the league. He lived in the residential area of Belize, which is nothing like the posh resorts that most tourists see during their vacations.

But Eskridge loves the game enough that he’s considering a return when play resumes in January.

“I just want to play basketball as long as I can,” Eskridge said. “I just love the game.”

Eskridge played college basketball for Arkansas Baptist for two years before transferring to Central Baptist College in Conway, where he graduated in 2013 with a degree in education.

He plans to take the teacher certification test just to have when the basketball contract offers stop coming, but for now he’s focused on staying in shape and staying sharp for when that next call comes.

“They want me to come back at Belize,” Eskridge said. “But I went ahead and signed with an agent, and I had never done that before. It’s scary. You check a lot of these guys out and most of them turn out to be scams. But I checked on this guy with other players he represents, and they said he’s a legit. So I went ahead and signed with him.”

The new agent concentrates most of his efforts on providing players for leagues in the Middle East, in countries like Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Those leagues feature many more western players. The level of play is better and so is the pay.

“They really can’t play basketball in Belize like they do here,” Eskridge said. “It’s not that they can’t, they just don’t know how. They don’t know how to play man defense. They don’t understand help side or anything like that. They play 2-3 zone all the time. Even in pickup games you see on the street. When they go on defense, they line up in a 2-3. I’d never seen that before.”

Defense wasn’t the only thing Eskridge said his teammates didn’t quite understand. They also struggled with recognizing the situation. There’s no shot clock in league, but not because teams stalled the ball, because there was no need for one.

“Nobody would try to run a play or an offense,” Eskridge said. “I’ll give you an example. We’re up two with the ball. I knew they were going to double team me. So when I passed it to my teammate. He shot a three. It was just stuff like that all the time. They have good athletes, but they don’t understand the game.”

For now, Eskridge is staying in Conway and working out every day at his alma mater, trying to stay ready for when the next call comes.

“I just stay working,” Eskridge said. “I love working and getting better and seeing the results. Plus I gain weight really easily so I have to work hard not to get fat.

So I’m just staying ready. It’s kind of up in the air right now. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to carry this out as long as I can.”