Every season, I have to negotiate multiple contract terminations and exit packages for players who, for one reason or another, were not up to the team’s expectations. A team’s expectations…what are those exactly? Many would assume that would be prolific scoring, dominating performances, etc. They wouldn’t be wrong, indeed players must have a strong impact on the court. But their assumption is an extremely simplistic one…a team’s expectations of their import players entail so much more than just good stats. And it’s this lack of understanding of what teams are REALLY looking for that has resulted in at least half of the contract terminations that I have witnessed as both a former player and as an agent. In my opinion, a majority of those cases were entirely preventable. How so? Because those players probably committed at least one of what I call the 5 Cardinal Sins for overseas players. And the sad thing is, those players had no idea that they were even making these mistakes…and it would ultimately cost them their job. 

Cardinal Sin #1: Showing up to preseason out of shape. 

There is an expression that goes “first impressions never have a second chance” and in the basketball world, it could not be more true. Your physical condition (or lack thereof) dictates how you will be perceived as a pro by your coach and your teammates. If you show up out of shape, you will be seen at the very least as unprofessional, but also as someone who doesn’t respect their new team enough to put in the effort to be ready to go. I get at least 5-10 calls every preseason from coaches about players not showing up in shape…the coaches are pissed, questioning the player’s ability and seriousness about the job…depending on how bad it is, the coach may even broach contract termination then and there. Coaches expect their import players to be leaders, and to set an example. DO NOT underestimate the importance of being in shape for preseason, it WILL set the tone for the rest of the year. 

Cardinal Sin #2: Not going hard in practice. 

A rookie recently signed with a team at a level where she would have easily dominated, but the opportunity for growth and to move up the proverbial ladder was worth taking the job. She let that go to her head. Not only did she show up out of shape, but she COASTED in the first few court practices. Bad enough to where the GM filmed parts of the practice and sent me the clips. And it was awful. Letting youth players beat her 1 on 1 because she didn’t want to play tough on defense, taking it easy on full-court drills, you name it. The coach refused to allow her on the court after only 3 days of practice and she ended up getting fired shortly afterward. And remember this player was extremely talented for this particular league. Lesson: stay humble and hungry, and practice that way. I cannot repeat this enough, coaches expect their import players to be leaders and set the tone. Practices included. Being the best player there isn’t enough if you are practicing like you don’t care and appear to not be taking your job seriously. 

Cardinal Sin #3: Ignoring the local players.

It’s so easy to want to find the familiar in an unfamiliar situation, to stay within our comfort zone. I see this most often with Americans, who will become an exclusive little clique within the team, hanging out only with each other and not trying to include the local players. This is a big mistake for several reasons. First, you are missing out on new friendships with genuinely interesting people who can expand your worldview. Second, and most importantly, you will need valuable allies when times get tough during the season, allies that have the coach’s ear and trust. Coaches value the local players’ opinions and frequently ask for their insight, especially regarding the import players. And what the local players will have to say about you depends a lot on whether or not they LIKE you as a person, not just as a player. Be likable and get to know the local players, it may save your job someday. 

Cardinal Sin #4: Lack of communication with the coach.

Many players who are struggling during the season with performance issues tell me “I don’t know what the coach wants from me.” Well, GO ASK!! You taking the initiative to talk with the coach shows you are invested in your job, that you care about their opinion and advice, and respect them as a coach. And most importantly, you will get some clarity about their expectations of you on the court. I highly recommend not waiting until times are tough to start meeting with the coach 1 on 1, but rather start doing it during the preseason. Ask the coach in which areas you can improve, discuss strategy, and show that you genuinely care about the team’s success. This communication will likely result in the coach being much more patient with you if you are going through a rough patch. 

Cardinal Sin #5: Living an unhealthy lifestyle.

This one is much more personal, but still has an enormous impact on the quality/consistency of your performances and the team’s perception of you as a professional. Eating McDonald’s every day, staying up till 3 or 4 in the morning to FaceTime with loved ones back home, going out partying every weekend…all these things can dramatically impact your performance negatively. Your body needs sleep, proper rest/recovery, and healthy food to perform at optimal levels. It’s your work tool, your most valuable asset…treat it accordingly. Not only will your performances improve, but the risk of injury also exponentially decreases. A recent study showed that athletes who sleep on average less than 8 hours per night have a 2x greater risk of being injured than those who sleep at least 8 hours. And that’s just sleep, imagine how much more your risk of injury increases when you add unhealthy eating and inadequate rest/recovery to the mix. 

I hope this gives some better insight and understanding of what teams are expecting from their import players, aside from stellar stats. In short, teams are looking for PROFESSIONALS in all aspects, showing that you are invested and taking your job seriously, and leading by example. Ask yourself “is what I’m doing right now setting the right tone?” It better be yes. 

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