Inside the life of former Badger Cassidy Ryan, as he navigates the ups and downs of playing professional basketball overseas

Photo credit: Cassidy Ryan

Photo credit: Cassidy Ryan

The city is called Miercurea Ciuc. It’s a small town in central Romania with a population of around 40,000. Of those roughly 40,000 people, 99.7 per cent of them are either Hungarian or Romanian.

Cassidy Ryan finds himself in an extreme minority, to say the least, as he begins his career as a professional basketball player after spending the past three years playing here at Brock. Playing for CSM Miercurea Ciuc (or as it’s known in Hungarian, VSK Csíkszereda) in the Romania-Liga Nationala, the countries’ top basketball league, Ryan was initially slated to play for two other teams before finally signing in Romania.

“At first I originally signed to play in Lithuania,” said Ryan. “I went to China with them for a preseason tournament and it didn’t really work out. They wanted to play me at a position that wouldn’t have been good for me, so I just told my agent, ‘look, this is what they want me to do’, and my agent said it was a bad idea to stay there if I wanted to move up and make more money.”

It looked like Ryan was going to stay home in Canada for a brief moment, signing with the St. John’s Edge of the NBL Canada.

“Literally three days before I left to go to Newfoundland, my friend who was playing on this team in Romania called me and was like, ‘listen, my team needs some help, we’re losing games, do you want to go overseas still because there’s an opportunity to come here’. So I kind of just decided to come [to Romania]; I can play in Canada whenever I want so getting to travel a little bit sounded like a better idea to me,” said Ryan.

Ryan, a 6’7 forward from Mississauga, is one of three Canadians on the team; Mambi Diawara, who played his university ball with the Calgary Dinos and won a national championship in 2018, and Meshack Lufile, who played at the University of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.

It was Lufile who called Ryan with the offer to come out to Romania. And it was Diawara who knocked out the Badgers in the 2018 U Sports quarterfinals with a game-winning layup.

“We’ve been talking about it a bunch,” said Ryan. “I’ve been telling him that I’m not very happy about that.”

Cassidy came to Brock after spending two seasons with the Canisius Golden Griffins of the NCAA’s Division I. A lack of playing time, plus a new head coach, prompted Ryan to look elsewhere.

“It came down to a few things,” said Ryan. “My head coach was retiring, so I was going to look to transfer because usually when a new coach comes in he brings    in his own guys. Then my dad passed away that year and my mom was pretty sick, so I didn’t want to go too far for my mental sake. I just wanted to be close to my mom so I looked to come back to Canada. I talked to Ottawa a lot, Ryerson, McMaster, and then [Charles] Kissi reached out to me. We went for dinner and he kind of convinced me to come to Brock. He’s pretty good at that. He’s a con artist,” Ryan joked.

Charles Kissi took over the Badgers men’s basketball program in the summer of 2013 and led the Badgers to the best three-year stretch in program history from 2016-2018, with a record of 49-13. Kissi moved on to take a job with the Raptors 905 of the NBA G-League, while also working as the head coach and GM of the CEBL’s Guelph Nighthawks. Ryan says the two still talk all the time.

“I might play for [Kissi] over the summer with the Nighthawks, but other than basketball, we just talk about life. He’s kind of my friend now. We’re both kind of wired the same way,” said Ryan.

Ryan was a part of the Raptors 905 training camp this past summer and is set to try out for his hometown team once more this year.

“The 905 camp was good,” said Ryan. “Tyler Ennis was there all summer, Joel Anthony was there, Serge Ibaka worked out with us a bunch, it was really good. A lot of NBA guys came in and out all summer.”

Growing up in Mississauga, Ryan was teammates with current NBA’ers Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray and Dillon Brooks when he played with CIA Bounce, one of the best youth basketball programs in the nation. In addition to his experience playing in the NCAA, OUA and his time with the CEBL’s Niagara River Lions this past summer, Ryan quickly became a key contributor in Romania.

The team’s three leading scorers are all Canadians — Diawara is leading the way with 23.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, followed by Lufile and Ryan who each average 15 points a game. Ryan is shooting 40 per cent from three as well.

“I think the team knows that we’re going to [carry them], but they almost don’t want us to take as many shots because they want to shoot too. We’re trying to find a good balance of when to shoot and when to pass,” said Ryan. “There’s actually a rule here, that for at least 20 minutes of every game, at least one Romanian under the age of 23 has to be on the court, because they’re trying to promote basketball in the country. But after that 20 minutes, our five guys on the court are four imports: three Canadians, one Slovenian and one Romanian guy is on the court.”

Besides the three Canadians, the team consists of just two Slovenians, while the other nine players are all Romanian. The language barrier poses some obvious inconveniences, but the two Slovenian players  — Matevz Magusar and Marko Cergic — act as translators for the team.

“The Romanian guys can understand [English] if you speak really slowly, but even then they only know a couple words. We translate through each other, like the guys who can speak both will talk to us and relay the message,” said Ryan.

The language barrier is not the only thing Ryan has had to get used to; while Ryan is used to the fast-paced, vertical game that is played in North America, the slower, more horizontal style of play in Europe took some time getting used too.

“The game is so different in Canada, like the 905 camp was so fast-paced up and down, here it’s a lot of  — like one team we played, their starting lineup was all 30 or older, but they were so freaking smart that they didn’t need to be fast. They literally picked us apart every single play.”

Photo credit: Mackenzie Gerry

Photo credit: Mackenzie Gerry

The team currently sits at 3-12, something that Ryan is not familiar with thanks to his successful years at Brock.

“I’d like to be on a good team, this team over here is not good,” said Ryan. “It’s really frustrating, although it is good because it’s my first year overseas, so it’s good that I can put up numbers. But I would rather be on a winning team. Honestly I want to be on a team where guys are better than me; right now when we walk into the gym it’s like everyone knows we’re the best players, so in that aspect I’m not really learning. I’d rather have someone older than me who can teach me.”

It’s safe to say that Romania is not the end goal for Ryan, who says that the overseas life is not the right one for him.

“I don’t really enjoy it as much as I wish I did,” admitted Ryan. “So next year hopefully I’ll be with the 905, but right now I’m talking to teams in the top league in Italy. Honestly if I can get some warm weather I’ll take it. It’s a little bit warmer here than Canada, but not much. But being over here, I’m in such a small city, and it’s a really religious city too, so everything closes super early. It’s either young kids or everyone is super old. It’s brutal.”

On top of the rather mundane lifestyle in Romania, Ryan’s mother passed away in October, right before his season got into the swing of things.

“I think I’ve grown a lot in this experience,” said Ryan. “The only thing I really have back home is my sister, but she’s in school. We talk everyday and I think having the Canadians here has helped a lot, just because they can at least relate to me a little bit.”

Ryan’s summer plans include another year of 905 camp, while the CEBL poses as another option as well. Ryan practiced with the River Lions this past summer, but was not allowed to play in games as the risk for injury would have jeopardized his opportunities overseas.

“I think the [CEBL] is a great idea,” said Ryan. “Obviously guys want to play overseas first to make more money, but if guys want to make extra money when they come home and play in front of family and friends, it makes the most sense to me. I think it’s the best league in Canada. It’s also great because it’s FIBA certified so they respect it in Europe.”

As previously mentioned, both the River Lions and the Nighthawks are possibilities for Ryan this upcoming summer, while a potential reunion could be in the works in Guelph. Both teams have ties to the Badgers, as current Badger Tyler Brown played with the River Lions last season, and is slated to do so once more this year.

“It was actually really cool to see TB get better throughout that summer — and the guys in that league are very very good. I think he learned a lot and he brought it back to Brock this year,” said Ryan. “I think I could go back to the River Lions potentially, the coach and I are really close. But playing for Kissi would be awesome, I’d definitely play for him again.”

Another former Badger, Dani Elgadi, who is now playing overseas in Portugal, could also team up with Ryan and Kissi once more.

“I was talking to Dani three or four days ago, just asking what he’s doing in the summertime because if Kissi’s coaching he said he’d probably play for him as well. It’d be fun to play with him again,” said Ryan.

While the future looks bright for Ryan’s career, there was a time in the fall when he considered giving up basketball altogether.

“There was a lot going on at that time,” said Ryan. “My mom had just passed, the thing with Lithuania was kind of weird, so I let that go, and I didn’t know if I wanted to continue playing basketball. At one point I was like, ‘man maybe I’ll just quit’, but then I realized I just turned 25 and I was like, ‘if I don’t play now, I’m going to regret it at some point.’”

With his sights set on bigger and brighter goals both on and off the court, Ryan is looking to play at least one more season overseas before weighing his options once more.

“If I can get a good opportunity to continue playing, then I’ll stay, but I’ve done so much with basketball already — everyone only sees me as a basketball player which I hate, there’s so much more to me and I still want to do a lot of things outside of basketball. I’m still figuring out what I want to do for my future. Basketball is great and everything but there’s so much more to life.”

Ryan is already planning for his future, something many young athletes fail to do. He is in the midst of purchasing a pair of houses back home in Canada, either to flip them for profit or rent them out.

“I’m looking at starting a real estate thing,” said Ryan. “Between flipping houses or having people in them, I’m trying to figure out what’s the best route right now, but I’ve made enough money already to get the houses — which is an accomplishment in itself I think — but I don’t want a 9-5 job where someone is bossing me around.”

 

“I just want to live happy and comfortable and be able to make the decisions I want to make. If that’s with basketball, great, but if not, there’s a lot of avenues I could take.”

 

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