Today, we have a take on the pro life from the ladies perspective. We want to (re)introduce you to Canadian baller May Kotsopolous who we dial up in From Long Distance ...
Over the course of this basketball season we have been able to check in with Maurice Joseph and Jevohn Sheperd playing across the water. This time around we get a look from May Kotsopolous. If you have forgotten who May is, and your bad if you have, she comes from a very successful career at the University of Vermont. There she teamed with fellow Canadian Courtnay Pilypaitis for form one of the best backcourt combos in the NCAAs for four years. Kotsopolous was an America East All Defensive First Team every year as a Catamount being named Defensive Player of the Year for 2007-09. She was an All America East Second Team selection as a sophomore and junior moving up to the First Team in her senior season when she helped lead Vermont to it's first ever NCAA Tournament win over Wisconsin. May is also 15th all time in scoring in conference history with 1772 points. It's this resume that got her a shot with the WNBA's Connecticut Sun where she was one of the final cuts before the season began. But all things happen for a reason and she is now playing in Greece where she is currently 7th in the A1 League in scoring at 14.7 a game. So without futher adieu, we give you May Kotsopolous ...
My name is May Kotsopoulos and I am from Waterloo, Ontario. I grew up playing basketball at Waterloo Collegiate Institute and eventually went on to play at the University of Vermont. During my time at Vermont, my team competed in two NCAA Tournaments and in my senior year, defeated No. 10 Wisconsin to advance to the second round of the tournament for the first time in our program's history.
I am currently playing professional basketball in Greece with DAS Ano Liosa and am in the last couple weeks of my first season overseas. I have been very lucky that basketball has allowed me to travel across North America and now I live in one of the most beautiful places in Europe.
Playing professionally in Greece has been a great experience. My parents were both born in Greece so it enabled me to obtain my Greek citizenship. With that I am not classified as an "import" player and am considered as a Greek athlete. This gives my team an advantage, as we can have two additional North American players on our roster. It's been great to have two other girls with similar experience and backgrounds as myself to share this adventure with. The three of us decided to live together so it’s been nice to have people you can rely on for support. I'm lucky to have two great girls to live and play with, as we all get along well and have a lot of fun together.
I grew up in a very Greek family. I was raised in a traditional home emphasizing Greek customs and culture. Living overseas in Greece hasn't been that huge of an adjustment for me compared to if I had moved elsewhere in Europe to play. I grew up eating Greek food, hearing the language and following the Greek orthodox religion.
As it was my first year overseas, I especially wanted to move to Greece knowing that it would provide me with the most comfort and familiarity. However, one thing that was a major adjustment was the lifestyle and pace. In North America we are accustomed to things being done in a quick and timely manner. We're used to the structure of a set schedule and know things will get done quickly and on time. That is not the case in Greece, which seems to exist at a much slower pace. Either way, I am very lucky for my first year to be somewhere that is familiar and comfortable. It would have been a lot more difficult for me to get adjusted to playing basketball professionally in another country.
Athens is a great place to play basketball. Basketball has a huge following in Greece with the dominance of teams like Panathiniakos and Olympiakos. There are a lot of teams, both men and women, in Athens. So with so many teams there are a lot of fellow North Americans playing professional basketball. It is nice having other people here who I can relate with.
It has been great to also have other Canadians here with me as well. Steph Skrba and I have known each other for years, as we both rose through the ranks of the Ontario Basketball Program around the same time. We compete against each other now, in the same League. I also have met Jermaine Anderson while playing overseas which also has been great.
I am also lucky because the team I play for in Athens is ten minutes away from my aunt's house. It’s been amazing to have family close by, that I can lean on for support and comfort. Having that family support system has been really great. Greece also has a team that is located 20 minutes from the village where my parents both grew up and where I still have family. It was amazing to be able to play in front of them, as up until this year, they had never seen me play the game I love so much.
Playing professionally and playing in college are very different. In college you have to balance school and basketball, while professionally your job is to only focus on basketball. There aren't classes to attend, assignments to do or tests to take. We have one practice a day and one game per week, so there is a lot of down time - but we are accountable to consistently deliver on the court, as it is our job.
Living with two other people definitely helps as we lean on each other to explore Athens together. We also have a lot of time to Skype and use Facebook to help stay connected with family and friends at home. Being overseas for 7-8 months can take its toll on you. Thankfully technology allows us to maintain constant contact.
This year overseas has definitely made me grow as a person, both on and off the court. Being that I'm in my first year professionally, I have had to further develop my game in order to be successful at this higher level. I have traditionally been a shooting guard with the ability to also play the point position. Now as a professional, I have learned that I need to continue developing as a point guard, as I am more built for this position at this level. European basketball also has a different style then North American basketball. It took some time to adjust to their style as well as become accustomed to their different rules. Mentally you also need to adjust to being a "rookie" again. Coming from being a senior in college, where you have the most experience against those you play against, you have that edge against your younger opponents. Now you are the freshman again, competing against those who have more experience overseas.
Off the court it has taught me how to communicate with people from different cultures. Athens is great in respect to the fact that a lot of people do speak English; however there are times where communication can be difficult. Being here I have picked up the language quite well as I have a Greek tutor whom I take lessons with. But there are many times where I have problems communicating with some people so I have had to improve my non-verbal communication skills as well.
One of the most important things I have taken from this experience is that is has further allowed me to connect to my roots. Growing up in a Greek household is one thing, but to actually live in Greece and be surrounded by the culture everyday is a different story. I now have a different sense of pride for my family and my background, and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to represent my family in Greece through the sport I love. However I also know that I would not be able to do this without the opportunities I had growing up that got me to where I am today.
I have about two weeks left of the regular season left for my first year overseas. My team is vying for playoff position (in the Greek league the top four teams make playoffs) and if we win our next two games, we could finish as high as 2nd in the League. Overall, it’s been an amazing experience, where I have learned a lot on and off the court and seen places I only dreamed of visiting. I am looking forward to finishing the season strong and continuing my professional career next year.
Growing up in Canada I dreamt about the possibility of playing Division 1 Basketball in the United States. When I was fortunate to have received a scholarship to Vermont, I felt so blessed to be able to fulfill my childhood dream. Then when I started thinking that I could possibly play professionally, I wasn't sure if that dream was even possible. But with my invitation to a WNBA training camp, and a contract with a team in my family's home country, it has all just been icing on the cake.
A big shout to May for hooking us up with a look at what it's like to play overseas. Remember that you can always check for updates on her and her team at www.eurobasket.com and you can follow her exploits real time on Twitter at may_kotsopolous on the daily. Check back for more of our ballers playing across the pond right here in the coming weeks.