Natasha Thames is a long, long way from home.
But the former Port Huron Northern and Temple University basketball player is loving every minute of it.
Thames is in the process of completing her first season for the Peli-Karhut professional basketball team in Kotka, Finland.
“Professional basketball in Europe is very different from college basketball,” Thames said. “In my opinion college basketball was a lot harder. Professional basketball to me is more advanced talent wise, which makes sense because it is the next level. Practices are more laid back. You mostly do a lot of shooting and work on scouts of the teams you will be playing.
“In college, you have other things that factor into your playing experience which makes things more difficult to manage. You have mandatory workouts and practices sometimes three a day. A full class schedule, study hall, and meetings. All those things take a toll on you mentally and physically. Playing professionally, your main focus is just playing basketball. We practice for an hour and a half every evening. We have access to a weight room and gym if we want to get extra shots up or want to lift weights, but it is not mandatory.”
Thames appears to have made a quick adjustment. She has been a consistent player in the starting lineup, averaging 15 points and nine rebounds for the team, which recently began the postseason.
“The hardest adjustment for me was getting used to what is a travel call and what was not,” Thames said. “My personal game was affected because being a forward I used many counter moves that involved step through and reverse pivots. My back to the basket game consists of all these moves that I worked hard and perfected in college basketball.
“Playing in Europe, I took a lot more jump shots and looked to come out and drive to the basket.”
Thames said adjusting to the culture proved more difficult than adjusting on the court.
“Overall the hardest adjustment was being in a culture different from America,” she said. “It’s like a whole different world over here. Everything as far as food, mannerism, driving, you name it.
“One positive thing about being in Finland is that pretty much everyone speaks English. They are required to learn English in grade school. I have friends in other countries that are dealing with language barriers because people don’t speak English. They’re English is fairly good here, so practice is a mix between Finnish and English.”
During the season, Thames suffered a few setbacks, namely unforeseen injuries. But it hasn’t totally derailed her development.
“I sat out a few games this season,” Thames said. “One was because of a small concussion. I am actually playing injured right now. For the past two months I have been playing hurt. I have been to many doctors and found out that I have about three vertebrae that have zero range of motion and radiate pain.
“(Doctors say) I won’t be able to heal until I stop playing for awhile. Until then I have to play through the pain. Our team has a massage therapist so massages help with the pain sometimes.
After the playoffs end, Thames said she will weigh her options, but hopes to continue playing professional basketball.
“As of now, I don’t know what my future plans are,” Thames said. “I will decide that upon the end of the season when I get back to the (United) States. This is my rookie season in which the main goal is to make a name for yourself and gain exposure to bigger and better job offers.”
Contact Joseph Hayes at (810) 989-6268 or at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @jhayes1136.