By David Barr, Special for The Sports Rabbi
Virtus Bologna forward Julian Gamble sits at home in the United States safe, healthy and reflective. His world basketball travels were different this year and from this point on could be different still. The importance of being a great husband and father have always taken the forefront for the seven-year European pro and the 2019-20 season cemented that even more.
Dave Barr: Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on this season and what happened outside of basketball – what are your thoughts now sitting at home?
Julian Gamble: Right now, I’m just living in the moment. I understand how much this virus has affected the world, basketball aside. The most important thing right now is taking care of each other and ourselves and spend time and cherish the moments we have with our families.
DB: You were the first if not one of the first to leave and come home. Your thoughts now looking back at that decision and what was club’s reaction?
JG: I was the first to leave. For me it was about just being able to be reunited with my family. At the time I wasn’t nervous about potentially contracting to virus, but I was aware of how it was continuing to progress in Italy. It was a quick decision that I had prayed on for days before it was made. I spoke to both Sasha Djordjevic (head coach) and Paolo Ronci (club manager) prior to me leaving and they gave me their blessing to come home. My intention was to only stay a few weeks before we would optimistically start back team practices but that did not happen in the end. I think in hindsight, I made the right decision and I have continued to stay in contact with the team since I’ve been home.
DB: Did this situation in which you guys were playing so well atop the standings in Serie A and EuroCup then to literally have death surround you in Italy change your perspective on the game, life, playing abroad?
JG: I would say no. Only because I try to always keep things in perspective and see the big picture. Not only Italy but other places that I had played were being affected at a higher rate daily and that hurt my heart to know people were getting sick and losing their lives in some cases. For me, playing the game is a great privilege and something we as players worked very hard to be able to do, but in the big picture it’s a small part of life and a small time in our lives that we have to make the most of. God and my family will always be the most important things in my life and they are both major reasons why I want to succeed at the highest level possible in basketball. Playing abroad and being a part of different clubs and cultures in different countries is a great experience if you embrace it. I have always prided myself in enjoying my experiences and the people I meet along the way which is another reason why I feel so close to these people during this pandemic. The game is not more important than the health of the people or anyone involved. That’s what we all have to remember.
DB: It still hasn’t been decided if the EuroCup will resume. What are some of the things from a health perspective you would like to see in place before play begins again? It was interesting to see the players view on when to restart versus leagues and owners. The tough part about not having a true union in Italy or Europe.
JG: There has to be health measures in place that allow us all to work in operate in a place where contracting the virus is not a concern. I understand that this is very hard to do with so many unknowns about the virus but it’s necessary. There were many opinions on what should be done about the season, but ultimately, I think the best thing to do would be cancel any remaining potential games and try to start next season in the safest way possible. Not having strong players unions throughout Europe definitely causes issues at times but in a situation like this that has never happened before there is no way to know how it could have helped or hurt the situation between players, teams, and figuring out contract disputes.
DB: How do you think COVID-19 will change basketball in Europe now and into the future?
JG: It’s really hard to say since we don’t know what the near future holds. Optimistically I hope they discover a working vaccine that can help protect people from the virus which will help people feel safer and eventually help us get back to playing games with the fans present. I feel that with every day that passes we are getting closer to a solution, but time is the only thing that will make that answer clear.
DB: Let’s talk actual basketball for a minute. Was this edition of Virtus the best team you’ve played on as a pro? Would love to see what you guys could do in Euroleague if pieces can be kept together. What made your run this season possible and special?
JG: Yes, this was the best pro team I’ve played on so far. We had a great collection of experience and deep talent that helped us win a lot of games in different ways. Our staff helped us prepare for every game the way we needed and in practice we were constantly working to build to culture we wanted within our team. How fast we built our chemistry was special. Most guys being new, we all had a common goal to win games and play together and guys settled into their roles quickly to contribute to our team success. As a team we had high ambitions and making it to Euroleague was one of them, so hopefully that opportunity comes, and we can take advantage of it. As of now, I have one more season with Virtus. So, I will see what the future holds for me past next year with Virtus as time progresses but this past season although it was cut short was an amazing experience with the city of Bologna and fans. I really appreciate their passion for basketball.