Saša Vural, 26, is a Swedish professional basketball player that plays in the Near East University in Northern Cyprus‘ top basketball league. The team is among the best in the league, but unfortunately they out of the playoffs just days before we meet Saša for our interview. As the professional sportsman he is naturally very disappointed with the loss. He has won the league several times before and had anticipated that it would go better. Now it will be a few weeks off before the hard training before the next season starts.
– I will travel home to Sweden for a few weeks and then go and train in the United States, said the 1.85-meter player originally from Helsingborg.
It was in his hometown of Helsingborg that his career began. Already at a young age, he was the best in school tournaments, in it to win and never gave up. At the age of 15, he met with the former basketball star Stew Johnson from the USA, who became his trainer and mentor.
– Stew is a very big part of my success as a basketball player, says Saša. Many summers I have spent training with him, we’ve been through a lot together.
Saša adds that through the years, Stew has become more like a family member than a coach.
– We have something that no one can take away from us. Already at a young age he saw something in me and it is largely thanks to him that I am where I am today.
As a 17-year-old, Saša was one of the young talents in Helsingborg basketball team and played in Sweden’s top basketball league. During that period he was teammate with basketball star Jens Stålhandske, a player who had great significance for Sašas’ development in the sport. He says that Jens has been his biggest inspiration and role model, a great player that he really looks up to.
– In my eyes, Jens Stålhandske is the best Swedish player of all time. He probably did not understand how much he meant to us younger players. When Jens gave praise you knew that you did really well, for he was always straight and honest with us. Actually, I think I was more nervous about disappointed Jens than our coach.
In the summer of 2010 Saša was at a training camp in Macedonia where he met an agent who took him to the club team Adana in Turkey. The Club and Saša could not agree economically so parted ways; he then chose to play for the team Gönyeli of North Cyprus instead.
– I actually did not know that North Cyprus had a basketball league, admits Saša with a smile. It was one of my former teammates who told me about it.
Saša, which has its roots in North Cyprus, had several times during his childhood visited relatives here, but hasn’t really learnt Turkish for he has never had time.
– I understand much of the language, but I don’t speak it so well, he says.
The first season in North Cyprus was a success, Gönyeli won the league and Saša was one of the best players.
A trainer in Germany had become aware of Saša through YouTube clips on the internet and the following season he got the chance to play in Germany. The period only lasted a few months; the team changed coaches and with him chose many of the players to leave the team. Saša went back to his hometown of Helsingborg, but it would only take three days before he was back in Cyprus again.
In Cyprus, he was thrown directly into the big cup final which was played between North Cyprus and Turkey’s best players. North Cyprus won and Saša was named the match’s best player. It was in connection with the match that the Turkish club Adana, which he had previously been considered for, became aware of him again and for the rest of the season, he went to play with them in Turkey.
Saša played for a few more clubs in Turkey before he finally decided to return to North Cyprus. Today, Saša is the league’s highest-paid player.
This season he has played with the club Near East University, and says that he really likes working with the team and his teammates. Most of the time is spent training, and three times a week playing match’s against any of the seven teams in the league.
– When I’m free I go often in Nicosia, sitting with friends at a café, sometimes I go over on the south side. I also meet my relatives who live here.
He says that he is very close with his family and keeps in contact with them daily via Skype.
– My mother is my biggest fan. I’m most nervous when she watches my matches. Only I make her happy so I’m happy, you want to always perform well when your mother is sitting in the audience. She has always supported me and will continue to do so until the day I place my basketball shoes on the shelf.
His trainer in the United States, Kenny, is another important person. Every summer, Saša goes to the US to train for next season. The US has the best knowledge and training halls, simply the best conditions to develop your game. When asked about his dream of playing in the US, Saša responds with a smile, that must surely be every basketball player’s dream, but the path is not straightforward and you need a lot of luck to make the dream a reality.
The next step may be to play in Asia, Saša says as he looks to the east, where there are many interesting teams.
If there is a game in North Cyprus or in any other basketball league for next season, it is not yet clear. What is clear, in any case, is that Sašas’ journey through basketball continues a journey which we will follow with great interest.