VMI Athletic Communications recently conducted a Q&A interview with Keith Gabriel '12, the former VMI basketball standout who is currently playing in Sweden for the Norrkoping Dolphins. Read part one of the three-part interview below.
Q: Describe the process that got you to Sweden.
A: Well, the process was very long and pretty much drawn out. In late July, I had an offer to join a club in Greece, but I turned it down at the time. Mid-August while down in Alabama, I received a call from my agent saying that I was going to Lithuania the day after. I set up a flight to go back to Charlotte the same day I received the call. Once I got home, I was for sure that I was heading to Lithuania. The team was called Pieno Zvagsdez. Around the evening, I got a call from my agent saying that the General Manager of the team wanted me to come there, but the coach was not so sure if I was the right player for his system. A day later, I received news that the team decided to pass on me.
A couple of days after that, two childhood friends of mine, Jonathon Clark (my manager) and Anthony Morrow (who plays for the Atlanta Hawks) called me and asked me to come work out and to live with them in Atlanta. I worked out in Atlanta with Anthony and the Atlanta Hawks for approximately a month.
In the beginning of October, I went to Israel (Ashdod) to visit my twin brother who was playing for a team there called Maccabi Ashdod. While I was there, I was able to practice with my brother's team. After being there for a week, I had a workout for a Division 2 team about 15 minutes from where my brother lived called Elitzur Ramla. That was on the 23rd of October. I thought I played well and the coach really liked me. They were talking about signing me in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner, but they already had two Americans. (Division 2 teams are allowed 2 Americans and Division 1 teams are aloud 4 Americans. Each country changes though). On the 24th of October, my agent called and told me that I just received an offer from a EuroChallenge team known as the Norrkoping Dolphins. I immediately accepted the offer. On the 26th of October (which is my father's birthday), I was on a plane from Tel Aviv, Israel to Norrkoping, Sweden. My first contract was a tryout period for 2 weeks. When the 2 weeks were up, I re-signed with the same team, but the contract was only for a month. When that month was up, the team decided that they wanted to sign me for another one-month contract. After the second one-month contract, the team decided that they wanted me to sign for the rest of the season. That contract was filed on the 15th of January.
Q: Is there a language barrier or similar challenges? What are the living conditions?
A: The language barrier is not as bad as I expected it to be. I've only met a handful of people that could not speak English. I share a 2-bedroom apartment (see picture below - view from Gabriel's apartment) with a guy who is half American, but he was born and raised in Sweden. He speaks very fluent English.
The thing that gets me is that if I am around more than 2 of my Swedish teammates, they will talk in Swedish and I feel kind of left out at times because I do not understand all that they are saying. I try to learn words and sentences here and there, but they speak such good English that most of the time I do not need it. I rely on a handful of words even if people are speaking English. "Tack" means thank you and "Varsågod" means you're welcome. Just attempting to show the Swedish people that I am at least trying to learn something, haha. Saying "Hey what's up" has back fired on me a couple of times. For example, I said, "Tjena" (means "Yo! What's up!") to a man working in the airport going to Russia last week and they just assumed that I knew fluent Swedish. Me being myself, I laughed and acted as if I knew what he said and walked off, haha. My coach walked up to me and asked if I knew what the guy had said, and I quickly told him I had no idea. He translated what the guy said, which was "What's up, you look like you play a lot of computer games." I started to laugh hysterically.
The living conditions are great in my opinion. I have everything that I need such as a kitchen, washer and dryer, and everything that an apartment would have in America, so that is definitely a plus. The only thing that gets to me is the weather. Since December, I can recall it snowing 5 out of 7 days every week! Being a guy from North Carolina, I cannot manage this weather! (See picture below - Gabriel riding to practice on snowy Swedish roads)
For Christmas, I received a nice big coat, a pair of gloves and a toboggan that I use on a daily basis! I stay in a complex known as Hageby, which is like the middle class living in Sweden. Everything that I need such as the gas station, the mall, and the grocery store are right across the street from where I reside. What I found interesting the day I got to Sweden is that in the "mall", you have the grocery store on the bottom level and around it are like your telephone stores, shopping stores, etc. I share a car with one of my teammates, which is a Ford Focus Station wagon. My teammates and I call it the "Maybach", haha. I only use it to go from home to practice and back. My other transportation is a train that goes throughout the city. It is so convenient and very cheap. I've only used it a handful of times and that was to go to the big mall where they have like Gamestop, Stadium (shoe store) and nice restaurants.
Part two of the Keith Gabriel interview will be posted later this week here on VMIKeydets.com.