Walker and Faber Living the Dream Overseas
Nov. 13, 2012
CHICAGO - Will Walker strolls down the lively downtown district of Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, taking in all the sights and sounds of the bars, boutiques, outdoor cafes and vendors while admiring the view of mountains in the backdrop.
This is where the former DePaul three-point specialist comes to soak up the diverse atmosphere of his home away from the USA as he stars for BC Beroe in the Bulgarian pro basketball league.
"The weather is Mediterranean so it gets hot but not humid, and there is usually a very nice breeze especially at night that makes you not want to go outside," Walker said. "The people are nice and very diverse in colors and looks.
"I like the way the city is surrounded by mountains and has many outside bars and cafes throughout to hang out at. The liveliest part of the city is at the center with a strip that stretches for about 15 blocks that is closed off to traffic. It's full of people all day and night."
There's a chance some of those locals were at the arena last Saturday when Walker's near triple-double (11 points, nine assists, eight rebounds) led BC Beroe to a 70-67 victory over Chernomorets.
Meanwhile, approximately 7,300 miles away, Walker's former teammate Krys Faber has become a dominant big man playing professionally in Uruguay.
The 6-foot, 10-inch man in the middle for Atletico Welcome came through with 25 points and 24 rebounds in a 72-63 loss to Aguada last Wednesday.
After 14 games, the former Blue Demon center who played with Walker as a freshman is averaging 15.5 points and 14.5 rebounds in 33 minutes a game.
"Playing ball professionally is exciting," Faber said. "It's a combination of my two passions---basketball and traveling. I owe a lot to this game. It's provided an opportunity to branch out and see things.
"I thought traveling state to state was cool, visiting New York, the Midwest and the South. And now basketball has taken me to different parts of the world. The France trip when I played at DePaul was mind-blowing.
"I'm getting paid to be doing something I enjoy. I hope to play professionally as long as my body allows me. After that, I'd like to pursue a career in sports advertising or sports marketing."
Both Walker and Faber have made a relatively smooth adjustment to life in a totally different culture. Helping ease the homesickness are American teammates.
Walker played for two years at Romeoville High School and faced a 6-9 kid at Bolingbrook named Mike Hart, who went on to play at Northern Illinois after Walker transferred to Bolingbrook. Now they've been reunited in Bulgaria.
Walker teams with former Morgan State star Reginald Holmes in the backcourt while 6-10 Mitchell Carter played for Milwaukee in college.
"There is a bar called Eagles where our team likes to go shoot pool," Walker said. "Besides that, we're either walking through the center or hanging out with the rest of the team in front of our building. I have met about 22 new, close friends that include my teammates and coaches. They're great, and I feel like I have known them for years."
Faber's lone American teammate is ex-Seton Hall guard Jamar Nutter who finished up his career in the BIG EAST Conference just before Faber arrived in Lincoln Park.
Walker is submerging himself into his new culture.
"I am getting out of my shell with the help of my coach's son who is teaching me Bulgarian," Walker said. "He teaches me new words every day to use throughout the city and with my teammates. I am working with a teacher on learning the language so I can communicate better and I'm not as lost in the non-English conversations.
"The biggest difference I've had here is that when people shake their head like "no" it really means yes and vice versa. It throws me off every time! The food is very good and healthy. It's a Greek cuisine with lots of tomatoes, meats and cheeses.
"I always miss my family and friends when I'm away from home. I miss the days of just hanging out with my teammates from DePaul, laughing and having a good time.
"And of course, I miss the late-night Allende restaurant burritos with Mac Koshwal."
Food has helped Faber bridge the gap in Uruguay.
"The language barrier was tough at first," Faber said. "But what I've learned from my other experiences is to open up your mindset, dive all-in and don't be afraid to eat the food.
"The quickest way to mesh with another culture is through food. And I can always cook for myself. I learned in China that sometimes the food is not as processed as in the USA. So, I would buy groceries and prepare meals for myself."
Faber joined an American basketball showcase tour playing in China last summer. One of the team's coaches was ex-NBA star Ron Artest, and former NBA guard Ricky Davis was among the players.
After sweeping five games against China's top pro teams and then defeating the Chinese National Team, Faber received an offer to play for a team in the Jilin Province of northeast China. He also had an offer from Trefl Sopot in Poland, but neither contract was guaranteed.
Instead, Faber's agent Dave Maravilla set up the one-year, guaranteed deal in Uruguay.
"I didn't come to Uruguay to be social," Faber said. "I'm here to play ball and do as well as I can. If we make the playoffs, I could be here for six months.
"If I play well, there are possibilities to play ball in Argentina, Brazil or Puerto Rico after my contract expires.
"Yes, it would be nice if people came to visit. There are people I know who have played overseas, and they talk about getting homesick. There are times when I feel like that. But while I was at DePaul, I'd only make two visits back home during the school year, so I'm a little more used to that."
Walker and Faber have adapted well to playing for pay. In late October, Walker had 14 points, eight assists and four rebounds in a loss to Levski Sofia. Two weeks later, he finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals in a win over Tundja Yambol.
The point guard is second on his team in scoring at 11.3 points per game and first in assists at 5.5. He is also fourth in rebounding and third in steals. Walker scored 1,361 points in his career at DePaul and is the only player in Blue Demon history with 1,300 career points and 195 career three-pointers. He is second all-time in three-pointers.
"The biggest difference between college and the international pro game is how much smarter the players are," Walker said. "There are rarely any bad or forced shots, and offenses will pick you apart at any mistake you make defensively.
"It's a non-stop grind working hard every day and leaving it all on the floor on game days. My body is just a little more sore from all the `Euro screens'. The competition here is good, and it's been a fight in every game so far.
"With Bulgaria not being that big of a country, we take a bus similar to the ones at DePaul to all of our games. The longest ride is around four and a half hours but all the rest are around three hours."
Faber has had other big games for Atletico including 19 points and 20 rebounds in a win over Larre Borges, 19 points and 16 boards in a victory over Defenssor and 19 points and 15 rebounds in a loss to Sayago. He failed to score in double figures only twice in his first 14 games and has been a double-figure rebounder in all but one game.
Walker has kept close tabs on his alma mater.
"No doubt, I always keep up with the team via Twitter, Facebook or DePaul's website," he said. "I think they will keep getting better every year. Oliver Purnell is a great coach, and his system will show more and more each year."
What if some of the current Blue Demons one day consider following in Walker's footsteps?
"It's a great experience being a pro on so many different levels---from the great talent I play with and compete against to the head turns you create throughout the cities you play in," Walker said. "It's always a good feeling to inspire the youngsters to know that it's possible to be a pro even if it may not be in your own country.
"And no matter what, always remember it's a blessing to be playing professionally. Don't take any of it for granted because there are hundreds of guys wishing for a spot."
Here's a rundown of Blue Demons playing overseas: