The Queen’s Guards: Freshmen from overseas look to impact Vikings basketball season

Freshmen Alex Distras and Veron Eze join the Augustana men’s basketball team this year looking to make a run at an NSIC conference title. 

The pair of guards from across the pond will have to adapt to their first year of collegiate basketball while also learning to live in America.

Distras spent the past season in Pennsylvania, playing for Scotland Campus, an established preparatory basketball program in the U.S., while Eze most recently competed for Great Britain in the League of Nations 3×3 Championships. 

“When I first got picked up at the airport, I hopped in the driver’s seat thinking it was the passenger seat,” Distras said. “Everything’s different, from the way it looks to the way people speak. Obviously, we all speak English, but the way I’d say something could be completely different from the way you say something.”

Neither player was able to visit campus during their recruitment. They only saw what you could find online or through word of mouth. 

“I had never heard of Sioux Falls before,” Eze said. “And [Augustana’s coaches] had equally never heard of me before.”

Jordan Spencer, ‘18 alumnus and a member of the 2016 National Championship team, played a large role in helping both players get in contact with the coaching staff and make a decision to come play abroad at Augustana.

“They were recommended by [Spencer],” coach Tom Billeter said. “That was it, because of Jordan. You do your background, you talk to the coaches and different things like that. Then you watch a ton of tape.” 

At his past coaching jobs, Billeter said he was able to go overseas to recruit actively. While he was there he built relationships and connections with other coaches. That allowed him to originally recruit and sign Spencer. 

Distras and Eze have both played against some of the top competition in Europe, being a part of the U16 and U18 National Teams from Great Britain, but they both will have to adjust to the American style of  play and education.  

“I’ve got like a year’s experience being here,” Distras said. “The pace is a lot faster, a lot more athletic too, just overall more skilled talent.” 

Eze talked about the mentality shift of playing in collegiate basketball versus the leagues back home. 

“This is a lot more serious,” he said. “As much as the coaches want us to improve, the main concern is winning. It’s a lot more cutthroat. You have to perform. They put that pressure on us because they believe we can do it.”

Official practices for basketball started Oct. 15, so Distras and Eze are still very new to the practices that Billeter runs. 

“I think it’s been an adjustment for them,” Billeter said. “I’m happy with where they are at, but they definitely [have] got to get better. The speed of the game, pace of the game, intensity maybe of the game is just something that they’ve got to learn, and they will.” 

Their teammates have helped them through the transition, Distras and Eze said. 

“Our team has done a really great job of giving us a sense of belonging,” Eze said. “It took 20 minutes of meeting the guys to feel like I was around a great bunch of people that wanted to be here.” 

Basketball season officially starts Nov. 12 when the team will travel to Kansas City to play Southern Arkansas. Distras and Eze both expressed their desire to help the team. 

“We both want to win,” Distras said. “I told the team I want to make an impact on or off the court.”

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