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Being far from home is tough, but this US basketballer is glad to be out of America

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Donald Sloan was just a few hours away from Wuhan when the coronavirus pandemic first began making headlines.

Twelve months later, and just one day out from his first taste of the National Basketball League (NBL), the Adelaide 36ers recruit has opened up about some of the challenges he faced in 2020.

The 32-year-old from Louisiana in the US vividly recalls being in China when COVID-19 started spreading, admitting his proximity to the epicentre was a strange experience.

“I was in Beijing and Wuhan is maybe a three to four-hour flight from there,” Sloan said.

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He remembers “hearing the rumblings” in his hotel each day “about a flu-like virus kind of going around”.

“[Even] a couple of guys on our team had symptoms,” he said.

After heading home to the United States, Sloan then travelled to Germany in a bid to keep playing — but the Basketball Bundesliga was stopped after just three games.

Sloan says it is difficult being away from family during the COVID-19 pandemic.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

After spending most of the year back in the US, he arrived in Australia in December to join the 36ers, going through two weeks of quarantine before linking up with his teammates.

The 191-centimetre guard said it was a good career move, but also an excuse to get out of the US, which surpassed 20 million confirmed cases of coronavirus earlier this month.

“I don’t think it was COVID that was the reason I wanted to get out of America but, for sure, I used Australia as a scapegoat to get away,” he said.

While time spent away from loved ones is challenging, he says his family is staying as safe as possible in a hostile environment.

“As far as being out in the mass population, as far as protesting and everything that was going on, we kind of stayed away from those things in fear that nobody wanted to be hooked up to a ventilator,” he said.

‘People acting like COVID-19 isn’t real’

Sloan’s compatriot Tony Crocker has also joined the 36ers for the upcoming NBL season and admits he has also struggled with being away from family.

The 33-year-old from Oklahoma has left his wife and three children back home

He said the way the pandemic was being handled there made him nervous.

Basketballer Tony Crocker prepares to shoot.
Crocker’s wife and three children have remained in the US while he continues his career in the NBL.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

“My family, they stay home and try to stay safe, but you can’t predict what other people are going to do that one time you go to the store and get groceries.”

The forward also admitted he was pleased to leave the US but he said getting back to playing basketball was his main motivation for moving to Australia.

“I for sure wanted to get away and I know that Australia is really good with [COVID-19] … this is definitely a safe place to be,” he said.

‘I felt at the time my family was safe’

Adelaide’s head coach Conner Henry already has experience as a coach in the NBL, leading the Perth Wildcats in 2008-09.

The 57-year-old Californian was appointed coach of the 36ers in April last year, leaving behind a 21-year-old son who lives with Henry’s 89-year-old father.

Adelaide 36ers coach Conner Henry during a training session.
Conner Henry says his son is living with his 89-year-old father back home.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

He said it was difficult to leave his family behind in one of America’s COVID-19 hotspots.

“California currently has the highest daily new cases of COVID-19, so hospitals are at breaking point,” Henry said.

While his decision to return to Australia was driven by his desire to return to coaching, he said the situation on America’s west coast was alarming.

“Twenty-two thousand Americans died last year of the flu, and just this past week in America we had 36,000 die [from coronavirus],” he said.

“There’s a bit of panic at home … my decision was based on getting back to work and I felt at that time my family was safe.”

A large crowd of people gather outside the US Capitol building. Many are waving US flags, or Donald Trump supporter gear
Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in Washington DC on January 6.(AP: Jose Luis Magana)

‘Everything is changing for the better’

As protests following the election defeat of US President Donald Trump reached new heights last week, Sloan, Crocker and Henry all watched from a distance as the Capitol building in Washington DC was stormed.

“It was definitely surprising to see them act like that and tear up the Capitol building, so hopefully everything is changing for the better,” Crocker said.

He added that with president-elect Joe Biden preparing to take charge in his home country, change was coming.

Adelaide 36ers players standing and listening in to their coach during a training session.
The Adelaide 36ers will open the NBL season against Melbourne United this Friday.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

After being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBL season will finally tip-off this Friday when the 36ers take on Melbourne United in Adelaide.

Games are only being played in South Australia and Queensland to start the season, with fixtures for each round released on a weekly basis.

The 36ers coach and both US imports say the team is more than ready to get back out on the court.

“I’m too ready … it’s been since February that I last played a game,” Crocker said.

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