Ousman Krubelly, an American player of «Astana» PBC, became one of the heroes of the «Americans in Kazakhstan» project by the famous Kazakhstan director Kanat Beisekeev.
Ousman told about his life in Kazakhstan, how he became a professional basketball player, shared with his first impressions of the country, and his view on the political and religious situation in the United States.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Ousman Krubelly. I am from Atlanta, Georgia. I am 28 years old. I have been engaged in professional basketball for 7 years now. I played for European basketball teams and recently moved to the VTB League.
Why did you choose basketball?
I was a very active boy, so at school, my parents signed me up for basketball camp. At first, everything was new, but gradually I began to enjoy basketball. I worked hard on myself. Over time, my hobby grew into a passion and I decided to make a career in sports. I also played soccer.
Why then did not you choose soccer?
In college, I had more advantages in basketball, so I decided in its favour. I still like to play soccer, because thanks to it I learned to move, and I developed my legs.
Who inspired you to play basketball?
Michael Jordan. I wanted to be like Mike. I have an older brother who also took up sports, thus motivating me to become an athlete.
What is it like being an American?
We love our country, we try to live to the best of our abilities, but at the same time, we are ready to discover something new: other countries and cultures. Basketball helps me with this. The younger generation of Americans, as well as young people from other countries, want to travel, want to see the world. We can say that they are not as strongly attached to the country as the previous generation.
Americans are different — in the North and South, in the West and East. You can see a lot of different personalities. But in general, we are an open, friendly people, always ready to help.
Have you heard about Kazakhstan before you decided to come?
No, I have not. Kazakhstan is very different from the places where I happened to live and work, so I experienced a cultural shock. This is the first Asian country to me and I did not expect that Kazakhstan would be a country where the majority of the population is Muslim.
Astana is a beautiful city with lots of opportunities, business and trade thrive here. I could not imagine that one day I would be here. Although sometimes the things you do not know offer you the best opportunities. I decided to take advantage of the moment and agreed to come to Kazakhstan.
Where did you live and work before coming to Kazakhstan?
In Greece, Italy, Holland, Great Britain, Slovenia and Germany. In these countries, I played in different basketball teams. Before coming to Kazakhstan I played in Greece, and before that in Italy. In each country, there are advantages and disadvantages. You need to adjust to everything, including, basketball itself. Adapt both morally and tactically.
Do you like such a nomadic way of life?
I really like it, I do what I’m passionate about. In addition, there is an opportunity to visit other countries, get acquainted with the culture, language. I spent about 10 months in each of these countries; this is how long one game season lasts. At the end of the season, as a rule, I return to the States, I have some rest, and then again I start to prepare for the new season.
Whether I leave for a new country or go back to where I’ve played before, depends on the arrangement with the host team. Of course, my main goal is to play in the NBA and the Euroleague. I try and work hard to achieve my goal. Getting into NBA is not so easy. You need to know certain people and get noticed at a certain level so that you get a chance to be noticed.
How one can get in professional basketball?
First, you need to graduate from a university, and then find the agent who will represent you, preferably with a lot of experience and connections. You are evaluated, determined by your skills. If some club likes you, you can be invited to this team. Then negotiations and the conclusion of a contract take place, where they work on all the conditions — terms, fees and so on.
Tell us about «Astana» basketball team?
There are three Americans besides me, one Greek, and all the rest of the team are Kazakh players. We work together; together we strive to improve our skills. I think that we are ready for the new season; I'm looking forward to it and very much hope for a victory. The upcoming game will be the first for me in Kazakhstan and I hope to get serious support from fans.
Do you consider the support for your fans to be the most important thing for you?
Games and victories are important. The player first needs to focus on the game, not thinking about whether the fans come or not. results, team play and victory are important in these terms. Of course, it's nice when you get the support from the stands, but still, the main goal is a victory in every game.
What is included in your daily schedule?
We alternate game practices with sessions in the gym. We spend a lot of time in the gym, we pump, we always try to be in a good shape.
What is the difference between basketball in Kazakhstan and the US?
The approach to the game, the way of thinking is different. We have the NBA, and naturally, this is a completely different level of competition.
No Kazakh has played in the NBA yet …
It's never too late. A new generation of players is growing, so everything is possible. There is always the opportunity to be the first. In the United States, a huge amount of money is invested in the development of baseball, basketball, football. This is a big business.
I'm very glad that I have the opportunity to make a living by doing what I like. I am glad that I can inspire others with my story. I studied in a small school, without any financial support from the state, I had to work hard to find myself where I am today. Every year was better for me than the previous one; in this respect, I was very lucky. It is all thanks to hard work and dedication to your goal. I continue to work on myself to become better and to reach the highest possible level in the game.
Why did you start each new season with the new team?
So it just happened this way. I played for the same team during my first two years in professional sports. Then afterwards every next year I signed annual contracts and changed the country of residence. All the teams I played in were excellent, but not of the highest level. And I'm true to my goal — I want to reach the highest level, so I had to change teams.
How do you spend your free time?
I rest, I spend time with my family, I go sightseeing. I walk a lot, I study everything around. I watch movies, read, I do my own website. There are plenty of things to do.
Do you already have friends among Kazakhstanis?
There are some friends. But don’t forget that I came to Kazakhstan not long ago, and it takes the time to know people better and make friends.
How do you communicate with people here?
I've been to countries where English is not the main language. It was necessary to explain gestures or translate with the help of Google translator. You can’t obsessively focus on the language barrier, you have to try to adapt to the new conditions, assimilate in a new environment.
For example, in Greece, I learned to speak some Greek, and it helped me to adapt. It complicates your life, of course, when you do not know the local language and local people don’t speak English. But in this life you always have to try to find a solution, to adjust.
You are constantly outside the United States. Do you follow political life in the country?
Yes, I try to be updated on this issue. I think I will vote in the upcoming elections in absentia (note: the interview was recorded before the election of Donald Trump as US President).
I share the views of candidate Hillary Clinton and believe that her appointment will help bring about positive changes, further developing what President Obama did for the country. But you would be surprised to learn how many people share the views of Donald Trump. Although everyone has the right to their own opinion …
It is important to choose the one who will be able to choose the most optimal direction for the country. Right now there are a lot of problems that need the right solutions. Let's see what the election results will be like. I believe that she (Hillary Clinton) has a very good chance to win.
What do you think about President Obama?
I believe that he has done much for the country. It is not easy to influence the Congress so that its representatives vote for the proposed bills. Of course, many bills have been rejected, but still, Obama has promoted many initiatives.
If you look at the statistics for the past years, you can see that more jobs were created. There are improvements, although some people think that Obama could do much more. I think that he managed to create a more positive perception of America by other countries, improved the reputation of the country to some extent.
We must not forget that there were unpleasant situations. Yet, Obama did everything he could for the Americans. During his office, I lived outside the US and nevertheless, I can see the changes.
What do you think about racism in America?
Racism is a big problem. Situations and incidents involving the police, when they kill unarmed African Americans … It's just terrible. The whole system is to blame, it needs to be changed. It seemed that the Civil Rights Movement had gone long ago, but judging by the recent events, and now we happen to return there. You have to be careful again, you do not really know if you can come home or not if you are suddenly stopped in the street. It's awful and annoying that such things are still happening. It is necessary to influence the legislative power, to pay attention to the fact that such situations occur too often and it is necessary to change something urgently. And this can only be done by joint efforts — gathering together, regardless of race and religion, to find a solution.
Why do you think that in some areas of American cities where the population is mostly composed of African Americans, the crime rate is higher than in the rest of the regions?
Crime is everywhere, regardless of the region and not only in areas where African-Americans live. We need to help each other, try to improve the situation, ask the government to improve the infrastructure, to change the situation in schools. These things require joint efforts, strength is in the majority and unity.
Do you think there is any racism in Kazakhstan?
It seems to me that Kazakhstanis are not accustomed to black people because you simply do not have them. To see such person as me alive… causes a certain shock for many people. I am clearly drawing attention and I think it takes a time to become accustomed to people like me. In the meantime, I accept the situation as it is and just smile back. It happens that others are interested in me, they want to take a photo. Maybe they think I'm an NBA player, who knows? But I have not seen racism here.
Are you religious?
Yes. I am Muslim. There are many Muslim communities in America, although many believe that most African-Americans are Christians. There are pretty much African American Muslims in America.
However, my friends represent different faiths and religions. There are Muslims, Christians, Jews among them. I attended a Muslim school in junior classes and then we had an interreligious program — we went to Mass, visited the synagogue. Each class had a chance to become acquainted with the faith of others. It was a wonderful experience of the perception and understanding of other religions, which I still respect.
Why did you choose Islam?
Islam is practised in my family, I attended a Muslim school and learned a lot about this religion. Performing rituals is now an integral part of my life — I read Namaz 5 times a day, fast at the time of Ramadan.
From the outside, it seems that the Americans do not welcome Muslims …
It seems to me that many people think so because of the events that took place in the recent time. They hear on television that the terrorists were Muslims. Therefore, there is a distorted view of Islam and Muslims, people perceive it only in a negative perspective. When innocent people die, your perception changes. I do not support those who commit such terrible things and call themselves Muslim.
What was your first impression of Astana?
As I said, I am a newcomer and managed to visit only shopping centres so far, so I still have a lot to see.
I have a personal driver, this is a bit unusual, because in other countries where I worked, I was more independent in terms of travelling — I went by bus and train, as, for example, in London. And now all you have to do is just send a message and tell where to go. My driver and I are still improving our communication. I think that by the end of the season, he will speak English better than I speak Kazakh.