By Daniel Dunaief
Learning a new basketball system was challenging: learning German was even harder.
For India Pagan, who speaks English and Spanish, communicating with her coach and fans in her first experience in professional basketball after graduating with a Master’s from Stony Brook University proved difficult.
Early in the season, playing for BC Pharmaserv in Marburg, Germany, head coach Patrick Unger spoke to her in English, but he’s “translating it in his head in German,” Pagan said. Sometimes, she took what he said the wrong way.
When Unger said something, Pagan recalled that she “took it in a personal way, which make me get in my head,” she said.
After speaking with Unger, she cleared the air, which helped her understand more of what he wanted.
Pagan lived and worked a continent away from her family in New London, Connecticut, who had been regular visitors and supporters during her college playing days as a member of the Seawolves.
Moises Pagan, India’s father, was grateful for the opportunity to connect with his daughter electronically. “Thank God for FaceTime,” he said. “That helped.”
Off the court, Pagan adjusted to life in a different culture while living in an apartment with three teammates. She and her teammates had some of the typical issues that affect college students who move in with strangers when they first start living life apart from their families.
Some of her teammates were more attentive to cleaning their dishes or buying necessities.
One of Pagan’s biggest frustrations was that she likes to sleep late. Some of her teammates would knock on doors and ask for something in the morning.
“One thing I learned is that when I get another roommate, I’m really going to set boundaries” so that she can get the rest she feels she needs, Pagan said.
In addition, Pagan, whose parents grew up in Puerto Rico and who has a strong cultural and national identity tied to the island territory, found it difficult to purchase the kind of foods she knows she enjoys eating.
Pagan’s parents Moises and Carmen sent their daughter a care package filled with spices and packaged foods. The only problem: it took 28 days to arrive. The parcel “sat in Frankfurt for eight days,” Moises Pagan said. He called the post office in the United States, and representatives said they also saw that the package wasn’t moving, but that there was “nothing they could do.” When the food items finally arrived, India brought a teammate who spoke German with her, to translate.
Amid local and global health concerns, Pagan said the team had its share of illnesses. In her first week in Germany, she was sick. “You have to be kidding me,” she recalled thinking. “I’m sick already and we weren’t even playing games.”
Pagan got the first week off. After that, she said, players on her team passed along a few colds, which weren’t Covid but were still unpleasant.
On the court
While Pagan had an opportunity to play and continue to develop her game, the team didn’t make the playoffs and was heading into the final few weeks of the season with a losing record. “We know we’re a good team,” Pagan said. “The majority of games, we lost by a couple of points. We never found our rhythm this season.”
Pagan went from helping lead the Stony Brook women’s basketball team through successful seasons to debuting on a professional team that struggled to put wins together. “Basketball will always be fun, but losing so many games by five points got really frustrating and obviously isn’t for anyone,” she said.
In addition to receiving ongoing and positive support from her parents, India Pagan also remained in touch with Ashley Langford, who coached Pagan during her final year at Stony Brook.
“It’s always great hearing from [Coach Langford],” said Pagan. Langford reminded Pagan that she’s a great player, that she should attack and play her game, and should believe in herself. “Small phrases like that” really helped, Pagan said.
Langford said she tries to remind all first-year professional players that there’s a learning curve and that there will be moments they don’t enjoy. “What I tried to tell India, too, is that it’ll get better and stick with it,” she said.
Langford also highlighted how the officiating is different. Players might get called for travels more or less often in one league. She urged Pagan to dominate, which, the coach said, would make it difficult to take her out of the lineup.
“You’ve got to make him play you,” Langford urged.
Pagan felt she grew as a basketball player and as a person. She described the German style of play as “quicker and more physical.”
When a shot went up, her coach wanted everyone to go for a rebound, rather than sending one or two guards back to protect against a fast break on the other end.
“In some respects, I am a better basketball player,” she explained. “I learned some new moves and learned a lot about my game.”
During the season, Pagan and two of her teammates couldn’t go home for Christmas. They visited with their head coach and his family, which included three children. “I was thankful for the family I got to spend time with over here,” Pagan said. She also visited bigger cities, which were over an hour and a half from where she lived, as often as she could.
When she returns home, Pagan is looking forward to visiting with family, eating crab legs and taking a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts.
She has not decided where she’ll play next year and is exploring various options, including joining a Puerto Rican league.