Passionate about posting content that our athletes, parents, coaches, and overall viewers can really benefit from, we are excited to announce our new blog series “The One-on-One”, where we interview athletes and coaches from all over the globe to gain valuable insight into what it takes to perform at the highest level. Kicking off our new series today we have Kyle Rowley who tells us about his journey from playing high school basketball in Trinidad and Tobago to competing professionally in Spain’s top divisions.
Born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Kyle Christian Rowley, a 7’0 center who has competed at the highest level that college basketball has to offer, now competes professionally in Spain’s LEB Gold division, representing Ourense Termal. Lucky for us we were able to sit down with Kyle on his off day to learn more about his journey to date, and get his perspective on what assisted him in developing into the professional basketball player he is today.
So Kyle, what can you tell us about your journey so far?
To be honest, my journey was not very conventional as many guys who usually end up playing professionally have strong collegiate careers you know, but mine was very interesting as I played a lot during my freshman year at Northwestern University, less my sophomore year, after which I then transferred to St. Mary’s College of California. I think I developed more as a player during my time at St. Mary’s. SMC was a winning program and was a team that had experienced significant success, multiple trips to the post season, including 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. It was a little difficult during that transition as I had to adapt to being in a new team, new culture, and new roles, but thanks to the coaches, players and also those in the community I was able to make the transition very quickly.
From my experiences at St. Mary’s I am definitely a much stronger leader and player today, especially from a mental standpoint. I matured a lot during my time there, and developed a lot of new friendships, with one specific friend, Ian O’Leary, who helped negotiate my first professional deal to play abroad in Spain. Lucky for me, I have had the opportunity to be a part of winning teams, winning programs, but statistics-wise it did not really warrant me to play abroad. I tried to make the best of every opportunity I got after graduation in 2013. I started my career playing for a team called Oviedo in Spain’s LEB Gold division but was released after a month. My destination took me to LEB Silver, where at the last minute, I was able to gain a trial for Zornotza SBT in a small town called Amorebieta, right outside Bilbao. It was the team’s first year in LEB Silver and we were able to qualify for playoffs to gain promotion to LEB Gold. I was voted into the All Import Team. My second season took me to LEB Gold where I competed for Leyma Natura Basket Coruna and was one of my most fun years both on and off the court. Concluding this season, I gained an opportunity to go to Bilbao Basket, in the Spain’s ACB division to conclude their regular season and playoff run. The ACB is regarded as the second best league apart from the NBA. Now I represent Ourense Termal who won the LEB Gold (second division) last year and have signed a deal to compete in the ACB (first division) next season in which the team holds the option.
How would you summarize your experience playing at college?
When I got there, I just enjoyed being there you know, just the fact of leaving home and receiving a full scholarship to a Big Ten school at first was a big deal for me. I was very happy to be there and maybe did not understand what it meant to perform at a high level and appreciate the experience. Getting in, your like, this is for real, a lot of peoples jobs are dependent on the team’s performance. After experiencing back-to-back winning seasons at Northwestern, I experienced a stress fracture in my foot causing me to struggle for a little bit. I soon decided to make a change as I became unhappy off the court and transferred to St. Mary’s, which was one of the better things to happen for me. Besides being a hard worker, I learned what it meant to be a leader, accountability, and competitiveness, as you want to keep up with the group. Overall, it was a great change for me, experiencing both individual and team success as I came into a program that aimed to win championships.
What changed the most for you when you left college to play professionally?
Realizing that the higher you progress, the more things you have to be concerned about, such as competing against guys who are fighting for their livelihood and their family’s wellbeing. Coming in as a 23 year old, I loved playing and having opportunities, but I didn't have a wife or kid at home, or a family to take care of, from that standpoint I was on my own. Then you have that pressure and understanding that there are guys you are competing against that have a family at home that they are competing for. You always have to continue raising your level because no matter where you are, there is someone who wants to be in your position and wants to take your position. There is that fight where you have to go after what you want and make the best out of the opportunities you get.
Any interest in playing in the NBA in the future?
Definitely! As a player you want to play at the highest level possible. Seeing guys that I have played with or against who are playing there makes me want to play there too. Right now I am focused on improving everyday and seeing where it takes me though.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced, and what helped you the most in overcoming that challenge?
I would say understanding how to deal with adversity, as it is hard to pick out one specific situation but there have been a couple that sort of happened, for example, when things are not going your way. And not just from a sport’s standpoint but as a man as well. Sometimes when you are going through something on the court or off the court, understanding how it affects you, how you cope with it, and react to it. Learning how to not be too hard on yourself was really big as it can limit your growth. Also being able to learn from your mistakes provides you with opportunities to grow.
To be honest, using my support system like my family, parents, friends, and coach. My parents are like my best friends, they are the ones who really help me the most. Sometimes you just want to be listened to and you don't really need advice, but just want to get it off your chest. Having that group of people is so vital to be able to move forward. Each person has their own special group or individual that they can rely on, for me, my dad is that guy who never played before but gets really enthusiastic about basketball, but is also that person who keeps me grounded.
Would you say that having a sport psychologist in your support system is beneficial and how so?
It is definitely necessary, from my experience and from my teammates who I know who have seen someone to help manage the various challenges they faced. Being able to have that outlet accessible makes a big difference. A big part is having others understand that nothing has to be wrong with you to reach out for that support but knowing that it is to help you improve from a mental standpoint. Sometimes people could have such a negative view on it, but the brain is like a muscle that you have to train skills in order to improve.
Have you had any experience with sport and performance psychology?
There were a couple moments where I did go to see someone to help with my performances throughout different seasons, and there are a lot of teams that actually provide that outlet for you to be able to talk about the sport side. But not with a coach as sometimes you needed to hear an outside perspective from someone who was not directly connected to the team. I definitely think it helps talking to someone about the sports side, as I am someone who likes to process what is going on when I am maybe frustrated, and it allows me to learn and grow. I think it can even help younger guys more to be prepared to help reduce the number of transfers that are occurring in the game. It can be so beneficial from a development standpoint as competing in sports are 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
How important is an athlete’s mental strength compared to their talent or athleticism when competing professionally?
A lot of time you are born with athleticism and talent, and there are cases where guys have a lot of talent but don't have that mental capacity or discipline to get them where they want to be, and maybe they don't make it because they are not mentally strong enough. Having that mental strength is what keeps you going, and I have definitely had moments where I doubted myself thinking I was getting worse as a player, maybe even question my confidence. But it is something that you have to actively work on, like a free-throw, it is something you have to practice everyday actively.
What advice do you have for developing athletes who are aiming to play at a high level, for example, professionally or at college?
The biggest thing is to have passion for what you are doing, I think that is one of the things that really carries you forward as you have to put in the work and really enjoy what you are doing. It carries you through the days that you do not want to practice when you’re exhausted. Having that passion can really push you through those days.
And then preparation, there are so many things that could happen as an athlete, where you are on top of your game then another day you could be going through a tough time where you are not performing. Being prepared from a mental standpoint, when you are training yourself so that your highs don't get too high, and your lows getting too low. It is always good to dream and those dreams are what keep you working. Making sure that you’re level and able to perform consistently.
Big thanks again to Kyle, for taking the time to share his perspective and experiences to date. If you are interested in following Kyle’s journey you can find him here:
Facebook: Kyle Christian Rowley
Photos by Carlos Domarco and Pat Muños-Ayala