Someone, somewhere, had filed their paperwork incorrectly.
To the coaches and brass at CSM Bucuresti, a basketball club playing in Romania’s Liga Nationale, the clerical error would only cost them a chance to put in their newest player.
But Caleb Patterson, who had come all the way from Oklahoma, was supposed to make his professional debut — a dream held since childhood and cultivated since eighth grade — in 20 minutes.
Weeks before, in an effort to ease her husband’s concern, Stephanie Patterson nearly told the future.
After Caleb, 23, graduated from Missouri State, finishing his collegiate basketball career with his best year yet with averages of 12.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in 23.2 minutes, he returned home as his professional basketball hopes dwindled.
His agency would tell him teams were interested, but not enough to take the plunge. So Caleb stayed close to basketball, refereeing games and making coaching cameos, but he was convinced that would be basketball’s role in his life for the foreseeable future.
“I had really given up on it,” he wrote in an email.
“You watch,” Stephanie Patterson told her husband Rodger — Caleb’s dad. “He’s going to get a job. He’s going to get a nice job somewhere. Somebody will give him a call.”
Stephanie Patterson meant in town, working a nice job for a nice living, but not basketball. She wasn’t against her son playing professional sports — she actually might have been his most dedicated fan, following her son to North Carolina, Las Vegas and everywhere in between when he was playing for AAU teams with names like Eagles, Trotters and Mustangs during high school.
But she’d come to terms with the idea that her son, talented as he was, might not realize his dream.
“I knew if he got the chance that he could do it,” Rodger said later. “Sometimes you don’t get that chance.”
But “somebody” did call Caleb. Someone even better than his mom had forecasted.
“My agency contacted me saying this team really wanted me, so I jumped at the opportunity,” he wrote.
Not long after, he took the eight-hour flight to Bucharest, Romania. He was going to be a professional basketball player.
Nine days later, 20 minutes before Caleb’s longtime goal was accomplished in the most unlikely of ways, the paperwork problem was sorted. Caleb — 6-foot-11 and a smooth shooter for his size — played just nine minutes in his first game, hitting a three in a 77-69 win against cellar-dwelling BC Perla Harghitei Miercurea Ciuc.
Caleb lives in a modest apartment 30 minutes from Bucharest’s bustling city center dotted with churches, hotels and shopping complexes.
He’s lived the life in the past, in apartments and dorms during a college career that started in Colorado before a transfer to Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., after his freshman year. But his Bucharest abode is different.
Instead of a microwave or a clothes dryer, Patterson has a gas stove and a laundry line. His television has two English channels: History and National Geographic.
The view from inside is not of Oklahoma’s familiar grasslands, but of snowy, rainy Romania, almost 6,000 miles away from his home state.
“I grew up in Ames, a town of less than 200 except for three years in Ringwood, a city of over 400,” Patterson wrote. “Now I’m in a city of over 3 million.”
He’s close to the team gym, which since he arrived has been his second home, practicing twice a day, every day. And he’s getting closer to his CSM teammates, which include two other Americans — Brian Morris, a forward from Humboldt State University in northern California, and Brian Fisher, a guard from Winston Salem — and two Canadiens.
The other nine are from either Serbia, Montenegro, or, of course, Romania.
Sometimes to break up the boredom of a five-hour bus ride home, his teammates will have a round of beers together. Patterson partakes, if not in the brew, then in the company. Even in a sea of people that don’t speak his language, he has found simplicity, even similarity.
“I suppose for me it’s just like being a player in college (with) no classes,” Patterson wrote. “Going to practices, doing scouts, riding buses to games. It’s not really any different than it’s ever been.”
Before he came onto the floor for his first time as a European pro, some of his teammates asked if he was nervous.
“I said I’ve played thousands of times,” he wrote. “It’s just a game that’s part of me, and (there’s) no reason to be nervous about that.”
Scoring his first professional basket was a bit different.
“It was awesome,” he wrote. “Since high school, I’ve really been a (sixth) man that is supposed to come into the game and give whatever team an offensive spark, which I’ve come to really enjoy. So, coming in like I’ve always done and hitting that first shot was great. I just went out there with the confidence like I always do.”
The spark he provided in his second game was even better. Caleb had pro career highs of seven points and four rebounds in 20 minutes, helping CSM Bucuresti upset BC Timisoara 87-72 on the road to advance to third place in Liga Nationale’s Division A standings.
Bucuresti, now 12-5 and on a four-game win streak, plays fifth-ranked CSU Asesoft Ploiesti in the final game of its regular season today.
Then come the playoffs, a stage Caleb hopes to use to earn a shot elsewhere, if not back with Bucuresti.
“The plan is to try to play as long as I can and do well to play in the best places I can and make the most money I can so I can make a more comfortable living for myself and future family,” he wrote. “I’ll be over here until May and then back in states for a few months, and then hopefully get picked up by another team at the start of the season and do well there.”
Someone, somewhere, had filed their paperwork incorrectly.
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