“Man, time goes by fast,” Eddie Ard said as he thought back to his Lipscomb hoops career.
The 6-foot-5 swingman averaged 15.4 points over his last three college seasons at and scored more than 1,500 points in his career. When he graduated in 2008 he was certain that he would play professional basketball.
He set his sights on the NBA but found his feet on a path that -- in short order -- took him halfway around the world and back home again.
He spent part of this spring and summer with the Franklin Knights, an expansion team in the World Basketball Association, which completed its 2010 season Monday. The Knights, who played at A-Game Sportsplex in Franklin, featured a roster of former college players, most of whom played for local universities (e.g. TSU, Belmont), and are aspiring professionals like Ard. The team was well-received in its inaugural campaign—average attendance was roughly 200 fans a game—enough so that owners are committed for the 2011 season.
Ard noted that the team was well-run for its first season and provided him and the others a much needed opportunity to stay in shape and to work on their respective games.
“Summertime during the offseason I’m playing basketball everyday anyway,” he said. “So this is great for me. I don’t’ care if I was in the NBA; I don’t care if I’m making a lot of money in Europe; I don’t care where I’m at—I love to just play. (I) can’t get any better by not playing.”
Overlooked in the NBA draft, the Utah Flash (affiliate for the Jazz and Hawks) took him with the eighth pick in the eighth round of the NBA Development League Draft.
“Obviously everybody’s goal is to play at the highest level,” he said. “After a lot of things didn’t go my way I just decided that the NBA Development League was the best thing for me at the time to give me the chance to work on a lot of things I didn’t work on in college.”
The NBA D-League has had several players called up successfully to the NBA. Among them are C.J. Watson, Rafer Alston, and Chris Andersen. With at least two NBA prospects on each D-League roster, Ard competed with elite players. Having to accept that he wasn’t the top dog on the court was a new experience.
“It was challenging just because your whole life you’re used to playing a lot and being one of the main guys on the team,” he recalled. “That year we had the most talent in the D-league. We had the most call-ups; we had at least seven guys with NBA experience. So there were challenges for playing time. I learned a lot, I guess it was just the lack of playing that hurt.”
Ard played 25 games for the Flash in 2008-2009. He averaged 4.2 points and 13.3 minutes per game but was not discouraged by the statistical drop. In fact, he felt validated by the league’s competition.
“Talking with the coaches and the team motivated me to work harder because I saw that I was I was capable of playing with those guys,” he said. “If you would have watched us play in practice or talk to one of the coaches that was out there, they would tell you I didn’t lack far from any of those guys that were playing in the NBA. Even if you fail and things don’t go well in the D-league you still have the opportunity to go overseas.”
Ard considered a second season in the D-League, which starts in late November, but he felt his former agent neglected overseas opportunities in the fall. After a switch in representation he signed with Hoverla Ivano-Frankivsk in the Ukraine last winter. For the Louisiana native, the abrupt move tested him on and off the court.
“The language barrier was different, communication was different,” he said. “I have a very close-knit family and it was morning over there when it was nighttime here. I didn’t have the Internet the first week I was there so I had to use my ATT phone to call people and it was so expensive; I’d have bills of like $400 for an hour’s conversation.”
He has come to accept that establishing his basketball career often comes with discomfort.
He noted that the Ukraine, while culturally taxing, has one of the top seven European leagues. Despite the brevity of his two-month stint he now has a reputation in place for his next venture abroad. Ard’s dedication to the sport is the foundation of his confidence in pursuing a career playing basketball.
“There’s no doubt in my abilities, it’s [basketball] something I do every day,” he said. “If you’re going to be a professional you better have the best confidence in your abilities, which I do, because you’re going to play against pros that have confidence in their abilities. I just feel I could play with anybody.”
In for the long haul
Ard still wants to play in the NBA, but has set his sights on more practical goals for now. He doesn’t want to be jumping from team to team, country to country, trying to support himself. That means making a mark with one team overseas.
“Even though I love this game and my dream is ultimately to play at the highest level in the NBA, as of right now I’m focused on supporting myself and getting an established career [in Europe].”
The young journeyman has seen a lot of places in pursuit of hoop dreams but has never lost sight of his passion of the game. When asked if he could see himself walking away from the game Ard replied, “That’s definitely not an option for me, there’s nothing I’d rather do.”