With the NBA lockout threatening the 2011-12 season, Orlando Magic rookie Justin Harper decided to play overseas until the labor dispute is resolved. Harper, a 6-foot-9 forward from Richmond, Va., signed a contract with Strasbourg IG, a team in France's top professional league. This is the first in an ongoing series of accounts Harper is producing for the Orlando Sentinel.
STRASBOURG, France — This is my first time really being away from home.
I went to the University of Richmond and I'm actually from Richmond. I was always 20 or 30 minutes away from my home, so I didn't really go away for college.
I think it's been good for me just to be able to see what else is out there. It's been a great experience so far.
Going into another country helps you figure out some things about yourself. It helps you figure out what you need to learn about being on your own. I've been able to learn how to fend for myself and how to survive.
I'm glad that I've taken this opportunity at this point in my life.
When I first got over here, it took a while to blend in and get accustomed to how people do things and be around a bunch of people who don't speak your language. I think the first language they're taught here, other than French, is German.
You run into a lot of people who really have no idea what you're saying. It was kind of tough at first, but you get used to it. You learn how to navigate through the city, how to speak with people. I don't really know too many French phrases other than "bonjour," "au revoir" and "merci."
The people are very friendly. People who see me and a couple of my teammates walking downtown stare at us. And then they come up to you and ask you "Do you play basketball?" and "Who do you play for?"
You tell them you play for the team here, and they get so excited. They're just so welcoming here. I'm grateful for that.
Basically, the city of Strasbourg is surrounded by a river. There's a boat tour you can go on. They take you around the city on that boat and explain the history. That's what I found most interesting about Strasbourg: the history.
There's a huge cathedral downtown. It's huge. It's unbelievable just to be able to see that. I need to look into taking some pictures.
Strasbourg has a lot of great scenery and a lot of history. It's just a great place to be.
There's only five Americans on the team, so there are seven or eight guys from France. Off the court, they're cool guys.
The good thing about our team is we're so young. We have only two or three guys who are in their 30s. Everybody else is 25 and younger. So we're all able to hang out with each other, and we do the same things, like play 2K12 on the PlayStation and go out and hang out together. I think that's one of the perks.
We share common interests. But at the same time, there will be moments when we're in the locker room and there will be us Americans talking with each other and the French guys having their conversations in French. There's always going to be that language divide, but it's not anything to be worried about.
Basically, we're all really good friends so far. We've been able to just hang out and bond with each other on and off the court. It's a situation I'm proud to be a part of.
We get on a bus for road games. Strasbourg is located right on the border with Germany, so you can travel 15 or 20 minutes down the road and you'll be in Germany.
The longest bus ride we've taken was three and-a-half or four hours.
We've played about 10 preseason games.
I think the competition's great. We were able to play some of the better teams over here in the French league just within our first couple of games. It helped us see where we are.
We played Frankfurt. They have Jon Leuer from the University of Wisconsin on that team. In our first game of the regular season, we play Cholet, and they have Florida's Chandler Parsons on their team.
I feel pretty good about how I've been playing. At first, I was kind of thinking too much about where my spots were in the offense. As the games kept going, I kind of just went out there and started playing ball and just was aggressive. That's really what I need to do for this team and for myself just to get better. If you keep going out there and play hard, you'll continue to get better.
In college, with the coaching staff, you're told to do things within the system out there on the court.
Over here and on the professional level everywhere, it's not freelancing, but they want you to be aggressive and kind of figure it out by yourself.
I think this is definitely helping me, because I've taken on the mindset of a professional and I'm keeping myself on a regimen with practices, lifting and conditioning. Just having all of that in my routine is going to really help me out when it's time to resume with the NBA season, whenever that is.
I do keep tabs on the labor situation back home.
I basically get up and look at NBA.com and all the articles there every morning. I'm keeping in contact with my agent to get the latest about the meetings, but I basically check on it every day or every other day.
I think I made the right decision coming over here to play.
Justin Harper's Twitter handle is @Tru_Harp32. Josh Robbins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog. Subscribe to our Orlando Magic newsletter at OrlandoSentinel.com/joinus.