NBA training camps are typically discussed in terms of established players rediscovering their form and preparing for a new season, but a large number of participants are simply fighting for a job. Most teams have a few unsettled roster spots to be determined over the course of camp, with several players in competitions for those roles. Apart from the glory of wearing an NBA uniform, the financial difference between the NBA minimum and a job elsewhere can be considerable and often changes athletes' lives considerably.
In the case of Minnesota Timberwolves invitee Kyrylo Fesenko, a Ukraine native who has played parts of five seasons with the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers as a reserve center, a new NBA deal could allow his family to feel safe for the first time in months. As Fesenko attempts to find a spot with Minnesota, his new wife, mother, and other close relatives are living in Ukraine as pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian soldiers fight over disputed portions of the country. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune has more on Fesenko's predicament:
His hometown of Dnipropetrovsk is far from the disputed portions of Ukraine, a four-hour drive that has brought refugees but no fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists to the industrial central region of the country where his mother and wife live. Fesenko and his wife were married in June.
He is a half-world away from a home he last visited in August, but he’s reminded of the conflict every time he thinks of a neighbor who was killed when a Malaysia Airlines jet mistakenly was shot down over the country in July. [...]
He estimated he spends three or four hours a day communicating on Skype with family and friends to keep up to date on what’s happening with them and with his country.
“It’s a huge concern for me,” he said. “If the conflict will resolve itself, I’ll be the happiest person in the world.” [...]
“I have actually more motivation than usual to sign here and bring all my family here,” said Fesenko, who played for the Wolves’ Las Vegas summer league team and signed a training-camp contract last month. “But I can’t say that I lacked motivation before.”
Zgoda includes quotes from Wolves head coach and head personnel man Flip Saunders that suggest that the team is aware of and concerned about Fesenko's situation but understandably not going to give him preferential treatment when deciding the makeup of the roster. That approach makes sense, because plenty of American players have families living in troubled inner cities where violence is a fact of life.
Of course, the fact that Fesenko isn't the only person trying to make a better life for his family doesn't make his case any less newsworthy. If anything, the unique circumstances of his situation serve as a reminder that NBA players' single-minded commitment to playing well and earning bigger contracts isn't just about their own success. They're usually playing for causes and concerns that go way beyond their own immediate interests.
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