HILLARY SMITH: IUN grad lives the dream in the middle of Turkey

2012-12-30T17:00:00Z 2012-12-30T23:24:05Z HILLARY SMITH: IUN grad lives the dream in the middle of TurkeyHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 30, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

GARY | When Sharon Houston was young, she said she'd bounce a basketball up and down the street, dreaming of her professional career.

She'd make money playing the game. She'd prove it could be done after growing up on the streets of Gary and a prep career that ended with graduation from Merrillville High School.

Houston's vision of herself never included the long plane rides, the time difference of eight hours ahead of the region and the cultural shock of a country settled between the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

Welcome to Turkey, Sharon Houston.

"I was excited and then nervous at the same time, because I was going to be away from my family and friends," the 6-foot-3 Houston said. "I'd never been on a long flight like that before. I couldn't really stretch out, because they kept coming through the aisle."

Houston graduated in May from IUN, which honored her Saturday by making her the only athlete in school history to have a banner hung bearing her number. She was contacted by an agent who called her regularly with updates of teams with open spots.

Some were offering a salary, others were not.

While walking through the mall in mid-September, Houston took the call that gave her a professional career.

"They said it could come any minute, to be ready for it," Houston said.

At first, she was wanted on a plane the next day. Then she was asked to take a week to pack, then join a team in Turkey.

"When I got to the airport, the coach was there and one of the teammates that spoke English," Houston said. "They were very welcoming."

Houston is the only American on the 13-player Nallihan Spor roster. During her first few practices, she said the coach, who doesn't speak English, would have to stop practice, call over an English-speaking player and relay directions.

What didn't need any translation is her play. In her first games for Nallihan Spor, Houston scored 31 points, then 32 points, then another 32 points, and all were wins.

Welcome to Sharon Houston, Turkey.

"The people supporting me. I feel proud for them," Houston said. "That's who I'm playing for right now."

She lives in Ankara, an inland town in the eastern center of the country. Her team's home base is about two hours east, or, as she explains, "about the same as the drive from here to Indianapolis."

For the 7-1 Nallihan Spor team, Houston is averaging 27.6 points and 19.5 rebounds per game. The season ends in April with a tournament format in which Nallihan Spor will have to be among the top six teams in the league to play in the postseason.

After Saturday's celebration at IUN, Houston, who was home for less than a week for the Christmas holiday, was scheduled to hop a plane to return to her team. Once the season ends, she'll be home in time to make contact with WNBA teams across the country.

"I want to make a name for myself over there, put up nice stats," Houston said. "I had a couple of news articles from my first week over there, and they were shocked with 30 points a game, and I thought, what do they score over here, 20 points?"

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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