AURORA | As he stepped to the free throw line in his final home game in Varese, Italy — toward the end of one of the best games of his life — Colbey Ross stopped to soak in the scene.
Sure, the former Eaglecrest High School basketball star was far from Ball Arena or another NBA venue feeling the adulation of those in the crowd, but the full passion of the 5,000-plus home fans supporting his Italian League Pallacanestro Varese team came to bear in a magical moment permanently etched in his memory.
“Late in the game, I’m shooting free throws and the fans are chanting ‘M-V-P, M-V-P!’ to me and it’s something I’ve never experienced before,” Ross recalled.
“It’s a feeling I can’t even explain. The fans have so much pride in their team, and they are so loyal. It’s like life or death for them with their team.”
Ross is one of a growing number of former Aurora-area high school standout athletes that have discovered that they can continue to live out their dreams overseas, even when the doors may be closed — at least temporarily — on the professional careers they may have envisioned in the United States.
Few get to have a moment like Ross did in the midst of a game in which he would record a triple-double — a rarity in Italian League play — to help his team to a victory that avoided relegation to a lower division and gave him a permanent place in the hearts of many Varese fans, but the perks can be plentiful.
The opportunity to continue to develop and play the sport they love — and not just take any potentially dead-end job at home to make a living — the chance to live abroad on somebody else’s dime and travel and explore places they may have only heard about in books or movies can be absolutely golden.
It comes with drawbacks, however.
Language issues, culture shock and separation from friends, family and significant others — some of whom can be several time zones away — can make things too much for some to handle, especially when many are just out of college.
But for those who can overcome those potential negatives and find the right situation for themselves, it is the chance to do something only a small fraction of people get to do and could open the door to more.
Becoming ‘OK’ with a different journey
Colbey Ross has diverged from the timeline he always imagined for himself growing up, one that saw him destined for a fulfilling career in the NBA.
Those who saw him play at Eaglecrest — which he led to a Class 5A state championship under former coach John Olander and twice won Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year award — could see that come to pass.
So, too, could those at Pepperdine, who saw the savvy guard becoming the Division I program’s all-time leader in scoring and assists. But Summer League experiences with the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz (this past summer, where he got a lot of playing time and impressed in Las Vegas) haven’t yet resulted in a spot on an NBA roster, but Ross had adjusted his thinking.
“I always had this thought that I’ll be drafted, I’ll play 10-plus years in the NBA and I’ll have a lot of money, but things just don’t happen that way,” Ross said. “I feel like I’ve accepted myself, and I’m OK to play overseas and work my way to be in the NBA.
“Even though the journey hasn’t gone as I thought it would, I think my story is the best thing that has happened for my game and for my life, honestly.”
Ross’ story is far from finished, however.
The 24-year-old’s game is in the best shape its been following his MVP season with Varese, which continued the momentum he began to generate when he made his overseas debut in the Czech Republic. With a year of navigating the newness of playing abroad and a good situation in Italy with his relationship with the team’s coach and general manager, Ross thrived.
Besides the professional coaches that oversee his game from up close, Ross has an ace in his back pocket in the discerning eye of his older brother, Elijah.
With his playing days in the past, Elijah Ross is now a basketball trainer. He is, of course, most interested in the development of his younger brother’s game.
“His role has been pivotal to where I am now,” Ross said of his brother. “I’ve been training with him since my sophomore year in college, and he’s been pushing me every day to get better. … He watches almost every game, even if he doesn’t see it live, and I get a text with things I did good or things he sees I can work on. As I’ve gotten older, he’s taken a step back from telling me every little thing, and he realizes I play best when people have confidence in me, don’t harp on me and let me figure things out.”
Another new factor in Ross’ current path is that he is newly-married (to wife Makena, who he proposed to on a trip to picturesque Lake Como at the base of the Alps).
The two have been dating since college, so there’s no surprises, and she’ll come and live with him for a long period of time in Montenegro, which will help him adjust to the new situation as he plays for Buducnost in Montenegrin Basketball League.
“We’ve talked about it and right now, I’ll play as long as I can,” he said. “I feel like I’ve accepted myself and how I’m OK to play overseas. … Of course, the NBA is the goal, but as long as I’m enjoying basketball and enjoying life, I’ll be able to live with myself if I don’t make it.”
Finding the value in a challenge
Jaizec Lottie, Ross’ childhood friend and high school competitor, is on a similar path.
Like Ross, the former Cherokee Trail High School standout guard — whose profile blossomed with two seasons of exceptional play at Division II Flagler College in Florida after he initially started at DI Arkansas Little-Rock — has quickly discovered the value of playing overseas.
Lottie began his journey a year ago in Switzerland, where he signed with BBC Monthey Chablis of the Swiss League. It was quite an experience for him immediately after he touched down following a 12 1/2-hour flight.
“Getting off that plane, it was crazy; it was an eight-hour time difference from where I came from, I didn’t really have any friends and all my teammates were new,” he said. “It was hard at first. It definitely makes you question if you want to do it, but it’s something that I love.
“I’m glad for this journey, especially the downs, because they make you learn the value in this.”
Lottie first had to prove himself to his teammates, many of whom were significantly older and who held differing beliefs about what American players are about.
He also had to learn to develop the strength to overcome the difficulty of being away from his family and friends and especially his longtime girlfriend, who watches every game he plays from afar as she finishes up a fifth year playing college volleyball.
“Family is one of the most important things for me, and my dad (Dave) just always tells me it’s sacrifice and one day it’s all going to be worth it,” he said. “I just tell myself that and keep going because I want to put my family in the best position possible.”
Lottie led Monthey Chablis in scoring at 20 points per game and assists as well at five per contest and he built profile that helped him get a chance to play in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas with the Portland Trail Blazers.
That didn’t pan out in terms of a contract offer, but the 25-year-old learned a lot and is more than happy to go off to play with Scafati in the same Italian League that Ross played in last year. Lottie has moved to a place where he’s more about envisioning the possibilities than getting hung up on the rest.
“It’s tough because, do I want to play in the NBA where I think I’d have to be a shell of myself because why would they let me shoot and score the ball when they are already paying somebody else millions to do that?,” Lottie said. “Part of me maturing and having the opportunity now, I think I have the mindset of being an overseas player. I can play the way I want to play and make a lot of money doing it.”
Nine years in and better than ever
While playing overseas is new to some, Jeffrey Solarin is the very definition of a veteran.
The former Rangeview High School star has turned 30 years old as he’s spent nearly a decade abroad playing basketball, and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. In that time, he’s played for five teams between Spain and Argentina, and he’s about to begin his second season with Obras in the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires.
He’d grown comfortable in Spain, but he decided he wanted to explore other chances.
It’s been an adjustment both in life off the court and on it — especially learning how to handle playing in the sweltering hot gyms around Argentina that lack air conditioning — but it seems to be a good change for him so far.
“I wanted to change and go somewhere different and my agent told me maybe there was a possibility in Argentina and I had a friend in Spain who had played out there before and told me it was good,” Solarin said. “My agent ended up having a connection, so here I am. There’s been a transition to the lifestyle, but now I’m comfortable.”
Solarin believes he has never been better in terms of the state of his game. Known in high school and college (including his last top at Idaho State) as a double-double machine in terms of points and rebounds, Solarin has added extra depth to his game.
The 6-foot-4 small forward still enjoys going under the basket when the time calls for it, but he has developed his perimeter shot to the point where he is a respectable 36% shooter from 3-point range. That extra facet to his game has made Solarin more of a commodity for overseas teams, which also value his experience.
“Honestly, I didn’t see it going as far or as long as it has been,” Solarin said. “I’m just so thankful that my game has continued to progress each year. I’ve gotten a little bit better every season and that’s one of the reasons I’m still playing. …
“The biggest thing I’ve always told myself is I’m never going to cheat the game. The day I step onto the court, and I feel like I can’t do what I normally do or to the ability I know I can, I’m done. But I feel great and still have the opportunity to expand my game for the future.”
Solarin has avoided major injury over nearly a decade of professional play, avoids high-impact activity in the offseason and has added yoga to his regimen to keep his body ready to continue to hold up to the rigors of playing a professional season.
A new part of the equation for Solarin has come off the court, as he recently got engaged. His fiance is from Spain, which was convenient when he played there, but will be more an adjustment for both when she comes to live with him in Argentina. The couple currently plans to be married in 2025.
Solarin appeared in the Sentinel’s previous exploration of Aurora prep athletes playing abroad (see story, here).
Back to Budapest for business
Alesia Garcia got a preview of how far the game of soccer could take her when she got the incredible chance to play in Budapest, Hungary, at 12 years old with her Colorado Storm club team.
A decade later, the former Cherokee Trail star striker is back in the venerable city that spans both sides of the Danube River for the game again, but this time as a professional.
Garcia graduated from Louisiana State — where she transferred from New Mexico, coincidentally at the same time as former Grandview High School star Lindsey Jennings — with a degree in exercise science in December and a few months later, she was in uniform playing for powerhouse Ferencvárosi Torna Club.
“I loved Europe and loved seeing a whole different part of the world,” she said. “It has been such a cool experience.”
Garcia, 23, joined FTC late last season during an end of the year transfer window and she had a more than a memorable experience in a lot of ways. She scored two goals in her first full game after a return from an early injury, then she helped FTC — a traditional powerhouse side — finish off a run to the Hungarian championship.
A day or two after her team won the title, Garcia fell ill and it wasn’t from too much celebration as was the first guess of her teammates. She got evaluated and diagnosed with appendicitis, which required immediate surgery.
“I had never had surgery before and hospitals are way different over there, so it was scary,” Garcia said. “But they have free health care, so I got all taken care of and I was able to leave after 24 hours. It was perfect timing for it if it was going to happen. I can’t imagine what would have happened if it ruptured on the field.”
After just a short time home in Colorado, where her family still lives in the Aurora area, Garcia has returned to Budapest and is on the cusp of the start of another season.
She loves Budapest — which she has explored for six months, but has plenty more left to see — and is happy to stay in the accommodations and eat the food provided by her club, which allows her to save the money she earns. Garcia also loves taking advantage of Europe’s efficient and accessible mass transit system.
At the moment, there’s nothing holding her back and she plans to try to play in a variety of other countries before her career comes to an end. The game of soccer has made an unlimited future possible.
“Soccer has given so much to my life and my whole personality,” she said. “When I was in high school, I didn’t think about college. Then I realized I could go to college playing soccer and then I get here and I’m like ‘oh, I can keep going.’ I keep learning how much soccer or sports in general can bring opportunities. I’ve always gone with the flow and looked at what I could do next, so I’m going to keep achieving things and seeing where it can take me.”
Finding soccer Shangri-la
Symon Fabbricatore faced the reality that his soccer playing journey might be over, but an old connection led him to the paradise of the beautiful game.
The former Eaglecrest High School soccer standout — who racked up 10 goals and 18 assists to help the Raptors to a 12-5-1 decision and spot in the Class 5A quarterfinals when he was a senior in 2013 — got the chance to continue his career with Serrano FC, located in the soccer Mecca of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Jordi Blanco got Fabbricatore a chance to play in Iceland previously, and he then extended an offer for him to join him with Serrano FC — a third-division team in Rio — after Blanco became coach. Fabbricatore gladly accepted and feels fortunate to find himself in a place where soccer rules life.
“You can just walk around and every neighborhood has a futsal court or a pitch and if you go to the beach there’s a ball everywhere,” Fabbricatore said. “People are juggling and playing in their bare feet everywhere, they don’t care. Kids play with balled up newspapers, whatever.”
Fabbricatore is miles away from the start of his professional journey, which came after his playing career at Adams State. He played in the U.S. with the Milwaukee Torrent, then got an ill-fated chance in Slovenia with NK Triglav Kranj that ended after just a month due to injury. Another chance came with Knattspyrnufélag Fjallabyggðar in Iceland, a place he came to love and explore. One of his best memories of the place came when his mom visited and they watched a volcano erupt.
From a playing standpoint, Fabbricatore has noted how much more advanced play is abroad in terms of technical ability vs. physicality and he has relished the high level of play he has been part of, especially when overcoming communication issues.
He plans to keep at it as long as possible.
“I said it at the start and I say it now: I’m going to play until my legs fall off,” Fabbricatore said wryly. “The biggest thing is to get to the highest level I possibly can.”
Off the plane and onto the field
Peter Anderson spent 14 hours in the air but virtually hit the ground running in his indoctrination into playing football in Europe.
A former star wide receiver at Eaglecrest High School, Anderson went on to a standout career at Colorado Mesa University and eventually went overseas, where he has been with the Kokta Eagles in Finland and most recently with the Prague Black Panthers in the Czech Republic.
He discovered the possibility of playing abroad when a former college teammate preceded him and he got off to a flying start when we got his chance.
“I flew in on a Tuesday and had a game on Thursday,” Anderson recalled of his whirlwind start with Kotka, in which he got in one practice before seeing significant playing time.
“I was cramping so bad after 14 hours of flying, but it was a fun way to start my European playing career,” he added.
In high school, Anderson weighed 130 pounds and terrorized Centennial League defensive backs for the Raptors with his speed and shiftiness. A lot of that remains in his game, but he has added 40 pounds to his frame in addition to experience.
Anderson also got to play some defense — which he never did in college and only sparingly in high school — when he played in Finland and said the highlight of his playing career so far came when he took back an interception for a touchdown.
The 25-year-old just wrapped up a season in Prague, where his team played in front of a passionate group of fans and went deep in the European Football League postseason. He said he has “fallen in love” with Europe, from the history that is evident in the buildings, to the easy public transportation to the food.
Anderson recently returned to Colorado and he is looking for his next opportunity, wherever that may be.
“I want to keep traveling, playing ball, meeting new people and experiencing new things,” he said. “That’s the plan.”
That’s not the right plug
Elijah Reed had never been out of the country before, but he jumped at the chance when it came, especially since it came with an opportunity to keep playing football.
The former Rangeview High School standout took cracks at landing with teams in the NFL and XFL before he ended up with the Vienna Vikings of the European League of Football on the recommendation of another former Aurora prep product, Grandview High School graduate Marcus Lawrence.
The 25-year-old Reed never even had a passport until the possibility of playing overseas arrived. He got a quintessential reality check at the beginning of his first trip abroad.
“When I first got to the airport after an eight-hour flight, my phone was getting ready to die and I was going to charge it, but my plug did not work,” Reed said. “It was the wrong plug, so I had to go to the store. They spoke German, so I was just pointing to what I needed. I was confused and nervous, but the lady got me what I needed and it worked out pretty well.”
Reed said he was blown away by walking around in a storied city such as Vienna, where he saw structures built hundreds of years ago that he’d only seen pictures of in textbooks.
Things were much more comfortable for the multi-talented Reed — who went to South Dakota after he graduated from Rangeview, where he starred in both football and basketball — on the football field, especially given how welcoming his teammates were.
Reed’s short time with the Vikings ended with a one-point loss to the Danube Dragons in the Austria Bowl at the end of July. Reed — who played defensive back and returned kicks — had good memories from his short time, especially watching an 18-year-old backup quarterback come on from an injury to win a game.
Though he still entertains hopes of playing in the NFL, Reed is eager for another chance to play overseas if it presents itself.
“As long as my body will let me and God allows my body to let me play, I’ll definitely keep doing it until I can’t,” Reed said.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter/X: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports