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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Being Here: From Nigeria to Russia via NBA

Amid the frenetic squeak of rubber soles on slick wood, Julius Nwosu saunters in. He palms a basketball in his huge hand and effortlessly whisks it through the CSKA court basket.


Head coach Stanislav Eremin barks drill instructions in Russian to Nwosu's teammates. Although Nwosu doesn't speak Russian, he speaks the coach's language. Nearly every one of his shots finds the net.


"The coach speaks some English and I can understand him," Nwosu, 25, said. "At this level, it's not about learning -- I know how to play the game. It's about experience."


At 6 feet, 10 inches, Nwosu stands out in Moscow. He's one of two foreign players on the 11-man CSKA team and a rarity for another reason -- he played last year for the San Antonio Spurs in the National Basketball Association, the top level of competition.


And as a center averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds per game, he is one of the main reasons that Moscow's Central Army team is currently leading its European Club championship group. Nwosu declined to say what kind of contract CSKA had given him.


"I don't look at the money so much. I'm here to market myself" for next year, when he hopes to return to the NBA, he said. Just as well he isn't in it for the money because he must have taken a significant pay cut: the minimum NBA annual salary last year was $150,000.


Originally from Imo state in Nigeria, Nwosu started playing basketball when he was 16. He said he wasn't naturally good at it but practiced a lot. "I was getting tall and my friends all played and were always showing pictures of Michael Jordan," Nwosu recalls. "It was so exciting. I couldn't resist the temptation."


Nwosu got a basketball scholarship to Liberty Baptist College in 1989. He stayed at the Lynchburg, Virginia, school until he graduated in 1993 and then headed to Spain to play for Caceres.


After a season in Spain, he was drafted by the Spurs. He played 23 out of 82 games in the 1994-95 season and scored an average of 1.3 points a game.


But fate sent him back overseas. Last summer's off-season NBA lock-out made his future look uncertain. Since he didn't know if he'd get a contract, or even if there would be a basketball season, Nwosu said, he opted for Russia. He came in November and will leave in May, after a season of travelling all over Europe with the team.


"Some people tried to scare me about the place," Nwosu said. "They'd say, 'It's very cold, you'll probably be the only black guy there, you might get killed, you'll be all alone' -- that kind of thing. But I think the people like me here and they're nice even though I don't understand their language."


Nwosu said the hardest aspect of Moscow life thus far has been loneliness. He can recite by heart almost all the lines from the two videos he owns -- "Goodfellas" and "A Few Good Men." "I've seen them like a hundred times," he said.


He doesn't go out with his teammates too much. "They're all married," he shrugged. "They don't go out." They did go out -- to a disco ? on his birthday in January when Nwosu turned 25. When he was dancing, his teammates replaced his glass of water with vodka. He spit it out. He doesn't drink.


"My parents were really strict so there's a lot of things I've never done."