Kevin Seraphin could’ve chosen the comfort of familiarity and stayed with the team that trained and developed him after he left his home in French Guyana at age 16. But when he decided that he wanted to continue playing professional basketball during the NBA lockout, Seraphin didn’t want to just bide his time. He wanted to challenge himself to get better.
So, even though he has never been to Spain and doesn’t speak Spanish, Seraphin opted to sign with Caja Laboral Baskonia over his old team, Cholet Basket of France. Seraphin, 21, negotiated a buyout with Cholet in order to sign with the Wizards after they drafted him 17th overall in the 2010 NBA draft. But he couldn’t pass up the opportunity presented by Caja Laboral, a perennial contender in the rugged ACB Spanish league and the Euroleague.
“I think if I want to come back to the NBA and play good I need to progress on my game. I think to play in Spain, to play for a Euroleague team, I think that is a good thing for me,” Seraphin said in a telephone interview from Paris. “I just say for me, for my position, I need to play Euroleague basketball.”
Seraphin announced his decision on Monday, the day after scoring four points in France’s 98-85 loss to Spain in the final of the European Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Lithuania. He became the second Wizard to sign overseas during the lockout and joins fellow second-year reserve Trevor Booker, who left last week for Israel, where he will play for Bnei HaSharon. Both players have out clauses that allow them to return to the NBA when the labor dispute is resolved.
“I was waiting to see if the lockout had significant movement. Maybe the NBA lockout will end, so I was waiting,” Seraphin said of the delay in his decision to sign. “When I saw the lockout is still going, I decided, I will play somewhere. I think many players will do the same. When the lockout is done, I go back to the Washington Wizards. I hope that we will have a season.”
Caja Laboral has served as the home for several NBA players, such as Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, Jose Calderon, Tiago Splitter and Carlos Arroyo. And while Seraphin wanted to face stiffer competition in the Euroleague but he also wanted to play for Cara Labora Coach Dusko Ivanovic, a native of Montenegro who has become one of Spain’s most accomplished coaches. He led the team to the ACB League title in 2010 and twice led Caja Laboral (then known as Tau Ceramica) to the Euroleague finals in 2001 and 2005. He is known for being extremely demanding and conducting lengthy practices.
“They have a coach, that is very hard in Europe. I’m a tough guy, so I need to go with a tough coach,” Seraphin said with a laugh. “He is very hard. I think I need it for progress.”
Seraphin also isn’t intimidated by the language and cultural barriers he might face in Spain. “When I came to the States, I don’t speak English, but I learned. Now, I will do the same,” he said.
Seraphin said he gained confidence from his experience in Lithuania, where he averaged 4.7 points and 1.9 rebounds in nine games for France. He was considered a long shot to make the national team but made the final cut and had some standout games in the tournament, including scoring 18 points in just 19 minutes in a loss to Spain during the second round.
“I know people would say that,” Seraphin said, when asked about the doubts that he was prepared to compete for les Bleus. “But when I heard that, I said, ‘I have to prove. I have to prove that I deserve to be there.’ I just worked. I went to France, I take my coach with me. I work on everything. I think I proved to a lot of people that I can play on the national team — and I will be there for a long time.”
The French team was loaded with NBA talent, such as Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum. He trained and competed with those players for nearly two months and believes he is prepared for his next challenge. “The coach [Vincent Collet] told me, ‘Play your game.’ Tony Parker, all the guys on the team told me that. I play my game, got more confident, play hard, play defense. That was great for me,” Seraphin said. “I got a lot of experience. I improved. I think there was a big payoff. I was doing well every time I play. Everybody said I could play, even Tony told me I played good. I got to play with the big players. Now I have to work on my skills and my game.”
Seraphin won’t have much time to get ready. He will leave for Vitoria, Spain, on Thursday, and Caja Labora will host rival Real Madrid in a friendly on Sunday. “That will be a good game and a big game. I can’t wait. I’m very excited,” he said.
Though he passed on Cholet this time, Seraphin hasn’t ruled out playing for it again. “Maybe one day, but not yet,” he said. “I’m not planning to come back. I’m just playing in Spain, then go back to the NBA, and after the NBA, yeah, maybe, but not yet.”