(July 5, 2013) Even international sports stars are not immune to Ocean City’s summertime charm.
Twenty-six-year-old Landon Milbourne is spending his two months off from the Panionios professional basketball club in Athens, Greece with family and friends in his hometown, a longstanding tradition for the 6-foot-7-inch forward.
He moved from Berlin to Georgia before high school, but has always made the trip back each year, he said.
“This is where I started and this is where I learned to play,” Milbourne said.
Once a student at Buckingham Elementary and Berlin Intermediate schools, Milbourne returned to Maryland in his college years to play basketball at the University of Maryland.
“I wanted to come back home and I felt like it was a good fit for me and my career,” he said of the move back to the Maryland, where he finished his senior year on the winning team in the ACC regular season championship.
His start in basketball came long before that, however.
With a father who holds the title of Salisbury University’s all-time scoring leader in Division III basketball, Andre Foreman, Milbourne grew up with a basketball close by.
“I started playing when I could walk,” he said. But, “I was just a kid trying to be like my father. He never forced me to do anything; I just kind of picked up the ball on my own.”
Milbourne’s father played one-on-one with him, preparing him for his future in basketball. The duo even overlapped in their time in the European leagues during Milbourne’s rookie year, allowing Foreman to take a trip from Finland to France to visit his son over the Christmas holiday. He retired a year later.
On the outset, Milbourne “didn’t want to go to Europe at all,” citing long stretches where his father was away to play basketball while Milbourne was growing up. His goal was to work his way to the NBA.
“Now that I’m here, I’m thankful for it,” Milbourne said. “I love being in Europe and seeing the different cultures and the different people, and the way they live compared to Americans.”
He started his career in the French Second Division three years ago, a good fit because French teams play similarly to his team at the University of Maryland, Milbourne said.
His second year, playing for another professional basketball club in France, his team won the French Pro League Regular Season Championship and the playoffs, sparking his most recent move to the Panionios club in the Greek League.
“This year is something I’ll never forget,” Milbourne said. “It’s such a different place from where I was living last year.”
Playing in Athens, where the fans radiate a college-esque excitement and he lives a short walk from the beach, suits him, he said. And while only four of his teammates are from the United States, most of the players and coaches speak English.
That is a luxury, not a right, playing abroad. When he was in France, Milbourne had coaches and teammates who spoke far less English, he said.
“It was a little tough to communicate. You’ve got to learn a few words of the language to move around,” he said. But “basketball’s a universal language, so we don’t need to speak too much.”
Moving several times growing up prepared him to play abroad, Milbourne said. “I was kind of built for this kind of lifestyle.”
He will know soon whether he’ll complete a two-year contract with the Panionios club or if another team will buy him out of the deal. He said he plans to “explore the options” in the future.
“I want to stay in Europe because I’ve enjoyed it so far, but if I have an option to play in the NBA or somewhere else, if it’s the best option for me, of course I’ll do that,” Milbourne said.
“I can choose which country is best for me and which country fits my style,” he said.
“My career is just getting started.”
For now, however, he is thankful to be home.