PULLMAN – There are perks that go with being a college basketball player. But there are pitfalls as well.
And there are no pitfalls more obvious than those that surface during the holidays.
Christmas is almost always spent away from home, especially when home is half a planet away.
“I haven’t been home for Christmas in a while,” said Washington State University senior Nik Koprivica, who hails from Serbia.
“Even before I got (to WSU) I haven’t been home for Christmas. We had some games or something. So I haven’t been home for five, six years. Even for New Year’s, nothing. So I’m kind of, I want to say, getting used to this.”
Koprivica and his family are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, so when he talks about Christmas, he’s not referring to Dec. 25.
“Our Christmas is Jan. 7 this year,” Koprivica said.
No matter the date, the yearning is the same. The holidays are a time to spend with family.
For WSU freshman Brock Motum, who hails from Brisbane, Australia, not being home for the holidays is something new – in more than one way.
“This is the first Christmas I’ve been away from my family,” he said. “Usually back at the (Australian) Institute (of Sport in Sidney), we get six, seven weeks off over summer, so I’ve never really not had a Christmas without my family with me.”
The “over summer” part is what makes this Christmas so different for Motum.
Dec. 25 is near the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere, so the holiday traditions are a bit different. Instead of snowmen, yule logs and sledding, the holidays are often spent at the beach.
“Around New Year’s, the beaches are full because it is usually the hottest time of the year,” Motum said.
With temperatures hovering around 40 Celsius (or 104 for you Americans), Motum’s family rises late, has a big breakfast, heads to one of the grandparents’ houses for a large lunch, then spends the day together.
So some things are similar.
“You just hang out all night because it’s so hot,” Motum said. “The sun probably won’t go down until about 7:30, and then you go home.”
OK, so some things are really different.
Motum is trying to adjust to the dissimilar ways of celebrating. At Thanksgiving dinner, with a family in Anchorage, Alaska, where the Cougars were playing in a tournament, he ate turkey for the first time.
For Christmas he’s been adopted by teammate Charlie Enquist’s family and will spend the holiday with them in Edmonds, Wash.
“So I have a family there,” he said. “It’s the same atmosphere, just different people.”
Koprivica understands the adjustment. He said his freshman year was tough, especially on New Year’s, which “is a big deal back home.”
“I’m seeing New Year’s, it’s 12 o’clock, watching TV, I’m alone in the dorm, everybody’s gone,” Koprivica said. “Just like three of us on the floor, Robbie (Cowgill, from Austin, Texas), Thomas (Abercrombie, from New Zealand) and myself.
“It’s like, ‘OK, guys, happy New Year.’ Just go to sleep. Kind of get sad, then Christmas comes and I’m the only one celebrating the day. I’m not even kind of celebrating.”
But New Year’s isn’t the hardest day. Nor is Christmas.
The hardest day is the feast day of the family saint, Nikola, a key date for Serbian families.
“Those are the days when I feel the worst because they call me, 3 in the morning, dead drunk, you hear music, they’re yelling, ‘We miss you over here, come over,’ ” he said. “And I haven’t been there for like six years, definitely. It’s amazing. Those are the things I definitely miss.”
The feast day falls on Dec. 19, Koprivica said. This year, he held his own celebration on the court in Kennewick, scoring a career-high 23 points, hitting every shot he tried against Portland State.
“I called my dad and told him it was my gift to him,” Koprivica said.
So how does one deal with being so far away for the holidays? Koprivica has his way.
“You give a call to the family and wish them well,” he said. “Hopefully, in the future, you’ll get a chance to get together for this.”