Thousands of miles from his home north of Spokane, Jake Wiley, a former Newport and Eastern Washington basketball star playing in Europe, received a strange but welcome request.
The subsequent journey was even more peculiar.
Wiley, a springy, high-energy forward for CB Gran Canaria in Spain’s scenic Canary Islands, has globe-trotted since his brief regular-season stint with the Brooklyn Nets two years ago.
He had stops in Greece, Germany and Australia before returning to the Spanish League, which many consider the second-best professional basketball league in the world.
The work is hard – “the most strict and regimented schedule of my career”, Wiley said – but the pay is good. Six-figure salaries are standard.
North Macedonia – a small southeastern European country of two million citizens – was never in Wiley’s purview.
Not until last month, anyway, when Wiley was asked if he was interested in becoming a member of North Macedonia’s national team if the Balkan country could make him a naturalized citizen.
“They can naturalize one foreigner for their national team,and they picked me” Wiley said. “And if I’m a naturalized European, and not just an American player in Europe, it opens up more opportunities. “
North Macedonia – formerly known as Macedonia – has never qualified for the Olympics or a FIBA World Cup.
One of the country’s top players is 19-year-old Andrej Jakimovski, a freshman forward at Washington State who is the third-highest rated recruit to ever sign the Cougars.
“Macedonia loves Washington State because he’s playing there,” Wiley said. “And since I’m from the state of Washington, they come up to me and ask if I knew (Golden State Warriors and former WSU star) Klay Thompson.”
Getting there was a struggle for Wiley, the Big Sky Conference’s Most Valuable Player in 2017, who’s had the arduous task of navigating different countries’ restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
To get to North Macedonia, Wiley said, he had to fly into neighboring Bulgaria from Spain, where he was immediately met with authority at a Bulgarian airport.
“They basically arrested us, held us for a few hours,” Wiley said. “They wanted to know why an American was there (during a travel restriction), and we had to tell them why we were passing through to get to Macedonia.
“We couldn’t leave until the Macedonian government could confirm what we were doing there.”
Once Wiley was released, he had a five-hour car ride to the Macedonian border, where he said he and the man ushering him to the country didn’t have the adequate documentation.
They got in anyway.
“I don’t know how we got in, but it definitely wasn’t legal, that’s for sure,” Wiley said.
Wiley has since returned to playing in Spain – no fans can attend games and players must take three coronavirus tests a week – where he lives on an idyllic beach.
But it comes with a major downside for the 26-year-old: being away from his family.
Wiley’s wife Brittany and two children are often at their Colbert home while he is playing overseas about 10 months a year.
“That’s a long time away from everything,” he said. “I’m a Spokane guy and that’s my home.”
He’s also an EWU guy who hopes to promote the program on national television next summer at The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all $1 million tournament broadcast on ESPN.
TBT, composed of many college alumni teams, has featured Gonzaga’s “A Few Good Men” in past tournaments.
Wiley played on boxing star Floyd Mayweather’s “The Money Team” last summer, which got knocked out early.
“We lost to an alumni team from Marshall,” Wiley said. “We had more talent than they did, but they were prideful in representing their school and had more camaraderie.”
“It got me thinking ‘What if EWU had an alumni team here?’ We have that pride.”
Wiley foresees a TBT roster comprised of former EWU stars that could potentially include Bogdan Bliznyuk, Mason Peatling, Venky Jois, Adris De Leon, Drew Brandon, Parker Kelly and “hopefully” Tyler Harvey, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2015 before playing overseas.
Most are playing professionally across the world.
Rodney Stuckey, a former NBA veteran and first-round draft pick, isn’t playing, but Wiley hopes he will also be involved with the team along with ex-EWU star Alvin Snow, who is Wiley’s agent.
Planning is still in the preliminary stages.
“If we win it, maybe we can raise some money for EWU’s basketball program,” Wiley said.