Former Michigan basketball players Douglass, Morgan see European careers go on lockdown
Stuart Douglass did some yoga and read a little bit to pass the time last week. He contemplated trying to sneak into the nearby gym to get some shots up, but it’s locked down like most nonessential buildings in Israel.
Over in Turkey, Jordan Morgan has been finding ways to stay active and maximize each day. He and his wife, KT, go for a run or do a workout before knocking off a short list of things to get done around the house.
As the sports world has come to a grinding halt due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the two former Wolverines are in a holding pattern overseas and are trying to navigate a period of uncertainty as international basketball has been shut down.
Douglass was in the midst of his first season with Maccabi Ashdod before the Israeli Basketball Premier League announced it was suspending play two weeks ago. The league reaffirmed the suspension last week but neither time provided an end date or any clarity when things would be re-evaluated.
“It’s been quite the mess here,” said Douglass, who has spent much of his professional career in Israel since graduating from Michigan in 2012. “With the basketball stuff, they can’t make up their minds.”
Douglass said he hasn’t been kept in the loop with updates, even though he doesn’t think the league will resume play and finish. His team still has 12 regular-season games remaining with playoffs slated to start in the middle of May. He expects the rest of the season to be canceled.
Douglass said most of his teammates have already left the country, including fellow starters and Americans Paul Stoll (East Lansing High), Elijah Johnson (Kansas) and Mark Tollefsen (Arizona). He has looked into flights back home but has opted to stay in Israel because of contract concerns.
According to Douglass, Maccabi Ashdod gave verbal permission for players to leave but wouldn’t put anything on paper and sign it. If he left, it’s possible his team could say he’s in breach of contract and not pay him the rest of the money he’s owed. As a result, Douglass and his agent felt he had a better chance of seeing that money if he stayed.
But if the league does get canceled, Douglass said it’s not clear if his contract would be fully guaranteed. There’s nothing in his contract that outright says he wouldn’t be paid in a situation like this.
“It's a sticky situation all around,” Douglass said. “There's so many questions and so little answers.”
Douglass, who is also an Israeli citizen, said he isn’t worried about his health and safety in Israel. He noted the government has enforced a strict lockdown that only allows essential travel and there’s “no real hysteria.”
However, Douglass said he is worried about getting back home due to increasing travel bans — whenever that time comes.
“I'm trying to prioritize my contract and all that, which is hard to do,” Douglass said. “I've waffled back and forth. It's like OK I want to leave, no I should stay, I want to leave. It's quite the mind game sitting at home in my apartment all alone and having that on my mind all the time. I'm trying to distract myself, but it’s been tough.”
In addition to Israel, Italy, China, Belgium and France have also suspended play in leagues where former Wolverines DeShawn Sims, Ekpe Udoh, Kameron Chatman and Darius Morris were playing, respectively.
Morgan is in a similar situation in Turkey, where he plays in two leagues — the Turkish Basketball Super League and FIBA Europe Cup — with Pinar Karsiyaka.
The Turkish BSL was one of the last basketball leagues in the world to stop play amid the growing coronavirus concerns. Morgan and his team had a game in Istanbul on March 14 with no fans before play was finally suspended last week.
“It was a little weird,” said Morgan, who played at Michigan from 2010-14. “I think the no fans had less impact on the game than the general anxieties that everybody had. I think that played more into the game than anything because it's just so hard to focus on the game when you're thinking about so many other things.
“For us, it was less about not having fans. That's something that you do at different points in your career. It was more just about the overall climate, the overall mood.”
Several Americans playing in Turkey, including former NBA first-round pick Shane Larkin, publicly criticized the league’s decision to forge ahead while a slew of others elected to cancel or postpone contests.
Morgan felt he’d be putting a lot on the line and could’ve faced possible repercussions if he spoke his mind and decided to sit out. So, he decided to focus on doing his job.
“Even if it's not as far as I don't want to play, there are parts of you that's unsure," Morgan said. "We're traveling. We're staying in a hotel. We had a buffet-style breakfast that morning, which really bothered me and really unsettled me, in the hotel lobby like everything was normal. That whole situation is a little bit unsettling.”
Morgan said a good number of the Americans playing in Turkey have already flew back to the United States. He added he could get his team’s blessing to leave to guarantee the safety and health of his family but noted there’s a strong chance he wouldn’t be able to return and would likely have to negotiate a buyout.
Doing so would require Morgan to walk out on his team that has reached the semifinals FIBA Europe Cup playoffs and sits in second place in the Turkish BSL standings with a 21-3 record. So like Douglass, Morgan has opted to stay put and hunker down.
“It's risking too much to try to go home now,” Morgan said. “We'd rather wait it out here. It's much calmer here. We're comfortable here. It's too hard to know what would happen. We do know that if we decided to go home now we would be sacrificing a lot.”
As of Monday afternoon, Israel had 1,442 total cases of coronavirus with one death and Turkey had 1,236 total cases with 30 deaths, according to Worldometers’ real-time statistics.
Morgan said he has been monitoring the outbreak in Turkey, taking necessary health precautions and gathering as much information from his agent and Turkish friends to stay as updated as possible because there are “big decisions to make.”
He has a gut feeling his team will play again and believes the league wants to do what it can to finish the season. And given what he has at stake, Morgan hopes the waiting game will eventually pay off.
“What's unfortunate is I know, personally for me, this is a big year for basketball between my team playing at a championship level…and looking at this summer and the scheduling of the Olympic qualifying tournaments and Tokyo Olympics as a possibility," Morgan said. "That’s something I was looking forward to with the Slovenian national team.
“Now I’m wondering what's going to happen with that and if that's going to be there, too. There was a lot we were hoping for as a family to accomplish in 2020. I’m holding out hope that all these things will still come."