Isiah Victor has played professional basketball on four continents during the past 10 years, but there’s no place he’d rather lace up his sneakers Monday than Knoxville.
“Ron Slay had told me about this league, but now that I see it, I really want to play,’’ said Victor, who played for Tennessee from 1997-2001. “When I came in here I thought there must be something football related going on, but it’s really basketball, and it’s great to see this much support.’’
Victor played for former UT coach Jerry Green during a span of four consecutive NCAA tournaments, equaled only by current coach Bruce Pearl.
And while he can’t often watch Pearl’s teams, Victor said he keeps up with them.
“I keep an eye on the scores and I read the box scores,’’ said Victor, who’s expected to debut in the Pilot Rocky Top League tonight at Bearden High School. “What I’ve seen from those teams, I like. They’re a lot like the (UT) teams I played on; they get up and down the court.’’
Victor, who like current Vols’ rising star Scotty Hopson hails from Hopkinsville, Ky., has used his basketball skills to travel around the world.
“It’s not for everyone, but you learn to focus on the job,’’ Victor said. “A lot of times you don’t know the language, or the people, and sometimes you feel like the people don’t really care about you.’’
Victor’s first “job’’ out of UT was playing pro ball in France, and it was not a warm reception.
“I played there in the middle of winter, and I didn’t have heat for three weeks where I lived,’’ Victor said. “They kept saying they would fix it. But for three weeks I was sleeping in my sweatsuits with all the blankets I could get with my hood pulled up over my face.
“That was my toughest year, my first year.’’
Victor returned to the U.S. to play in the CBA in 2002-03, before his next job took him overseas to Korea.
“Nine out of 10 times, they give you a car and an apartment; but what kind of car, and what kind of apartment? You don’t know,’’ he said. “The only thing you look at is the contract.
“But in Korea , I played for Hyundai, and they gave you a credit card for when you were out, and they supplied cooks and drivers.’’
Victor returned to the U.S. again after Korea, spending the next two seasons (2004-06) playing in the NBDL, and then it was on to Italy.
“In Italy, I played in Sardinia, it’s kind of a vacation island,’’ Victor said. I’d walk through the malls and everyone was staring at me. Body language goes a long way, and I’d get three or four faces that basically said, get out of here big black guy.’
“That’s just crazy. I was strange to them. But all they see is TV...’’
Victor said the overseas basketball fans were some of the most fair-weather he’d ever dealt with.
“Oh yes, much worse than anything at Tennessee,’’ he laughed. “When you’re winning, you’re the greatest. When you lose, they’ll boo their own team.’’
The past two years have gone well for Victor in Australia.
“I played in Sydney my first year, and in Perth last season,’’ he said. “Sydney is the best city I’ve ever been to. I love it.’’
Victor even managed to run into one of the most elusive former Vols to wear the orange — Major Wingate.
“I played with Major in Puerto Rico last year,’’ Victor said. “I didn’t know him before that, and I didn’t know what to expect.
“But he was such a cool guy, really nice, who just made some bad decisions.’’
Wingate’s wherabouts remain unknown.
Victor said he’s motivated by the opportunity to play with and against some of his former UT teammates, as well as some of the new players.
Rocky Top League commissioner Andre Whitehead said Victor would be slotted to the First Tennessee team, though Ray’s ESG is expected to lobby as it will lose Steven Pearl next season.
“I’m going to have Rashard Lee give him a call,’’ First Tennessee coach Brent Watts said. “He played with Isiah, and we really need him.’’
Hoya Paranoia: Omar Wattad, a two-time Tennessee All-State selection at Science Hill, has come back to the Rocky Top League in the midst of his transition between Georgetown and UT-Chattanooga.
Wattad, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, had his best game for the Hoyas against the Vols last season, scoring nine points while pulling down five rebounds.
“Playing the Vols was a very tough scout,’’ said Wattad, who expects to get more playing time and shots with the Mocs. “It’s 40 minutes of hell when you play them, but we were able to get them out of their press, and I was proud of that.’’
Wattad has been effective in PRTL action, scoring in double figures in both games he has played.
Leaders: Chris Lofton leads the league in scoring with 51.5 points per game and he’s making more than 50-percent of his 3-p oint attempts. Scotty Hopson is second with 40.5 points per game followed by Bobby Maze (36),
Cameron Tatum (33.5) and JaJuan Smith (30).
Schedule: ChoiceSpine (0-4) plays HT Group (3-1) at 6 p.m. Monday followed by News Sentinel (3-1) against First Tennessee (2-2) at 7:30 and at 9 p.m. it’s Ray’s (2-2) against Richardson Construction (2-2).
A full slate of games follows Wednesday, and on Thursday night the No. 3 team plays the No. 4 team at 6 p.m. followed by the title game at 7:30 p.m.
Mike Griffith covers basketball for the News Sentinel.