Pittsburgh’s own Nolan Cressler has had an interesting journey since graduating Plum High School in 2012.
His travels within the United States have taken the local basketball prodigy from Cornell to Vanderbilt, culminating in an NCAA Tournament appearance with the Commodores.
Now, Cressler has taken his talents to Estonia, where he is currently fulfilling a childhood dream of playing professional basketball.
Meanwhile, adjusting to the culture and generally living away from home has been tough on Cressler, but a learning process nonetheless.
Cressler was kind enough to give a few minutes to discuss life and basketball.
Q: What has been the biggest adjustment you have had to make moving from America to Estonia?
Cressler: The biggest adjustment I had to make in moving from America to Estonia is a little bit everything. Everything from the food to currency is different, but after a month or two of being here, you pretty much get used to it. You have to just pack a couple bags, fly over here and then live off what you brought for eight or nine months.
Also, it is pretty nice not having to juggle practice, games and academics anymore, but that means that I have a lot of free time that I have to try to be productive with.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge/ obstacle in your transition living overseas?
Cressler: The biggest challenge in living overseas is just being away from everything that I know as familiar. Luckily, my fiancée, Dani, is over here with me, which really helps. But we are away from our family and friends which is always hard.
Also, the food is way different so you kind of have to find a couple things that you like in the grocery store and stick with those. We like trying the different food but we obviously grew up eating different American places and brands, and most of those aren’t an option over here.
Q: Can you explain some of the differences minor or major between American and European basketball?
Cressler: There are a lot of differences between American and European basketball. The game is officiated way differently. Little things are different like when you are making a substitution during free throws, you wait until after both free throws instead of after the first shot. However, the biggest major differences are the style of play and training.
The game is played relying much more on skill and smart play. It is a lot more of a team game and less one on one action. For training, teams over here do a lot of calisthenics and more than enough warm-up drills. Some guys don’t like it, but I have found it really has helped my body this season.
Q: How have you had to adjust your game, coming from playing in the NCAA and now playing overseas? Any challenges making the transition?
Cressler: I still take the same approach going into games this season as I did in the NCAA last year. I just try to make winning plays that will help our team succeed. However, I have a bigger role for our team this year, so I have been much more aggressive offensively.
Q: You are playing in two leagues, the Baltic and KML, with Rapla currently sitting at 5-5 and 10-7, and in the middle of the standings respectively. What is the biggest strength and one area of improvement for both yourself and the team collectively?
Cressler: One area of improvement for myself is my on-ball defense. I feel like I have gotten a lot better in college at this, but it is always something I am trying to better myself at. One strength for myself is my efficiency. I am leading the Estonian league in scoring, and second in scoring in the Baltic League, but I take good shots for our team and am shooting a very high percentage from the field.
One area of improvement for our team is our consistency. We have shown flashes, especially over the past couple weeks, of being capable of being one of the best teams in both of our leagues. Then there are some games when we are playing a lesser opponent that we play to the competition and are not as aggressive and assertive in our playmaking and defense. That is something we are trying to improve every day in practice.
A strength of our team is our upside. We have potential to be a really good team. A few weeks ago we signed Dominique Hawkins who played at Kentucky last season. Our big man, Devonte Upson, is an extremely athletic rim runner and rebounder. We also have some Estonian players that play really hard and can defend and shoot the ball.
Q: Finally, what are some personal short and long-term goals?
Cressler: A big goal of mine in my professional career is just to have fun playing and enjoy the experience. Like I said, I am over here with my fiancé and we get to see some pretty cool places that I never thought I would get to see. Ever since I can remember I have been working towards getting an opportunity to play professionally. Now that I am living it, I want to make sure I don’t get caught up in the day to day grind and take some time to enjoy where I am at.
A shorter term personal goal is to continue to play at a high level and continuing to take care of my body. At the end of the season, I want to be a better player than I am now. As long as I keep controlling what I can control, I am confident that I will have an opportunity to play for a bigger club next year with a better contract and more money.