There were numerous unknowns when former Notre Dame forward Tim Abromaitis packed his belongings and embarked on a professional basketball career in France last fall. The first concern was his surgically repaired knee, which cost him most of his final season with the Fighting Irish in 2011-12.
Former Irish forward Tim Abromaitis averaged 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for ASVEL Lyon in France in 2012-13.
Then there was the language barrier and new customs. But his first realization that his life was about to be very different was when his team ASVEL Lyon handed him the keys to his courtesy car.
“It was a stick shift and I didn’t really know how to drive that,” said Abromaitis, who returned to his home state of Connecticut earlier this week. “I had to go to a doctor’s meeting for a physical one of the first days I was there, and I just had to get there on my own. I was stalling it out in the middle of every intersection.”
At least the French drive on the right side of the road like in America.
“Thank God; that would have been a mess,” he said.
Not too long after arriving, Abromaitis learned that simple shopping trips to the local grocery store weren’t without cultural revelations.
“I was at the counter with a bag of fruit and they were like, ‘What are you doing?’ You’re supposed to measure them yourself and price them yourself or something,” he explained. “You’re supposed to bag everything yourself. The grocery stores are a nightmare over there.”
It took some time, but the 6-8, 235-pounder got in a rhythm on and off the court. Lyon, which is located between Paris and the Riviera and competes in the country’s ProA league (highest level), finished 18-12 in the regular season and fell in the playoff semifinals. Abromaitis was a regular starter and averaged 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per game.
“My agent going into the year said the stats don’t mean as much as you’d think they do,” Abromaitis said. “People want you to be on a winning team and you want to be getting minutes and contributing. The health part of it was huge for me. Going over there I still wasn’t able to run for more than 10 minutes. That made me a little bit nervous. I didn’t know the trainers or the coaches. I had a really good trainer and he worked me back into the process slowly. Now I go out there and I don’t even notice it.”
Three Americans suited up for Lyon, and Abromaitis said it was somewhat difficult for the trio to get over the language barrier. The entire coaching staff conducted practices in French, and locker room banter was hardly understood.
“The coach would say stuff in French,” he said. “If it applied to us, he’d repeat it in English. I tried to learn as much French as I could. I’m not fluent or anything now, but I can get by. You’re in the locker room and all the other guys are speaking French to each other and you’re just kind of looking around trying to pick out words. You can’t really jump in. It’s definitely a challenge when you feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Everybody could at least speak some English. It wasn’t impossible to communicate.”
With his one-year contract having expired, Abromaitis and his agent will begin working on a new deal, perhaps with a new team, this summer. Abromaitis said he wouldn’t mind playing in France again, but he still has NBA aspirations and will compete in the NBA Summer League.
“I thought it was a great experience,” he said. “Coming off the year with an injury and going to a new culture you don’t really know what to expect. I think I adjusted pretty well and pretty quickly. It wasn’t a perfect season, but I can’t complain.”