The holiday season is traditionally a time for people to spend time with their families and celebrate their loved ones. For the average collegiate athlete, the opportunity that most college students have to take a break and enjoy their families is significantly shortened due to athletic obligations. Winter sports, including men’s basketball, may be affected the most by this.
During the holiday season, the NCAA requires that all Division II programs have a seven-day dead period from Dec. 20-26 to allow student-athletes to have time to spend with their families and enjoy the holiday. For Slippery Rock international student-athlete Christal Malalu , that week off is not enough time for him to travel to his home country and be with his loved ones. He haven’t gotten that opportunity in almost three years.
“At first it was hard,” Malalu said. “But, now you get so used to grinding things out and building your future. But it’s hard because I still miss my family.”
The 6’8” junior forward from the Netherlands is preparing to celebrate his third Christmas away from home since his college career started at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. Malalu, now a member of Rock Basketball, is still trying to find his role in his new program, averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in his first seven games.
Though he misses his family, both close and extended, he said that he makes the best of his time away and his family supports him.
“You get used to it when you have something in your mind and they are proud of you doing it,” Malalu said. “It motivates you to go harder and sacrifice those things.”
Malalu has extended family who lives in Pennsylvania, so if he wanted to, he could get some sort of holiday experience with relatives. But if he was not able to travel to York to spend time with his family, he has developed a relationship with his teammate Guilherme Verardo that he said is just as good.
Verardo faces the same issues as Malalu. Verardo was born in Brazil. He began his college career at Marshalltown the same year that Malalu did. The two have developed a close relationship ever since.
Verardo said it is extremely hard for him and his family since he is an only child, but his friendship with Malalu has made it easier. Over the years the two have spent Christmas together and he plans to do the same this year.
“I normally spend time with Christal,” Verardo said. “He’s my best friend here and my teammate, so I’ll spend most of the time with him.”
These types of experiences are what head coach Kevin Reynolds is used to, since he brings in so many overseas players.
“We’ve had a lot of international guys come through our program,” Reynolds said. “They either stay at school or go to a teammate’s house. Anyone being away from family during the holiday is going to have a tough time, but they know people prior to and make it work.”
For Malalu and Verardo Christmas may look the same, but it isn’t the same when they aren’t spending it with their families in their home countries. But the friendship that they have built over the years have made it a little bit easier for the two to make it feel more like home.