EAST LANSING, Mich. – Sometimes, passing up a chance to play the sport you love for money is easier than it sounds.
That was the case for Pedro Goldemberg and Ahmed Dawood, the two international players on Michigan State’s men's club basketball team.
Goldemberg, a 6-foot-5 junior stretch forward from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, dreamed of going to an NBA game when he was young. His grandparents took him to see the Orlando Magic play when he was 6, during a family vacation to Florida.
“Which team do we cheer for and where do they score?” Goldemberg said, laughing, as he recalled his grandparents’ oblivion to the American sport. “They had no idea what was going on.”
From then on, Goldemberg’s basketball dreams were as big as his country’s obsession with soccer. He was offered a semi-pro contract in Brazil, with the chance to blossom into a national team-caliber player. At the same time, he was accepted to MSU and chose to come to East Lansing and hopefully try for a varsity team spot.
But when Goldemberg arrived as a freshman in 2012, the Spartans were the preseason No. 2-ranked team and didn’t hold walk-on tryouts. The closed door set Goldemberg and his game back.
“I actually, my freshman year when I got here, I was really confident that I was gonna make (MSU’s varsity team),” Goldemberg said. “I was going to the weight room once or twice a day, I was in the best basketball shape of my life. I was really confident about it. After they didn’t have the tryout, I wouldn’t say I gave up, but I lost a lot of confidence and didn’t have anywhere to practice, I was just playing pickup, so I just started losing it.”
Dawood, a senior guard, was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, then moved to London and then Hong Kong because of his dad’s job, before coming to the United States for the first time for college.
“I moved around mainly because my dad's job. He works for Aramco which is a huge oil company and we had to move around a lot due to the oil business,” Dawood said. “That showed me how different basketball is in different parts of the world. I was really young in London so I don’t remember much but Hong Kong was the second most competitive place for basketball after the United States in my experience. Pick up basketball and the high school league I participated in really prepared me well for what we are doing now in club basketball right now.”
Upon return to Saudi Arabia in 10th grade, Dawood practiced for a summer with Al-Ittihad, a professional team with a strong reputation.
“After seeing my potential at a young age compared to the professional basketball players they had, (Al-Ittihad) immediately offered me a contract to play,” he said.
But with basketball paling in comparison to the importance of soccer in Brazil and Saudi Arabia, neither Dawood nor Goldemberg saw that path as logical or lucrative enough in the long term.
“After discussing it with my parents, we elected to focus on school instead since basketball does not currently have much of a future in Saudi Arabia,” Dawood said. “And I enjoyed school as much as basketball.”
Goldemberg came to the same conclusion with his family.
“I could put all of my bets into becoming a pro player in Brazil, but that doesn’t give you a lot of money because it’s not a big sport there,” Goldemberg said. “I was good, but I was never the star of my team. There was no guarantee. Coming here was just the safer choice for my future.”
After separate journeys ultimately led them to their educations Michigan State: Goldemberg, a supply chain student, and Dawood, a chemical engineering student. They're also enjoying the unexpected opportunity to play competitive basketball again.
“I came to Michigan State expecting to only focus on school and use basketball as entertainment and a way to stay in shape,” Dawood said. “I played pick-up basketball a lot during my first three years and IM basketball, and that’s when I met the group of guys I play with in club basketball. This experience has been great mainly because the friendship and chemistry we all have with each other.”
Goldemberg said playing for the club team has re-sparked his passion for the game, and says he’s most enjoyed the basketball culture that’s much more prevalent in America.
“For the first time in a friend group, I could say, ‘Let’s play (the basketball video game) 2K,’ and everyone would be excited about playing, and not just playing because I’m forcing them to play. In Brazil, I would say that and my friends would be like, ‘Screw that, let’s play FIFA,’” he said, laughing. “I like having a lot of people around me that love the sport I love.”