Before Travis Releford left for Belgium, he couldn’t help but be a little nervous and concerned.
He had heard the horror stories about professional basketball in Europe, the tales of paychecks not showing up on time, or team owners that cared little for American players, or just the general isolation of living in some foreign town.
“Just all types of craziness you could think of,” Releford says.
But for Releford, the former KU standout and Kansas City native, his first season in Europe couldn’t have started much better. He’s landed a spot with Okapi Aalstar in Aalst, Belgium, a small town just 19 miles from Brussels.
“I love it a lot,” Releford said this week. “It’s a small town, it’s really nice. It’s not hard to get around and find things and with my teammates, the majority of them are from the States and the rest of the guys who are from Belgium all speak English.”
The owners have been supportive, Releford says, and the basketball has been competitive. The only setback came when Releford suffered a stress fracture that required surgery. But even that came with a silver lining: Releford returned to Kansas City this week to have the procedure, and he now has a couple of weeks at home to promote his forthcoming book: “Relentless: From Redshirt to the Rock of the Jayhawks.”
The book details Releford’s childhood in Kansas City and his time at Kansas, where a redshirt season in 2009-10 paved the way for a late-career surge that included a starting spot on KU’s Final Four team in 2012 and a strong senior season in 2012-13. Releford is hoping KU fans can gain a better perspective of what he went through as a young child in Kansas City.
“I feel like it’s an easy read, it’s just about my life, my childhood and my career at Kansas,” Releford said. “And all the things that I’ve overcome to be in the position I’m in right now.
“I feel like it’s an inside (look) at my life. Things people didn’t know. Things that people couldn’t have known.”
Back at home for a few weeks, Releford has had an opportunity to watch Kansas’ young team get off to a 6-3 start. In some ways, Releford says, the season reminds him of the 2011-12 campaign, when he became a first-time starter as a junior.
“They’re young, and even with their leaders, the guys that supposedly need to step up to be the leaders this year, they’re young, too,” Releford said. “For those guys to come from being role players … it’s a tough transition.
“I’ve been in that situation, from being a guy that never played to the following year I’m starting and I need to be out there to help the team win. So I feel like once the guys get used to that and get used to their role, then by conference time, you’re gonna see a completely different team.”
For now, Releford has plans to rehab his stress-fracture for a few weeks before returning to Belgium to help Okapi Aalstar with its postseason run. According to Eurobasket.com, Releford is currently averaging nine points per game while playing alongside former West Virginia star Da’Sean Butler and former Gonzaga guard Derek Raivio.
He still harbors dream of playing the NBA some day. But after playing sparingly during an NBA summer-league stint with the Denver Nuggets last summer, Releford believed it was best to head off to Europe and get his professional career started.
“That’s the goal,” Releford said of the NBA. “That’s what I want to do. That’s always been my dream.
“I didn’t really get the opportunity to be put in position to show my talents in the summer league. It was a great experience, and I’m thankful for it, but afterward, I could just tell that if I went to another team (training) camp, it was going to be another long process.
“So I figured my best decision would be to go overseas at the time and get started with my pro career.”
Releford will be doing a handful of book signings in the Kansas City area over the next two weeks: Here is the schedule:
• Dec. 20: (6:00 to 8:00 p.m.) Nebraska Furniture Mart, 1601 Village West Parkway Kansas City, Kan.
• Dec. 21: (9:30 to 11:00 a.m.) Allen Fieldhouse before KU’s game against Georgetown
• Dec. 23: (6:00 to 7:30 p.m.) Kansas Sampler, 9750 Quivira Rd. Lenexa