Can the BBL make this ex-college star's NBA dream a reality?
We speak to Surrey Scorchers' Tony Hicks about his journey from Chi-town to England, including deep-dish pizza, the highway code and playing at the O2.
Every college basketball player in America dreams of making it to the NBA.
But with just 450 roster spots available each year, it’s inevitable that most players are left disappointed on draft night.
Fortunately for those who have been overlooked, there are other places to play basketball – just not in the US.
Some sign deals to play in the Euroleague for clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Olympiakos.
Others step away from the game completely.
And a few – like Tony Hicks – find themselves in the British Basketball League.
For the 23-year-old from Chicago, moving to the Surrey Scorchers represented a step into the unknown. Literally.
“The worst thing is walking across the road and having to look the opposite way,” says Hicks, who went to university in both Pennsylvania and Louisville, when asked to reflect on his new life in England.
“I've almost been clipped a couple of times.”
Hicks is speaking at London’s O2 Arena to promote the Betway British Basketball All Stars Championship, where he and the Scorchers will participate along with seven other BBL teams.
Many of his contemporaries – both team-mates and opponents – might find the prospect of playing in such a huge arena in front of television cameras daunting.
Not Hicks, who, after sitting out his final year at the University of Pennsylvania, spent the last year playing for one of America’s most prestigious and popular college basketball teams.
“Louisville was amazing,” he says.
“Penn has a rich basketball tradition, but the fan-base is not nearly as large as Louisville, nor is the TV and media coverage.
“The whole city was behind us. Everywhere we went, everyone knew who we were.
“That was really cool.”
Aged 18, Hicks left his family, friends and home city of Chicago and moved 750 miles east to Philadelphia.
“It was very different in Pennsylvania,” he says. “Not much of a culture shock - Philadelphia is another big city – but it was very different being on my own.
“But I’ve never been the kind of person to get homesick. Philadelphia was only a two-hour flight from Chicago, but it's a 15-hour drive, so I only really got to go home for holidays.
“It never really mattered to me.”
That readiness to travel made moving to England to continue his career an easy decision.
“I've been an athlete my whole life,” says Hicks, who is dressed in his Scorchers team tracksuit and matching Jordans.
“I have a really good degree, and it's a good thing to have in my back pocket.
“But it's been about going pro in the back of my mind for a long time.
“The offer to play here came pretty late.
“I spent my first month after leaving school working out in Los Angeles. I had an exposure camp there at the end of the month.
“Then once I got home things started to kick off a little bit more.
“I had offer from other leagues - European teams in Denmark and Hungary, for example - but I felt this was the best situation after talking to coach Creon [Raftopoulos].
“He was deciding between me and a few other guys, and he made the choice to go with me.”
Aside from a couple of close calls with oncoming cars, Hicks has settled nicely in Guildford.
He lives in in a team house with two other overseas players, and has already been in touch with several BBL players he knows from his days in college.
“Surrey’s very different to Chicago,” he says. “It's a much slower pace, which I have no problem with. I'm an early riser - I try to get up and work out. So I enjoy it.
“I really do like the weather. Compared to Chicago I feel like the winters here might be a little mild.
“The food’s a lot healthier – no more deep-dish pizzas – and I love the scenery.
“Guildford’s quiet, but that’s what we need to focus on basketball. No complaints from me.”
Hicks is laid-back and soft-spoken, but there’s a steeliness about him when he discusses his future in the game.
While the BBL is an opportunity to showcase his talent, he is not interested in playing selfishly in the hope of impressing scouts from abroad.
“What's most important to me is winning,” he says. “I've been a successful player in my career but I haven't won much.
“For me to show that will prove a lot to outsiders and also to myself.”
That’s not to say, however, that Hicks’ ultimate ambition has changed.
“For anybody coming from America, the NBA is your goal,” he says. “You want to play in your home country.
“The money is ridiculous, the lifestyle is ridiculous, but we know that's the top league in the world and there are only a certain amount of jobs.
“Until then, knowing that there's basketball elsewhere is just a blessing.”