SAFWA, SAUDI ARABIA — Diondre Pratt always dreamed of playing professional basketball. Now, he is, and is enjoying traveling the world.
Pratt, 22, originally from Morven, began playing basketball when he was very young, according to his mother, Dionnya.
“It’s great, because he has worked really hard his whole life and has always enjoyed playing ball,” she said. “He’s been playing basketball since he was three and playing in a K-2 class with Parks and Rec. I coached.”
Diondre played baseball, then moved up to travel baseball, which he played until about seventh grade. He ended up playing football, as well. After a growth spurt, he focused on basketball. His mother dropped coaching so that she could travel to his games.
“His first dream was to get a full scholarship, and he got a full scholarship,” she said. “His next dream was to play pro ball overseas, and that has come true.”
Diondre attended Anson New Technology High School and played basketball at Anson High School. He then played in Charlotte at Johnson C. Smith University, where he received a degree in criminology. After he graduated in May, he was invited to participate in several European showcases, including one in Las Vegas. An agent contacted him about the Al Safa team in Safwa, Saudi Arabia, and he took the contract and headed to the Middle East in November. He is now a shooting guard for Al Safa, a Division 1 team. His is the top league.
“I think the biggest culture shock is time,” his mother said. “He still stays up all night because they’re eight hours ahead of us. And the fact everyone eats with their fingers, because he has a problem getting his hands dirty.”
Pratt agreed that the schedule change was difficult.
“Well, it is very Americanized over here,” he said via email. “They have a lot of American food (McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Popeyes, etc.) but the culture is very different. For example, they have two separate entrances for restaurants for women and children or families and one for just men. The hardest thing I think for me is just getting adjusted to the schedule, knowing when places will be closed for prayer times.”
But Pratt’s teammates have taken care of him, he said, and most speak English. He is the only American on the team.
“The experience is great,” he said. “They have welcomed me with open arms since I arrived and made me feel like I was at home.”
Pratt made the 15-hour flight and began playing in his first game on his fourth day in Safwa, he said.
“I ended up with 34 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, and from there I knew this was something I could get used to!” he said.
His contract was scheduled to end in March, but was extended until May.
In May, Pratt will move back to the United States, depending on the rest of the season. Al Safa was in playoffs with a 7-1 season as of Jan. 27.
“What happens is they usually come home during the off season and play,” his mother said. “He has played on a pro-am team in Charlotte, where there are other pro players from the U.S. and overseas and have other agents with them that will hopefully pick him up. So he’s hoping to play for another team.”
The proud mother said her son hopes to travel to Bahrain next.
“It’s the location, because they have more to do in Bahrain than they do in Safwa,” she said. “Sometimes on weekend breaks he goes to Bahrain. I think it’s more of a tourist spot.”
Pratt left for Saudi Arabia the day after Thanksgiving. This was his first Christmas away from his mother.
“It was really hard,” she said. “It’s always been he and I, just the two of us, in the house. And he played while in Charlotte, so I was always able to go to his ball games. Since he started in seventh grade, I’ve probably missed five games. When he was in college, I traveled and went to most of his ball games, also. Christmas and New Year’s were hard with him not being there.”
When she went to her mother’s for Christmas, she used Facetime to include her son in the meal with her family. It was the middle of the night in Safwa.
“Being away from home for my first Christmas was very difficulty for me, especially because they don’t celebrate Christmas here, so it was hard for me to be in the spirit,” Pratt said. “Talking to my mom over video chat was tough, and seeing all my friends home with family was tough on me, as well, but I knew that was something I would experience before signing my contract, so I was able to deal.”
One day, when he’s done playing professional basketball, the mother said her son will pursue a career in criminal justice.
“The last thing he said is he wanted to be a state trooper,” she said. “And then he wanted to be a U.S. Marshal.” When he was little, Diondre often talked about being a policeman, she said.
Pratt’s mother isn’t the only one who has supported his passion for basketball.
“His grandparents (Donnie and Synetha Pratt) were a great asset to him playing ball,” she said. “They were always there in support of him, and made it to most of the ball games.”
He also has three sisters and his father, Dennis Lindsey, who lives in South Carolina.
“I think constantly about the day in May I come to see my family,” Pratt said. “I’ve missed them so much even though I am having the time of my life here! I think in May, me and my family will have the chance to have a second Christmas and New Year’s, so that will be exciting, as well.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.