HICKORY — Emmanuel Wembi’s dream of playing professional basketball is finally coming true.
The former Catawba Valley Community College men’s basketball standout signed on Monday to play for KK (Košarkaški Klub) Alkar basketball club in Sinj, Croatia.
Wembi, who recently finished his four-year academic and athletic career at Lenoir-Rhyne University, spent this past summer working with friend Brandis Raley-Ross and the Immaculate Training service in Charlotte in preparation of playing overseas.
“I trained with [Raley-Ross] a lot and attended pro camps throughout the summer where I started gaining some interest from agents and overseas coaches,” Wembi said.
A former Rocky River High School standout, Wembi didn’t initially gain the interest of teams, but after touring with Immaculate Training in Europe this past month, he gained the attention of KK Alkar and its coaching staff.
“Since I didn’t have a legit offer yet throughout the summer, I went on the Immaculate Training tour team,” Wembi said. “As soon as I got to Croatia, there was a team that wanted to see me live in action. I went to Sinj, Croatia where KK Alkar is located, and I practiced with them and played in three preseason exhibition games. I performed amazing, and they offered me a contract.”
Wembi officially signed his one-year contract on Monday and will now participate in a 36-game regular season schedule followed by playoffs. The team’s regular season ends in May 2020.
KK Alkar will play only teams in Croatia as member of the first division, but Wembi and his teammates perform well enough throughout the season, they will start to play other teams in Europe in different tournaments and cup events.
“There are many different divisions and leagues throughout Europe and the whole world,” he said. “I am in first division Croatia, which is amazing for me and a great start off spot for a rookie. Most players don’t get this coming out.
“Since this is the beginning of my career, my plan is to dominate every practice and game so I can get to the next level,” he added. “Practice is really good here. It is way more intense than college and way more technical. We are wrapping up preseason this weekend and preparing for our first regular season game next Saturday.
Wembi said playing and living in Europe has been an enlightening experience so far.
“The culture is different, but quite similar to America,” he said. “I’ve adjusted really well so far, and I’m loving it here in Croatia. The city is beautiful, and the people are amazing. The food is also delicious — I can’t forget that.”
Wembi is the first former Red Hawk men’s basketball player to compete professionally in Europe and the second ever to play professionally, joining Octreyvius Roebuck, who played in El Salvador following at CVCC and Southern Wesleyan University.
Wembi believes attending CVCC helped him jumpstart his journey to where he is now.
“(Men’s basketball head) coach (Bryan) Garmroth and CVCC helped me out to achieve this career goal,” he said. “If it wasn’t for coach Garmroth taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to play for him and the school, I really wouldn’t be here today. CVCC was my only offer out of high school.
“Coach Garmroth taught me a lot about the game and how much intensity and hard work it takes to be an outstanding player,” Wembi added. “He pushed me in many ways that I needed to hear or receive. Maybe I didn’t want to hear it, but I needed to hear it, and I appreciate him a lot.”
Wembi’s journey at Catawba Valley was much deeper than sports, though.
“Off the court at CVCC, I was blessed to meet so many people that helped achieve this goal and most importantly Mr. (Ron) Carson,” he said. “He instilled in me a lot of mental and spiritual growth that I needed as a young man. I truly believe if I didn’t have CVCC in my journey that I would not be here today.”