Robert Sandoval was chopping wood earlier this summer, contemplating the end of his basketball dream and the life of a lumberjack.
The 25-year-old guard from Fresno State in California had just graduated Azusa State University and had begun the process of trying to extend his playing days in the paid ranks.
Teams in El Salvador had been in touch but those options quickly fizzled out. Thoughts of the riches of the NBA were a million miles from the young American’s mind as he swung the axe over his head and down into a hunk of firewood.
“I was just cutting up firewood for my grandfather, just waiting for the phone to ring,” says Sandoval, who took a part-time job at the family business to pay the bills.
When the phone rang it was his old college acquintance Marek Klassen who threw him a career lifeline.
“Marek put me in touch with Matt Newby at Leeds Force and we took it from there,” continues Sandoval, who is indebted to Klassen just as much as Leeds are to an American import who last season took them to the BBL play-offs before moving up the pyramid to Worcester Wolves.
“I sent Matt my game film and my basketball resume and by August I was here. I’d heard good things about Leeds and about the BBL from Marek.
“I’d been given a taste of the competitiveness of European basketball earlier in the summer when I was part of a Missionary team that toured Germany and the Czech Republic.
“There’s stuff I picked up from that tour and also a few new things I’ve picked up in England. I’ve had to acclimatise with some of the subtle rule changes that have brought adjustments to my game, but I feel like I’m settling in well.”
Leeds would agree. The third-year team in the British Basketball League have been enriched by their three US imports this season: Sandoval, fellow guard Jack Isenbarger and forward Jermaine Sanders.
A record of two wins and five defeats would suggest the impact has not been seismic, but for this trio of Americans, the opportunity Leeds have given them is motivation enough to invest everything they have.
“Leeds is a young franchise, yes, but there are things that come with that which I really like,” says Sandoval. “We are a really close-knit unit and we know what we have to do in order to compete with the teams that have been around this league for years.
“It’s great to be a part of the team and playing my part in it. I want to dig in and do what I can to help the team. I can’t speak for everyone but you come over and take the opportunity to play for the love of basketball, and the challenge to try and win.”
That challenge on Sunday against Newcastle Eagles is as tough as it gets. Sandoval is blissfully unaware that the 4pm tip-off at Carnegie Sports Arena is the second part of a Leeds-Newcastle double-header following footballs’ clash of the Uniteds at a sold out Elland Road earlier in the afternoon.
His focus is on the task at hand. “Newcastle are playing really well and I’m excited for the match-up.”