Cholet, France is a city full of sports opportunities. It was voted the most athletic city in France in 1972, 2007 and 2014, and has multiple sports complexes — a hockey team, pro-level badminton and a professional basketball team. The basketball team is Cholet Basket, or CB, and plays in the Euro league against teams from all around France.
I went to a game with my first host family last November. Looking at the roster, I was surprised to see that there were Americans on the team. I paid extra attention to the game, trying to pick out the Americans and immediately had so many questions.
I wanted to meet them, ask them about their personal experience being a foreigner in Cholet, how they integrated with the French players and what language they speak when on the court. Sadly, they didn’t stick around to talk after the game.
A month later, I was in a cafe in downtown Cholet — a place called BChef. The international students and I like to hang out there because it’s really cozy and almost has an American feel. I heard someone speaking English and turned around to see Frank Hassell, a player for Cholet Basket.
I remembered from the game that he’s American, so I introduced myself, and while waiting for our food talked a little about basketball. I brought up how I write a column for the Juneau Empire and I asked if I could interview him. We always run into each other at BChef, so we did the interview there, with French people staring at two people speaking English — also staring at a 6-foot-7-inch basketball player.
Question: Where are you from?
Answer: Virginia (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake), “small city.”
Q: When did you start to play basketball?
A: I was a baby, when I was in diapers.
Q: Where did you play college ball?
A: Old Dominion University, on a basketball scholarship.
Q: Do you have a favorite NBA team?
A: Used to like the Lakers growing up, but now I’m kind of detached from teams, so I’d go with the Lakers.
Q: How many countries have you lived in?
A: Maybe six, played basketball in each one. It’s basically my job. Everywhere I go to travel I’ve lived at and that’s where I’ve hooped at.
Q: All in Europe?
A: Yeah, but I wanna move around some more, I’m curious about Asia, South America.
Q: How do you adapt to the different languages and cultures? On the court do you speak mostly English?
A: In the game, English is basically universal, to be on the same page, we speak mostly English. If not, I’ll learn a few words here and there that’ll help me. It’s always fun to learn a new language, so why not?
Q: Do you speak any French?
A: A little bit, un petit peu. I’m learning, I have a bunch of people to teach me, so I’m learning.
Q: Do you miss anything from home, in the U.S.?
A: Everything, everything. I like living in different countries, seeing the world, different cultures but there’s nothing like home. It’s a different vibe.
Q: For playing basketball in France, do you eat anything different than you would in the USA?
A: My diet is pretty much the same, lots of chicken, a lot of carbs. Something I eat in France that I don’t in the states would be duck.
Q: Do you like the cheese here?
A: I mean they’ve got so many of them! It’s different, I like it, it’s OK, gets the job done.
Q: What are French fans like? Are they different than in the U.S.?
A: Yeah, it’s different. Some of them won’t understand what you’re saying, like if I’m speaking slang, and if they’re speaking a certain way I won’t understand what they’re saying. Everywhere you go is different, but the energy the fans give off here is pretty cool.
Q: Is European “hoops” different than in America?
A: For sure. Europe is more tactical I guess, they play more mind games. The U.S. is more freelance, it’s more high-paced. Europe is slower, more methodical.
Q: Which one do you prefer?
A: USA, NBA style. I love freelance, opening it up.
Q: Is that how you try to play in Europe as well?
A: At times, but it’s a different structure. I mean, you gotta make it work and you can play basketball wherever.
Q: On and off the court, are you friends with members of CB that aren’t American?
A: Yeah, a couple of them I hang out with, go out to eat, chat a bit. When you’re around somebody a whole year, every day, you’re gonna end up becoming brothers.
Q: Do you have training every day?
A: Every day. Two hours a session, sometimes multiple sessions. It’s like a typical work day. The team also does community outreach, shows that we are a part of the community, it’s pretty cool.
Q: After France, what do you think is next for you?
A: As far as playing, I have no clue. You never know until the summer, until the end of the season.
Q: If a college basketball player wanted to pursue a career in Europe, how would they go about getting on a team?
A: The process is difficult. First you gotta be very good, to the point where someone would want to pay you, so that’s the first thing. Basketball on the global scale, you have millions of people playing for the same spots, so those spots are hard to get. You gotta find the right agent to help you through that whole process.
Q :Is there anything you want to tell readers in Alaska?
A: Follow my journey on Instagram, @frankloutank.
• Bridget McTague is a Juneau-Douglas High School student who is spending her junior year abroad in Cholet, France, as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange. Follow along with her travel adventures by reading her bimonthly column “Bridget Abroad” in the Juneau Empire.