There’s a scene in the movie “Love and Basketball” when one of the main characters, an American basketball player Monica Wright, arrives in Barcelona to play in the International Women’s Basketball Association.

While taping her ankle before her first game, she listens to the head coach give an impassioned speech in the locker room … in Spanish.

When he’s done, Wright walks over to a teammate and says, “What’d he say?”

“He say to give the ball to you.”

It’s Ameryst Alston’s favorite movie. It’s also pretty similar to her life.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is real life, this is me,’” said Alston, a two-time Ms. Basketball from McKinley who now plays for Al-Qazeres Extremadura in Spain. “My first day of practice, I was like, ‘He really is not speaking English at all.’ I was trying to figure out what to do. So I just let my teammates go before me and just watched to see what they do.”

Four months later, Alston is thriving in her first season playing professional basketball overseas. She is averaging 16.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists as the starting point guard for Al-Qazeres (8-7), which competes in Liga Femenina de Baloncesto, Spain’s top women’s league. Al-Qazeres is located in Cáceres on the western side of Spain, not far from the Portuguese border. She plays with two other Americans: Pam Rosanio (who played at UMass) and Julie Forster (Albany).

“It’s been fun,” Alston said, speaking by phone from Spain. “I’m having a great experience and I’m happy our team is doing well. When I signed there, they were looking for me to have a big impact on the team and I’ve been able to do that so far.”

After a standout college career at Ohio State — she was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and earned honorable mention All-America last spring — Alston was chosen in the second round of the WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty.

She played in just one regular-season game — for 13 seconds — and was released after the Liberty’s second game, the consequence of joining a team that had eight guards on its 12-person roster. (The team’s first-round pick, center Adut Bulgak, was waived a few months later.) New York eventually won the Eastern Conference with a 21-13 record.

“They had a lot of (veterans) on the team,” Alston said. “It’s a business and I didn’t take anything personal. They brought in a lot of players who had experience, who had already been in the league.

“It was a great experience to go play against great players in training camp and I was glad I was able to make the roster, even if I was only there for a couple games.”

Ameryst said she would like to get back in the WNBA, but doesn’t want to look too far ahead.

“I’ve got no complaints,” she said. “I’m happy to have this opportunity and do what I love to do for a job.”

Culture shock

Although Alston took Spanish in high school, she admits it didn’t stick.

“My Spanish is not good,” she said, laughing. “I have a teammate who speaks English really well and she translates for me. And I’m picking up on some of the basketball terms, so they don’t have to translate as much.”

Language wasn’t her only adjustment. She now hang-dries her clothes (rather than using a dryer) and doesn’t bother asking for free refills at restaurants (that’s an American thing) or a free cup of water (you have to buy it bottled over there). Spain is also six hours ahead of Ohio, so she sometimes stayed up until 2 or 3 a.m. to talk to her family.

“Another thing is, people here are very friendly, but I’m not a big fan of people being in my personal space,” she said, chuckling. “They do the two kisses on the cheek and I don’t like that. Some people just touch cheek to cheek but other people kiss you and I’m not a big fan of people kissing me. They’re like, ‘You Americans, you’re so mean,’ but I’m like, ‘Well, it’s not normal to go up to strangers and kiss them on the cheek. Women may hug when they first meet, but a normal greeting is a handshake.’”

Then there’s the Donald Trump factor. While most Americans couldn’t name Spain’s prime minister (it’s Mariano Rajoy and, yes, I looked it up), the American presidential election was huge news in Europe (and everywhere else).

“Over here, they play it on TV and even though they’re speaking Spanish, so I don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re definitely talking about Donald Trump,” she said.

The consensus?

“They’re not fans of him over here,” she said. “At least the people I talk to.”

Al-Qazeres’ 26-game regular season ends April 1, with the top four teams advancing to the two-round tournament. Even if Al-Qazeres advances, the season ends in time for Alston to get back to the United States for the WNBA season, which begins May 13.

“It’s definitely been a different experience, but I’ve enjoyed it,” she said of Spain. “I’ve had to adjust to a different lifestyle, a different culture, but it’s a great city. The people here are really nice and I’m learning a lot. I’ve been able to adapt.”

Hartline joins Fickell

After spending the last two seasons as an assistant quarterback coach for Ohio State, Mike Hartline (GlenOak) joined Luke Fickell’s new staff at Cincinnati, where he will be an offensive quality control coach.

“The whole philosophy is to just keep working with the quarterbacks like I was doing at Ohio State, but to take on a heavier role,” said Hartline, who played quarterback for Kentucky before brief stints with the Colts and Patriots. “At Ohio State, I essentially had a graduate assistant-type role and this next position helps me keep moving up, even if it’s just in small steps. When Coach Fickell told me about this opportunity and the chance to work with (offensive coordinator) Mike Denbrock, it was a great opportunity to advance what I was doing. And I had nothing but support from Coach (Urban) Meyer at Ohio State.”

Hartline spent this week apartment shopping — he lived with his brother, Brian, in Columbus the last two years — and knows it won’t be his last stop.

“I think that’s the nature of this business,” he said. “You don’t stay in one place too long. For guys in my situation, you’ve got to move around, keep learning, keep creating new relationships and being around people with different offenses. The fact that I could start at a place I did and have the chance to be around some great coaches was just unbelievable. It was a great starting point and I was very blessed and fortunate to do that. Where it goes from there is completely up to me.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Hartline’s first coaching stint was easy. Meyer is notoriously demanding, with Hartline calling him “easy to work for, but hard to please.”

“It’s a fourth-and-inches job every day,” he said. “That’s the type of demand he puts on you. It’s a huge culture shock when you see how he runs the program, but it’s good to have that kind of culture because it makes you decide. If you can handle it, great. If you can’t, OK. Luckily, they work really hard to recruit great young men and decide to make them better players and better persons. If you believe in that system — and it’s hard not to — you can change people’s lives. It makes you a better coach and gives you perspective on what you want to do in life and how you want to do it.”

Hartline doesn’t get back to Canton often, but said Canton never really leaves him.

“I’m always proud to tell people where I come from,” he said. “Everyone understands what that means to me when I talk about it. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, the tradition. It was a great place to grow up. I wish I could come back more, but I understand the career I’m in and that time is of the essence in certain parts of it. But I love being from Canton.”

Aukerman honored

On Friday, Carrollton coach Mike Aukerman will receive the Fred Dafler Career State Coach of the Year for boys cross country from the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.

Aukerman, who helped lead East Canton to a state cross country title and later ran at Malone, has been Carrollton's head coach since 2010. He previously spent four years at Sandy Valley. Over that span, his teams have won five league titles, seven district titles and qualified for the state meet eight times. Only once in his 11 seasons has one of Aukerman's teams failed to advance to the regional meet.

Around the NBA

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (GlenOak) had a tough week — by his standards — as Portland lost three straight road games. McCollum entered the week having scored 20 or more points in 10 straight games but failed to hit that mark in any of this week's games, finishing with 12, 18 and 16 points while shooting below 50 percent in all three. He is still averaging 23.2 points, 3.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game for Portland (18-27), which fell behind Denver (17-24) for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. ... Kings center Kosta Koufos (GlenOak) is averaging 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for Sacramento (16-26), which has dropped four straight and is now 11th in the West.

Kehres to speak

Former Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, who was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, will speak at Monday's Hall of Fame Luncheon Club meeting at Tozzi's on 12th.

 

Reach Joe at 330-580-8573 or

joe.scalzo@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jscalzoREP