Athletic success post-college typically is measured by achievement in pro leagues on American soil.

But several former University of Akron basketball players continue to shatter that myopic view.

Jeremiah Wood, Dru Joyce III and Romeo Travis continue to define success on their terms on other shores, and the latter two players are participating in Mid-American Unity in the Columbus Regional of The Basketball Tournament, which began Friday and will finish Sunday. The tournament is a 64-team event that will air on ESPN and award $2 million in prize money.

Each has played at least a decade overseas with stops in Europe, South America and Asia along the way following unqualified success after playing for former Zips coach Keith Dambrot at UA.

“I think part of it is those guys have good brains, good work ethic and good ability,” Dambrot said of his former players. “I think that's what really separates them. It's not just about ability and work ethic, they've got good brains. They're able to play in a lot of different places and understand what it takes to be a professional. They're just good players and good people on top of it.”

Wood, a Central-Hower product who played forward, averaged 11.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in his four years with the Zips. Joyce, a point guard, and Travis, a power forward, averaged 8.5 points and four assists and 12.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, respectively. Both Joyce and Travis also played for Dambrot at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

Each player earned All-Mid-American Conference honors at some point during his career, and Travis was selected MAC player of the year in 2007. To a man, they held realistic attitudes about their pro prospects coming from a mid-major college, even one as respected as UA.

They also understand that playing for Dambrot and their UA experiences contributed to their long-term success beyond their athletic gifts and resolve. Wood referred to Dambrot as “amazing” when asked about his former coach.

“He was very honest. He always gave it to you up front, and in a world full of nice people saying nice things, you can appreciate honesty,” Wood said of his former coach, who won a school-record 305 games (against 139 losses) in his 13 years at UA. “You can be honest with me. If I'm not doing good — if you think I should change, help me grow.

"So, he really helped me grow as a basketball player and a person because he would say things that people would never say to me.”

Wood has played in Finland, France and Argentina, earning first-team league honors one year in the latter and the league foreign MVP award in the former.

Travis and Joyce arrived at UA knowing exactly what they were getting in Dambrot, who’s always had a reputation as a fierce, fiery competitor.

“He knew me since I was 14 or 15 years old. He was more upfront and honest with me than he was fiery. It was more father figurish,” Travis, whose career spans 13 years, said. “He knew yelling at me didn't do anything for me. That didn't bother me, so he would be more direct and have conversations with me.”

Though his situation was similar, Joyce — the son of current St. V-M boys basketball coach Dru Joyce II — had that as an advantage.

“I know there's a lot of reasons why I'm able to do what I do,” he said.

Going into his 13th year, Joyce holds Germany’s record for career assists, a mark he set in 2016.

“The longevity has a lot to do with those early lessons that were installed in me about listening, learning and preparation, never being satisfied,” he said.

 

Alternate hoop dreams

None of the three players express any regrets about the way their careers have played out over the years, either. Certainly, they’ve made sacrifices, the primary one being away from the United States for extended periods of time, which presents difficulties along with adjusting to different cultures.

However, they’ve learned and evolved from having to do so on the court and off.

“You go to these countries and they have players — tall players — but the difference is in mentality,” Wood said. “We kind of have that American mentality. You go out there and you make it happen, get it done. The other countries share the ball. We're all one team. You have to adjust to them.”

Travis said playing in Israel made him want to incorporate aspects of the Jewish Shabbat — a day of rest — into his family routine. He learned that some don’t use cellphones, electricity and other modern conveniences, and he said he views it all as an opportunity to connect with his wife and children.

That’s not to say downsides do not exist.

“The most difficult thing isn't necessarily going to Europe as it is the length of contracts aren't long term,” Joyce said. “They're normally one season at a time, and you can find yourself going from country to country, team to team. It's hard to find consistency, so you're always trying to look for that, and it becomes really difficult at times.”

 

No looking back

Even with the inherent challenges, the three said they wouldn’t trade their assorted experiences for anything. Just like another, more famous basketball player, they are just kids from Akron who get to see the world.

Wood said he likes the fact that basketball overseas tends to be a purer version than what fans see here in the NBA. In fact, he said, the pro game in the states has changed so much that he rarely watches any longer.

Travis appreciates what his lengthy career has provided for his family — not just financially but, more important, for him personally. Joyce's and Travis’ families spend time with them during the season.

“The experiences they've had, there are things I can give them outside the scope of basketball ... My daughter has probably been to 10 countries at 6 [years of age],” Travis said. “That's my goal — to not only give them things I didn't have while growing up, but to give them experiences that I didn't have growing up, so they can be more cultured.”

Those experiences have opened their eyes and minds.

“The basketball is great — it gives me the opportunity to play and I love that, that I get to continue to do that,” Joyce said. “But what's going to last longer than the basketball is the impact people have made on me and, hopefully, that I've made on them.”

 

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.