On January 23rd, the world was still in order for American Jy’Lan Washington (206-F-1997, college: Tennessee St.) who likes to compare his game to Rudy Gay as he had just helped his team BC Kiev defeat Cherkasy 83-73 on the road as he chipped in with 10 points having a potent shooting night at 80%. A big part of European basketball are the road trips as the bigger the countries are the longer the bus trips get. Especially in the Ukraine, the tedious and long trips can be very bumpy. The travel from Cherkasy to Kiev is 191 kilometers and little did he know then that that would be his last bus ride in the Ukraine this season. The bus ride home probably wasn’t any different than any other ride home. Obviously by night, you can’t see anything, but by day seeing the pretty Ukraine countryside is one that can be breathtaking. More than a month later the Ukraine terrain doesn’t look like it did earlier. The Ukraine are at war with Russia as the whole world is watching Putin operate. In a span of two weeks, he experienced two horrible things that no one would have expected just a few years ago. First he was hit with Covid and a few weeks later war broke out. The first warnings about war came in mid January, but people didn’t really believe war could break out. He didn’t depart right away, but soon listened to his inner self and didn’t stick around. ‘I actually wanted to leave right then and there but I stayed around trusting my coaching staff. They told us if things got real serious they would let us go home. I stayed so long because I got Covid in the beginning of February. Which caused me to be isolated for 2 weeks but I stayed updated on the news. Once I heard Biden say all Americans need to evacuate immediately and the embassy was moving to Poland that’s when I knew it was time to go’, stressed Jy’Lan Washington.
The 24 year old American who hails from Smyrna, Tennessee is back at home now and enjoying the love of his family, but there isn’t a day where the Ukraine isn’t in his thoughts. Now he is glued to the TV everyday in the States to keep track with how the Ukraine is doing. It is only logical that his mind is spinning about what could have been had he remained in Kiev. ‘My thoughts were man that could’ve been my apartment building blown up or me getting shot as things just escalated so quickly’, remembered Jy’Lan Washington. He finally got up to pack and leave Kiev on February 13th 11 days before war broke out. His last days in the Ukraine weren’t easy as the tension was building. Most Americans were trying to go. Life in the Ukraine was just getting unbearable for the American so he had to make a decision. ‘The last few days was very intense I was barely sleeping if I heard something outside it would keep me awake for a while because I was uncertain on what it was. Having to play basketball and worry about if your going to live to see the next day is very hard’, stressed Jy’Lan Washington.
Imagine war looming so close and you can’t go home. That was the scenario for many Americans. There were mixed reports about how clubs handled the situation for their players. Some clubs were respectful about the decision of their players while others had that attitude where one can only shake your head in disbelief. For the American who lists Collin Sexton as his toughest opponent in the NCAA, he had to see another side of the organization. ‘The team didn’t pay for my flight or give me my February check. They also didn’t give me my release. After I left the team, they sent an email out saying they were going to sue me for breaking contract and I wasn’t going to get my letter of clearance unless I returned to Kyiv’, remembered Jy’Lan Washington. Sometimes making that tough decision between family and basketball can be one that gives players sleepless nights. Your in a country that is near to war and your family is freaking out on the other side of the world. At first basketball dominated in his thoughts, but over time, he knew exactly what would be the correct decision. ‘That was probably the toughest. My family wanted me to leave in January but I wanted to stay. We had some important games and I wanted to play in them. My family called me everyday but once Biden said leave immediately I got 4 or 5 phone calls after that from family members that’s when I knew it was time to go’, remembered Jy’Lan Washington. Even when the warning signs of war got nearer, some players still remained not only with BC Kyiv but also team ‘Budivelnyk. His teammate Mike Caffey was the only American left on his team and saw bombings and the massive traffic jam of Ukrainians trying to flee the city. For the Tennessee native wondering what could have been had he stayed in Kyiv affect him to this day. ‘I think about it all the time I’m just thankful I left a week earlier. Mike had to leave a lot of clothes and bags behind because he couldn’t fly home directly from Kyiv’, said Jy’Lan Washington.
But there weren’t only Americans on the squad, but also a handful of Ukrainian players like Konstantin Anilenko, Ilya Tyrtyshnik or Andrii Voinalovych just to name a few. These guys and the rest of the Ukrainians on the club couldn’t just get up and leave like the Americans and fly home to their families. Their families were where the war was and had to deal with the utmost harrowing situations. There is often that cliche that Americans hang out only or mostly with their own and don’t form that kind of bond with other guys from other countries that often make those special winning teams. That was maybe 10-15 years ago, but nowadays one can’t accept that phrase anymore. Teams and players have become more united. That special bond Among Americans and Ukrainians on the club BC Kyiv was there before war and obviously even tighter now. ‘I loved my teammates. We became closer and closer as the season went on. I’m still checking in on them from time to time’, stressed Jy’Lan Washington. Being at home in the care of his own family and relatives, but knowing some of his teammates are somehow trying to provide for their families is very troubling for him. ‘It’s a very unfortunate situation. Those guys were really talented. I pray that one day the Ukraine league will start back up so those guys have opportunities to provide for their families and themselves’, expressed Jy’Lan Washington.
After experiencing something terrible like this, The ex Tennessee State forward has been not only in deep thought about the Ukrainian citizens, but also about his future playing overseas. Despite having gone through this ordeal, he won’t turn his head on crossing the Atlantic ocean back to Europe soon. ‘The situation made me think about Europe a lot but honestly I will do my research on any country and if I get an offer then hopefully nobody else goes to war in Europe’, stressed Jy’Lan Washington. Just continuing to understand where he was is something that will affect him for the rest of his life. Playing those mental games are something that won’t only continue in the future concerning basketball, but also about life. ‘It’s an experience I’d never forget. I risked my life to play basketball but luckily I realized things were getting real serious so I made the decision to leave right on time. Now I’m just praying for everyone in the Ukraine and wishing the war stops immediately’, stated Jy’Lan Washington. His whole life has changed and will never see life the way he did before his Ukrainian experience. ‘ I’m very thankful and blessed to be alive and I’m taking it one day at a time and cherishing every moment’, stressed Jy’Lan Washington. In the meantime, he will continue to follow the progress of war on TV, spend time with his loved ones and never keep the Ukrainian folk out of his thoughts. ‘I’m just praying for all the people in the Ukraine. I hope the war stops immediately so everyone can enjoy their lives and the beautiful country. I’ll never forget the Ukraine and all the great people I met on the journey. I hope everyone is safe’, warned Jy’Lan Washington. Jy’Lan Washington will always have a special bond to the Ukraine as he watches from a far with his heart bleeding for his basketball brothers and every one else in a country he called home this season.
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