High school to college to pro ball, it’s a career path any young basketball player would gladly take, but playing professional basketball doesn’t always mean the NBA.
“I’m excited,” said former Stanford and Sunnyslope star Michael Humphrey. “Once it got towards the end of summer and different guys started signing in different places, we kind of figured out where our spot would be.”
In shadows of Sky Harbor Airport, former Valley high school stars Humphrey and Kodi Justice work out and sharpen their skills at PHHacility, a gym just off a tiny road called Cotton Gin Loop. Next Tuesday they’ll depart for Perm, Russia where they’ll team up on a team called ‘Parma Basket’. They’ll compete this winter in the VTB United League, largely considered the premiere league in Russia.
“As soon as we heard, “Perm, Russia”, the first first thing we did was run to the internet,” said Justice. “I’m excited to get out and experience the world and keep playing basketball, and to go play with Mike.
While competing against each other in high school and later the Pac-12, Justice and Humphrey are finally teammates; joined together as they begin their professional careers.
“This summer we’ve become friends,” said Humphrey. “Going over there with someone I know is going to make it a much easier experience. I don’t know what to expect. It’s going to be different.”
Traveling overseas to play profession basketball is widespread practice for former college stars still hoping to someday find a place in the NBA but for Justice who starred at Dobson High School before moving on to ASU and Humphrey, moving 6,076 miles to the middle of Russia will be a unique experience. Trading saguaros for snow shoes, these two kids from the desert will embark on journey that challenges the mind and body. The average temperature in snow covered Perm from November to March is 26 degrees.
“It’s going to be cold,” said Justice, who didn’t actually see snow until his junior year in college. “I don’t even know what a winter jacket looks like. So yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of shopping right now.”
“Growing up in Phoenix my whole live and then living in Palo Alto, I’ve been spoiled,” said Humphrey. “I don’t know what a real white winter is going to be like but I’m going to learn in a couple of months.”
Parma Basket plays it's home games in the Universal Sports Palace, a 7,000 seat arena built in 1966. It’s a long way from sold out arenas in the NCAA Tournament but marks the beginning of a journey that Humphrey and Justice hope will end back home in the NBA.
“I definitely wasn’t ready to give up playing basketball,” said Humphrey. “And one of the things Kodi and I share is the dream to still play in the NBA.”
“We both believe we’re talented enough to play in the NBA,” said Justice. “We’re honored to play for a great team in Russia and we feel this is a stepping stone for us.”
Justice and Humphrey depart for Perm next week. To ease the transition the two will not only play together, they’ll also live together, sharing an apartment in their new city.
“To be able to experience this with one of your best friends, to experience another part of the world is exciting,” said Justice. “It’s great to have basketball to able to take us to these places.”
“Sitting down for breakfast with my parents,” said Humphrey. “We all just get quiet and we’re like, ‘damn, I’m about to leave for Russia for nine months’. I’m excited and nervous but it’s going to be a great experience.”
Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.