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Gees legend signs in top Estonian league

Photo: Marta Kierkus, Edits: Kim Wiens

After contributing  to the  the Gee-Gees’ basketball program for five years, Johnny Berhanemeskel is taking his talents to Estonia. The Ottawa native nicknamed ‘Johnny Basketball’, who set numerous school records while at the U of O, has signed with the Estonian club TLÜ/Kalev based in the capital city, Tallinn.

“Doing something that you love and getting paid whether it’s professional basketball or not is a good feeling. I’ve worked my whole life to play professional basketball and now I’m finally here,” said Berhanemeskel in an interview with the Fulcrum.

Berhanemeskel averaged 23.2 points per game last year, and was named the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Player of the Year. Despite his success, Berhanemeskel understands that the slate will be wiped clean once he touches down in Tallinn. “I want to play as many games as possible my first year and show that I am able to compete with these guys at that level,” he said.

The announcement comes after months of negotiating with multiple teams across Europe. “We had concrete interest from (teams in) Belgium and Germany, and the team he signed with in the end,” said Berhanemeskel’s agent, Matthias Haufer, of Two Points Agency.

Haufer said he “had been following Johnny for most of his career,” and reached out to Berhanemeskel after his fifth and final season. It was this strong interest in Berhanemeskel’s development that ultimately led Two Points Agency to represent the Gee-Gees’ former star.

Though money was a key point during negotiations, for Haufer, the signing was all about finding the best basketball situation for his client. “Financially, everything was comparable so we decided to take the most intriguing situation basketball-wise.”

Berhanemeskel will be a rookie player in two different leagues with TLÜ/Kalev. The team plays in a domestic league in Estonia as well as the Baltic league, which is composed of teams from Estonia, Russia, Lithuania, Finland, and Latvia. TLÜ/Kalev finished second in domestic play and had the sixth-best record in the Baltic league this past season.

Berhanemeskel departed for Estonia on Aug. 23 and begin his role in  team activities shortly thereafter. He acknowledges that he’s bound to get homesick at some point, but he won’t have to face it alone.

“I’m going into a totally different culture. I’ve spoken to some guys on the team and some guys speak English so they’ll help me integrate my way into the community and how things are done,” he said.

As for the language barrier, Berhanemeskel knows he will have to learn some Estonian and quick. “I don’t even know how to say ‘hello’ yet, but I’ll learn the basics. I’m going to embrace it,” he said.

This summer Berhanemeskel will learn how to say “tere Tallinn” as he suits up for TLÜ/Kalev, but who knows where else his talent will take him.