As a 12-year-old growing up in Modesto, Calif., Omar Krayem already mapped out his career.
“I told my parents I was going to be a professional basketball player,” Krayem said.
His aspirations meant shooting hoops in the NBA, but as years went on, he realized how hard it would be to attain that goal. So, he set his sights a little lower:
To play basketball internationally. And that’s exactly what he did.
After traveling the world to play hoops from Europe to the Phillipines, Krayem accepted a contract offer to play in Italy in the past week.
“I’m at a stage where I’m wanted, and can pick and choose the best opportunity for me,” he said. “I want to get myself in good shape, as any team who signs me will want a good job and a good Omar, so I want to deliver that.”
Staying in shape led him back to Longview recently, as the 30-year-old Krayem conditioned with the LCC men’s basketball team, which he led to the NWAC Championship crown in 2005 and a second-place finish in ’06.
“I’ve been working out with Brandon (Cotton), Keun (Palu-Thompson), Elijah (Cotton-Welch) and all the other LCC players,” he said. “I’m leading by example and showing them that the best players in the world put in the most work. I’m blessed to have this opportunity.”
After graduating from LCC, Krayem played a season at Eastern Washington University before transferring to Cal Baptist University for his senior campaign.
“After college I wanted to keep playing so I hooked up with an agent,” he said. “I started playing internationally at the lower levels to get the experience. Like anywhere I go, I crafted my way in.”
Since 2011, Krayem has played professionally in Sweden, Turkey, Hungary, Finland, Mexico, the Phillippines and Indonesia.
“I played in Sweden on one of the top teams,” he said. “We played in the FIBA Europe Cup against teams from Italy, France and Spain. I led the Europe Cup in scoring, and was second in assists.”
His Europe Cup performance garnered him a contract to play in the Phillippines.
“If you play in the Phillippines, you’re an NBA-level player,” Krayem said. “They aren’t interested in taking average players.”
Krayem has spent a lot of years living out of suitcases waiting for opportunities.
“You’ll get a call, hop a plane and play your game in front of a crowd,” he said. “You don’t really know what will happen, but I’ve learned a lot and it’s been fun.”
Adapting to the various cultures has been “semi-difficult,” according to Krayem.
“The hardest place I had to play was in Indonesia,” he said. “I noticed that every cat didn’t have a tail, and I found out they were eating cat in their food. I stayed in and ate a lot of cereal.”
In the first few years of his career, Krayem spent time showcasing himself to potential teams.
“You start by making $800 a month, and it’s hard to live on that,” he said. “I later moved up to making $3,500 a month. That’s still not a lot of money, but you get your car, apartment and food paid for, and you don’t pay taxes on your money.”
During his recent stint in the Phillippines, Krayem was making $25,000 a month.
“There’s a lot of money overseas for basketball players, but to make that money you have to be persistent,” he said. “You also need luck to go your way, and be a good player with experience.”
Krayem has also learned to adapt to different styles of basketball.
“In Europe, it’s more systematic team ball and all plays come off the pick and roll,” he said. “They don’t care about the 1-on-1 stuff. In the Phillippines, they pay a lot of money for borderline NBA players to take a lot of shots and entertain the crowd.”
During one of his stints in Sweden, Krayem earned a nickname which brought him national attention.
“It was third year as a pro in 2012,” he said. “I made a move during the game where I threw the ball between the defender’s legs on a fastbreak and made a fancy layup. From there, I was known as ‘The Wizard.’”
His new-found fame also got him a television commercial.
“The club I was playing for contacted Volkswagen, and I did a commercial for them while dressed in a wizard costume. We were the national team, so it was aired all over Sweden. Everyone was calling me ‘The Wizard.’”
Krayem gives a lot of credit for his success to his years at LCC.
“The LCC community deserves a lot of thanks,” he said. “I wouldn’t be successful or the person I am today without (them) taking a chance on a goofball from Modesto.”