In a world that is changing faster than ever before, one thing has stayed the same for Sabrina Haines: basketball is still basketball.
Even though she now lives over 6,000 miles away from her home in Arizona, basketball hasn’t changed for the one-time Kentucky Women’s Basketball hooper. Although her living situation might be different, Haines’ steady capabilities on the court led to her new life in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia with a population of roughly 1.3 million people. But she’s only been there about three weeks now and needs nearly everything translated. She has teammates who are the age of high school juniors and seniors. She did plenty of research before her move so she could at least prepare herself for what was to come. She didn’t want to be the typical American tourist.
— žkk Radivoj Kora? (@KoracZkk) August 27, 2020
Never before had Haines been asked by a local if she knew who Nikola Jokic or Novak Djokovic were before moving to Serbia. The NBA All-Star and tennis icon, respectively, are Serbian superstars to those that she lives around. Haines can’t confidently explain what’s in the new and culture-shifting foods she’s been able to try, but she knows she enjoys it–a restaurant that sells crepes apparently changed her life. Whipping out the Google Translate function on her phone has become a regular part of her daily life.
All of this has been brand new, and that doesn’t even take into account the COVID-19 aspect. In a world that continues to change in ways that it never has before, basketball has been the one constant in Haines’ life
“Basketball is basketball,” Haines told KSR. “That’s the one thing I can count on: basketball is never going to change. I may not understand what people are saying, but I can always count on basketball is basketball.”
Haines is only 23 years old, but she’s the third-oldest member as a rookie on her new team, ŽKK Radivoj Kora?, who are members of the First League of Serbia, the top division in Serbian women’s basketball. The league is made up of 10 teams and Haines compares it to more of an AAU or “travel ball” style of play rather than college. Several of her teammates are 17 and 18 years old with the eldest “veteran” only 27 years of age. Two of Haines’ teammates also happen to be from the United States (one played at Maine and the other a Divison II program), so they aid her in translating during and outside of practices.
Her inaugural season is scheduled to tipoff later this weekend on Sunday, about a month after her arrival to the team. Haines’ role has already been somewhat defined: “I know that my job is to shoot and score,” she said with a chuckle in her voice, and it’s really the anticipation of finally stepping back on the floor that has her energized. Remember, the final moments of her senior season at Kentucky were ripped away due to the coronavirus as the NCAA Tournament was ultimately canceled due to the disease.
“It still feels like I never got the full conclusion of my senior season,” Haines added. “Obviously I’m out here playing professionally now and that time of my life is done now. But we never got a final game send-off. It’s weird.”
Haines–like many college hoopers–hasn’t played organized basketball in seven months. This isn’t to say she’s “rusty” after such a long layoff, although she admitted the offseason training regimen was interesting compared to prior seasons. The priority of keeping herself and her family safe limited her workout and training opportunities. It’s been so long since Haines has played five-on-five that she’s excitedly looking forward to that first time she swipes the ball away from the opposition.
She’s just glad to be back.
“I was talking to another one of my Serbian teammates and I was like the one thing I really miss was stealing the ball,” Haines said. “When you’re working out by yourself, you’re making all these shots, doing all these dribble moves, whatever, but as far as defense, or something as little as stealing the ball, is something that I miss so much.”
Outside of basketball, her life is also changing. Haines takes great pride in being an advocate for social and racial justices, something that she has only embraced more and more over the last several months. Even though she wasn’t able to participate in the Social Justice March recently hosted on campus by current members of the Kentucky Women’s Basketball program, it made her immensely proud of her former teammates.
She wasn’t surprised, necessarily, that players and coaches all came together to work in unison and promote a cause they all truly believe in. Haines got to know most of them very well over the last two years following her transfer from Arizona State and the subsequent year she was forced to sit out due to NCAA rules. She said it was the “higher-ups” signing off on the event that shocked her.
We the people. pic.twitter.com/InNj8qhQ4S
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) September 14, 2020
“I am so proud of everybody at the program,” Haines said about the team’s activism. “My teammates, the coaches, everybody who had anything to do with that because it’s a big step to make. Especially being in Lexington, KY–it is the south–so it’s different to take a stance like that out there. As soon as that video came out I was happy because I think teams need to put their foot down, they need to take a stance against racial injustice. And the fact that a major college is able to do that is big. The fact that they actually held a march and they’re actually taking part in the activism part of it, its amazing to watch. All of us have been through so much just to get to where we are today and everybody has their own experience with racial injustice. I was really happy that happened.”
Living in Serbia complicates Haines’ ability to raise awareness by herself, but that hasn’t stopped her yet. She’s taking advantage of social media and constantly spreading her message whenever she can. Reading the negative replies and comments in response to the courageous strides being taken by these student-athletes has been “sickening”, Haines said, but it hasn’t taken away from the overall message.
“It’s not about being the main focus, it’s about being a united front,” Haines said.
6,000 miles away, Haines remains united with Kentucky and firm in her beliefs.