And this summer, Eyenga did just that – signing his first pro contract on Friday and making the big leap from the half-empty arenas of Badalona, Spain and the Thomas-Mack Center in Vegas to the big house on Huron and Ontario.
The 21-year-old guard – who spoke French the first time I met him and Spanish this time – can’t yet order a meal or drive a car in the States. But in about three months, the kid from the Congo – who went from virtual unknown to the first round of the NBA Draft – will be playing under the bright lights.
“Like all rookies, I want to work hard,” said Eyenga, through a translator, “Every time I’ve started something new, it’s been tough. But I’m going to try to work to get some minutes and get on the floor. I want to learn my role and get on the floor as soon as possible.”
In his second Summer League since being selected No. 30 overall in 2009, Eyenga started all five games last week – averaging 11.4 points on .435 shooting, adding 4.2 boards and 1.0 blocks per contest.
Eyenga tallied double-figures in every game, with Cleveland finishing 3-2.
For many Cavalier fans – and even his new coaching staff – Eyenga has been an international man of mystery. But this summer, Eyenga showed some of the raw athleticism that vaulted him into the first round.
He already has an array of dunks, has shown to be a tough, willing and physical defender, and he can get from Point A to Point B in a flash. As a shot-blocker – in the words of one of the Cavaliers contingent in Sin City last week – Eyenga “seems to come out of nowhere.”
Still, Summer League is Summer League. And Eyenga knows he’s got a lot to work on.
“Shooting, dribbling,” he admitted. “I’m getting better, it’s feeling better. But I still need to work on handling the ball. I need to learn the system. The rules are different and it makes the game different.”
Paul Pressey, who coached Christian last week in Vegas, sees Eyenga as a “very good transition player,” but added: “Right now, he’s trying to figure out how to fit in with the four guys around him.”
In Vegas, Eyenga fit in well with his teammates – rekindling friendships with Danny Green and J.J. Hickson, who he played with last year in Summer League. (“It’s always great when there’s a group of young guys, because the veterans aren’t around to mess with you,” smiled the fast-learning rookie.)
Eyenga sees his game resembling that of Orlando’s Mickael Pietrus. (A name Cavalier fans are familiar with, after his performance against Cleveland in the East Finals two years ago.
“I think I can be good defensively because I’m quick and play hard,” said Eyenga. “I can run the floor and I’m good in transition.”
Still, the challenges facing the 6-5, 210-pounder are daunting.
At 21, he’s already had to adjust to Europe – both on and off the court. Soon, he'll have to do the same thing in America. He’ll be a rookie on a team in transition. And while the veterans will be learning the new coaching staff’s terminology, Eyenga will just be learning the English language. After inking his deal, Christian can afford a nice new car – yet won’t know how to drive it, or where to go if he did.
“When you start over, everything that’s happening is new,” shrugged Eyenga. “So, I’m just a little nervous about life in general. Food is going to be different. My schedule. How I’m going to work with my new teammates. Everything.”
Whether Christian will make an impact on the hardwood this season is still to be seen. But either way, he’ll be growing up under the watchful eye of Cavaliers coaching. And under Byron Scott’s system, the kid from the Congo might just flourish.
But as for Friday afternoon, Eyenga was just happy to be fulfilling a childhood dream.
With that in mind, the easiest question Christian was asked was who the first person he called when he signed the dotted line.
“Mi madre!” Eyenga beamed, ear-to-ear. “It was my dream and it was also her dream. She’s very excited about it.”