Sean May has some unfinished business to tend to in the NBA.
Nearly eight years after the Charlotte Bobcats jumped at the chance to take May 13th overall out of North Carolina in the 2005 NBA Draft and project the 6-foot-9 forward as one of the cornerstones of their upstart franchise, May is on the outside looking in.
The gaze comes all the way from Croatia where May plays for KK Zagreb.
After debuting overseas last season with Turkish squad Fenerbahce Ulker, he inked with Zagreb back in October. Two years in to his European hoops experience, life back in the NBA looms heavy on May's mind with a second shot at a first impression.
"Obviously my goal is to get back to the league," May told Ridiculous Upside.
"I have a lot to prove still and I know I can still play at that level and help a team given the opportunity. "Finally healthy and the third leading scorer for Zagreb, May is averaging 12. 7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 25 minutes per game in 13 games this season in the Adriatic League, while putting up 11.7 and 6.4 rebounds in 9 Euroleague games. Experience goes a long way for any team in the game these days. Trouble is, May's NBA experience was unfortunately jammed between unhealthy and unsettled. He spent four seasons with Charlotte before an ongoing knee injury got the best of May and in 2009, the Bobcats - with general manager Rod Higgins citing lack of production - declined to make a $3.7 million qualifying offer.
"Charlotte was a great time in my career. I learned a lot about myself during those years. A lot of people know about the injuries, and that did take a toll on me physically and mentally trying to come back from that year after year," added May, who appeared in 82 of a possible 328 games in four years for Charlotte.
"It seemed like I was never going to get healthy."
His best season came in 2006-07 when May averaged 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds on a team that featured Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace and Adam Morrison and finished 4th (33-49) in the Southeast Division. Then the knee pain became too much. After playing in 35 games, May opted for surgery and was forced to miss the following 2007-08 season.
Depression set in. His weight soared. And looking back today, May can honestly say those tough times only made him stronger.
"Fighting through that, it just drove me more to succeed on and off the court. I would have loved to help Charlotte win more game and live up to the expectations that they had for me and I had for myself. Had it not been for the injuries I'm confident that would have happen."
A month after leaving Charlotte, May signed a one-year deal with the Sacramento Kings where he appeared in 37 games in a minor role, before eventually inking a another one-year contact, this time with the New Jersey Nets in early August, 2010. But a month after signing with the Nets and 17 days before the start of training camp, May suffered a stress fracture in his left foot.
The team promptly waived him.
"I felt the best opportunity for me was going to be in New Jersey. I felt I would have fit with what they were trying to do. Unfortunately I got the stress fracture right before training camp. That was a blow: one because I had no idea I had a stress fracture, and two because that was the first time I "got cut". It wasn't in the sense that most players get cut, but it still stung."
With Charlotte, Sacramento, New Jersey, his knee troubles and a stress fracture behind him, May jumped overseas to play in Turkey for Fenerbahce Ulker in November, 2010. There, he had no choice but to face the realities of being out of the NBA.
"Moving on to play in Turkey was a challenge. Being out of the league at first was tough because I know I can still play at that level I still have a lot I can offer a team and help a team win. That's my motivation right now," explained May.
"I don't think you ever become settled in being half way around the world from all your friends and family. I am dealing with it better now though. After beginning in Turkey it definitely made it a lot easier. I think for all players their first year abroad is the toughest by far. After that you come to know what to expect."
The numbers May put up his first season in Turkey doesn't reveal the whole story of adjusting to a completely different basketball system and European culture in general at the same time. He put up 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game off the bench in eight Euroleague games, which increased to 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in the Turkish League and 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds once the playoffs rolled around as FB Ulker defended their title.
Today, the 27-year old May is in his element in Zagreb, Croatia.
"Being in Croatia is good. It's a small country and Zagreb is a very nice city. The people here are great and the good thing is many people speak English."
In mid-November, May had some familiar NBA company join him when current San Antonio Spurs point guard T.J. Ford signed with Zagreb as the lockout lingered on. Although Ford (who was a free-agent with an NBA-out clause in his contract) only suited up for 3 games, he was a welcomed addition for May over a nine-day span.
"It was great to have T.J. come play here. Having a player of his caliber made things easy for the short time he was here."
May is content calling Croatia home, for the time being. But you have to imagine part of him wondered after Ford returned back to the NBA, when his number would be called and time will come. For the former 2005 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, confidence is key. It always has been. And that part of May's story hasn't changed.
He's hungry. He's healthy. He's putting up decent numbers.
May doesn't want to be left out of sight and out of mind, but it tends to happen between a lot and often in the overseas game. But if he wants to make it back to the NBA, the road goes through Croatia.
"Sometimes you do feel like you can be the forgotten man being overseas, but there is great basketball here and for me at this stage in my career it's good for me to be playing heavy minutes so people and teams can see I'm healthy," said May.
"But I will get back to the league I can guarantee that."