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Return From the Ukraine: Julian Mavunga Comes Home to Finish Season with Red Claws

Having recently closed out the season with the Maine Red Claws, forward Julian Mavunga has returned home after playing out most of this season in the Ukraine.

Joe Robbins

For most professional athletes, the international transition is rather difficult and uncomfortable at first. They do it because they have to. Hoping to make a career out of playing professional basketball, many players are forced to follow the money overseas when NBA gigs don't come about.

When placing their clients overseas, agents work hard to find them not only a comfortable market, but also one that will honor the player's contract and pay him in a timely manner. If a young gun plans on going halfway across the world to play basketball and make a living, they have to ensure it'll be worth it in the end.

But in return, their world can be turned upside down. The people are different. The food is different. So are the customs and traditions one is forced to immerse themselves in and abide by upon arrival. Still, with that ultimate goal of making money to support themselves and their respective families in mind, such prospects often make it a point to adjust accordingly as they bite the bullet.

But aside from simply making a cultural adjustment, what happens when violence occurs? When one ventures overseas, they need to take into account potential war and/or bloodshed that make be taking place abroad. This puts things in a new light, and makes finding a place to play all the more difficult.

Just ask Julian Mavunga. The forward from Miami University (Ohio) spent much of this past season playing in the Ukraine, where recent protests have grown violent enough to result in multiple deaths. The young gun opted to leave town before things escalated, but truly understands how tricky it can be to adjust to playing international ball.

"It's a huge culture shock. I think people believe it's cool for us to be able to travel all over the place. It's a full-time job. We practice and play very often. When you go out there, most of the time you don't know anyone," he told "I didn't (know anyone) during my first two years there. The culture -- the way they do things is different. The food is different. You kind of just have to adjust. The longer you're there, the more you do it. That's why I think a lot of guys opt not to go overseas. They're not sure if they can handle it."

Having since returned home himself, Mavunga recently caught on with the Maine Red Claws. Though the team's season is now over (having not secured a postseason spot), the forward appeared in their final four games. He averaged 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds over that stretch.

Mavunga shot an impressive 50% from the field, but only 29% from deep. Improving his range from around the perimeter remains one of his priorities.

"For the last couple of years, I've been trying to prove myself as a stretch four. That includes knocking down jumpers, guarding other stretch fours, and defending the perimeter. I want to show versatility, and I think I've been doing a good job of that," he added. "This is an opportunity to show what I've been working on. At the end of the day, defending and rebounding are two of the most important things in the game. If I can do that and knock down a few shots, I'll be okay."

Interestingly enough, though Mavunga prides himself on being a potential stretch four, his defense appears to be one of his biggest strengths. He's aggressive inside, can rebound the ball quite well, and can assert himself physically and utilize his fouls to pester opposing players.

Fresh off a short but sweet D-League stint with Maine, what's next for the intriguing big body?

"I might go to Summer League. It depends on how my body feels. I don't want to go out there just to go. I want to go out there and compete," said Mavunga. "I want to be ready to go out there and work hard. I'll probably go to some mini-camps and take it from there."

In the meantime, the youngster said he's happy just to be home. He added, "It's wonderful. I'm happy to be back. It's nice to be able to speak english to everybody the moment you step off the plane. It's good to see friends and family and just kind of take it from there."

And now that he's returned to the states, and the D-League season has come to a close, Mavunga will have an opportunity to exhale, and perhaps enjoy a favorite treat he can only indulge in while on U.S. soil. With that in mind, what tops his list?

"Other than my mom's home-cooking, I have this obsession with The Cheesecake Factory. I've only had it once, but they have this dish with mashed potatoes, chicken, and asparagus," he confessed. "It's like the best thing in the world to me."