Malta’s much-traveled basketball export SAM DEGUARA has played for several clubs in all corners of the planet throughout his career. Currently between contracts due to COVID-19 repercussions, the country’s tallest man met up with Kurt Aquilina to talk about his career so far…
Samuel Deguara made his first move overseas back in 2007, turning professional at the age of 16, when he signed with Italian Serie A giants Benetton Treviso. The move from Malta made him one of the very few players taking their talents a step further at the time.
“Luckily, with good connections and networking, I made the right decision to sign with Benetton – a long contract thanks to one of the best agents in Italy. He made me a lot of money,” Deguara told the Sunday Times of Malta.
“But I was focusing on the contract rather than sticking to getting better. The first three years, I was like a beast and in my fourth year I had the setback of not reaching my expectation to stay at this level. I did not, so I lost my way in the fourth year.”
The 29-year-old says that being seven-foot-five is a “gift from God”, especially because he has managed to use his height to help people and try to be a role model. However, he insisted that even though his height is an attraction, especially in basketball, he wants people to see the kind of person he is rather than just how tall he is.
Deguara’s unique frame brought him to a stint in the NBA’s Development League with Eerie Bayhawks – the affiliate team for the New Orleans Pelicans in 2015.
However, Deguara admitted that despite it being his dream, he was not ready yet. This resulted in him getting shipped to Canada to play for Niagara River Lions.
Deguara explained how this time, in such a cold country, training and living by himself, was vital for the development of his career.
“It was a key point in my career, having been cut from a few teams and setting myself up in Canada with the hardest training and changed habits. It was a big step for me but I said ‘this is my time – either I get this right or go home and quit,” Deguara said.
A year later, in 2017, he returned home. But he was far from quitting as he rejoined his boyhood club BUPA Luxol while planning his next move.
Asked about his relationship with the club, Deguara praised Luxol for being a familiar face whenever he was in need, especially former coach John Tabone who retired in 2019 after 40 years in the game.
“I think playing with Luxol has always helped me personally to be a better player, and it also meant being near to my home and sticking with the same team-mates,” he said.
Deguara played for four months in Malta, winning the championship and the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the process, before making his move to Asia.
“I convinced myself (to go to Asia) because this kind of life for me is going to help me everywhere I go. The way I live and the way I train is completely different,” Deguara explained.
“It’s isolation all the way where you have to sacrifice everything. You go and leave your family back home and, while staying in touch, you have to go on your own way.”
Moving to Malaysia to play for Farmochem and eventually PEA in Thailand, Deguara says that reflected upon all he had learnt and after watching videos of how the game is played in Asia, and even the level, he confirmed he could make it there.
Asked about the reception he got from the locals, Deguara explained how he was treated very well.
“In Thailand, they live with a smile and I love that,” he remarked.
“The people are always smiling and even the team-mates were really friendly. But I also gave them back.”
He played for various Asian sides, the last being Alab Philipinas whom he joined in 2019. But despite his success in the Asean Basketball League and a Best Center award in 2017, COVID-19 has set him back as he now struggles to get a new contract with most borders still closed to foreigners.
“It’s a big setback financially as there’s no money coming in. I just have to stay humble, keep working on my game while still looking to help my family with some business and at the same time, not letting the other distractions during this period of offseason get me off my game because it’s hard to stay focused while just practicing and not making money,” he admitted.
While his club career has helped him journey around the world, Deguara is known by the local community mostly for his impressive work with the
Currently the most experienced center, Deguara has become one of the most influential parts of the side, helping them win gold during the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries back in 2018, and he says playing for his country is something he cherishes.
“I always try to play with the national team, even while I’m abroad,” he said.
“Lately I’m becoming a better player and I look forward to win more championships with the same group.”
The team was supposed to be defending their FIBA title this year, only to see the tournament postponed due to health restrictions. However, Deguara said that all there is to do until then is to wait and keep playing to continue getting better.
Speaking about the future of the team, Deguara was impressed by the good number of players following in his footsteps and playing abroad.
“It’s a good thing that players are taking their own responsibilities to play overseas. I believe I’m a good example to them – to have more energy and see what I’ve done, and to never stop learning. They can learn so much by stepping out of the country,” he explained.
As for his own future, Deguara said he plans on playing at the highest level until he’s 40 years old but is focusing on the present.
“My aim now is to stay ready for the team which will take me to play and that I’ll make a decision to sign with. Whatever I do at this moment is going to reflect in my future months and if I need to leave (Malta), I’ll need to be in my top shape to play.”