Anteater alum Darren Fells (’08) has ventured all over the world playing professional basketball since the end of his college days. The 6’7″ big man is currently a member of Soles de Mexicali in the Mexican basketball league (Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional) where he is averaging 15 PPG and 8.1 RPG. Fells was kind enough to chat with Zotcubed yesterday about his basketball career post-Irvine, right before Soles started a seven-game quarterfinals playoff series against Pioneros de Quintana Roo-Cancun.
A slightly slimmer Fells seems to have a better vertical now than he did in his UC Irvine days, as seen in the highlight video from his year in Finland.
Zotcubed: So almost four years ago, you graduated and went off to Belgium. Can you break down where your basketball career has taken you after that?
Darren Fells: Well like you said, I ended up in Belgium for two years (with Leuven Bears). The first year was a great experience, learning and developing more as a player. We were also able to make the playoffs for the first time in many years. The following year was not so great as we changed the roster and ended up in last place, which ended up hurting me in my career. I had to go to Finland (with Joensuu Kataya), which is a great league, but seen as not so great in the overall European eye … almost won a championship there in Finland, [just] one game off. Then I ended up in a lower division France league (with Etendard de Brest), which ended up not being a good fit for me. I left there and am now in Mexico (with Soles de Mexicali) competing for a championship again.
Z3: Did you choose to leave Europe for Mexico for personal reasons, or was it more of an agent guided thing?
DF: It was all my choice to end up in Mexico. France wasn’t a good fit for me and I am doing extremely well here. I’m enjoying it very much.
Z3: Glad to hear it. What’s been your most memorable experience overall? What about an experience you’d rather forget?
DF: It is the same memory—the loss in Finland in the championship game. Best out of five series; we ended up in game 5. I was healthy all year and ended up getting sick the day of the final game. I gave my all and so did all of my teammates, but we ending up coming up short and losing the chance at winning the first time championship for my team. It was a great year for all of us, but also a memory we would like to forget.
Z3: As a veteran of Euro ball now, has your experience playing pro ball been what you expected? What advice would you give your rookie self?
DF: It has actually been different from what I expected. Every country is different in [terms of] the style of play and it is pretty tough to adjust to the different styles of play. I would tell my rookie self to stay focused, stay confident and to keep my head up when things are not going the way I expected.
Z3: How has playing professionally been most different compared to playing at UCI for you?
DF: The main difference is the security. Any day you can get cut from the team if you do not perform the way they want you to or expect you to. While in college, I enjoyed playing, and even though I still enjoy it, [basketball] is a business here.
Z3: Would you say you miss playing college ball then?
DF: I really enjoyed playing basketball for UCI, but every year is a new experience and I enjoy every new adventure.
Z3: Compared to how you played at UCI, would you say your style of play has changed at all in Europe/Mexico?
DF: Extremely. At UCI I was a huge inside presence, where teams had to double team me. But now over here in Mexico and in Europe, I am more of an outside threat. I’ve been shooting over 35 percent from the 3-point line, attacking off the dribble, and creating shots for my teammates, something I never did at UCI.
Z3: Interesting. I remember your 3-point shot improved your senior year, but it’s cool that your game has continued to evolve. Switching gears a bit, I remember you mentioning your brother Daniel Fells as your biggest inspiration back in college. It has been great to see him become a full-fledged tight end in the NFL, first for the St. Louis Rams and now for the Denver Broncos. You must be extremely proud.
DF: I am very, very proud of my brother. All of his hard work and dedication has paid off big time. Every year he has improved and every year he has made an impact for his team. Right now, being able to fight in the playoffs and have a chance at getting a championship ring is something I admire.
Z3: Definitely cool to see. Do you still keep in touch with Coach Douglass or any of the other guys from your Anteater days? Do you still follow the team now?
DF: It is pretty tough to follow everyone, especially with no international phone or sometimes horrible internet connection. But I have been trying to follow Patrick Sanders and Ross Schraeder as much as I can. I actually hung out with Ross a little bit while in Belgium. I did follow the team in previous years, but this year I haven’t been keeping up too much [in comparison to years past.]
Z3: Understandable. So what does the future hold for Darren Fells?
DF: I’m not really sure. I’m enjoying Mexico a lot, and I’ve been talking to a few South American teams. So I am thinking that I’ll be around here for a while. Who knows, if I keep performing well, I may get a few North American looks.
Z3: Is that your ultimate goal? To play ball back in the U.S?
DF: I love traveling a lot, but to play in the NBA would be a dream come true. Also to be able to be closer to home, start a family … that would be nice as well.
Z3: Any idea how many years you want to keep playing for? Is coaching an eventual possibility as well?
DF: I want to be able to play until my mid-30s or however long my body allows me to play. I don’t think I would be able to coach. I love the game, but I don’t have the will to coach. To teach is another story. I wouldn’t mind teaching younger kids.
Z3: Well I wish you the best of luck in health and opportunities down the line. Thanks again for your time. Anything else you want to say to the readers of Zotcubed?
DF: Thank you. Just want to say good luck to the ’Eaters this year. Zot Zot Zot.