Lukoil has a rich basketball history, including runner-up finishes in the first two seasons (1958, 1959) of what is now the Euroleague. Building on their strong beginnings, the team has consistently landed good players, including American Willie Deane.
Deane, a 2003 graduate of Purdue, was the Big Ten Scoring leader, Team MVP and 1st Team All Big Ten, and has now won three Bulgarian titles with Lukoil. His resume includes seasons in Greece, Russia, Lithuania and Poland, but perhaps more impressive than his stats and skills are his off the court endeavors.
After a long, hard practice, most players go to rest or enjoy leisure time with friends and teammates. Deane, on the other hand, finds himself driving over an hour from Pravets to Sofia to attend his midday class on time. Even though he is living in Bulgaria and practicing two times a day he understands he cannot play the game forever and is focused on continuing his education. So, following the second practice, he hits the books again as he works towards earning his master’s degree in International Business.
The next morning Deane met with a group of college players from the U.S. participating in an Athletes in Action tour. He shared with them his experience and wisdom as a player as well as with life in general.
Willie also awaited a call from a new friend. Tautvydas Todorov, a half Bulgarian, half Lithuanian 17 year-old had approached him after the championship seeking help with his own skills. Humbled and honored, Deane gave Tautvydas his phone number and waited the next day for the call. The day after the championship, arguably the best player in the country was on the street courts of Bulgaria helping a youngster work on his ball-handling and shooting form.
Deane credits his parents for shaping him into the man he is today, saying, “My parents always kept me in line, helping me stay out of trouble when needed and showed me the importance of education.”
He now heads back home to Schenectady, New York, also the boyhood home of Pat Riley. Deane points out that though Riley holds numerous records in many sports, “I broke all of his (Riley’s) high school basketball records.”
Deane will use this local influence to help kids through a variety of programs and local partnerships including: Schenectady High School; Schenectady’s Central Park; The Latimer School; Schenectady’s YMCA; St. John The Evangelist; and the Jerry Burrell Summer Classic.
To see more about Willie Deane and his programs, visit his official site.