“It’s definitely been fun,” Karlis said. “It taught me that, as a kid from Europe, it’s never going to be easy. I’m looked upon different here, and I guess from one side it’s probably better for me because I have to pay more attention and do a little bit more than other kids because of the language barrier.”
That language barrier is something that Karlis has had to overcome since coming to South Orange, but has managed.
“It was tough, I’ve only seen America in movies,” Karlis said of his transition from. “It was a big move for my family and me to go to Seton Hall and study here because not everyone can do it and people usually are afraid because they don’t know where they’re going.”
From Latvia, Karlis played at the Canarias Basketball Academy in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain. There he captained the CBA team and even represented his home country of Latvia as a part of the Under-20 national team at the 2010 European Championship in Croatia. But perhaps the most valuable things to come from his time with the CBA was the friendships he made with a couple former Pirates. The CBA produced two other players to come over to South Orange with Karlis—Patrik Auda and Aaron Geramipoor. Karlis explained how the transition to the Pirates was made easier because of the bond he shared with them.
“I was in good hands, I knew Patty (Auda) and Aaron Geramipoor and I kind of knew where I was going so that made things a lot easier. They helped me a lot, Patty and Aaron, they were good to me.”
Once with the Pirates, the three friends helped each other out, both on and off the court, according to Karlis.
“They help me in every situation of my life, actually,” Karlis said. “I knew them before in the Canarias Basketball Academy and me and Patty practiced together every day. And over here, he explained the rules to me and the speed of the game because they are different over here. “
Auda left after his redshirt junior season to play professionally overseas in Europe, and Geramipoor graduated after the 2013-14 season. But the ties are still felt with Karlis in his final season.
“I’ve known Haralds for about five years,” Auda said. “He’s not just one of my best friends but was also a great teammate. Besides being a great shooter, he is very hard working, full of energy and plays with a lot of heart all the time. I know he will help the Pirates in his senior year any way he can.”
Transitioning to his final season, it’s time for Karlis to be a leader for the Pirates, like he was at the CBA. He feels this season’s team might be the best he’s ever been on.
“Yeah, I can say that,” Karlis said.
As a leader on the highly-touted but young Pirates, Karlis understands he has a lot to offer to the newcomers.
“We have a lot of young guys you know,” Karlis said. “Sometimes it’s a mental thing for them to come after a win, and we haven’t lost yet, but after a loss to come back and practice for the next one and have a short memory. So it’s our job to keep them on that road and show them how it’s done.”
Karlis’ basketball journey is coming full circle this season. When he was a freshman, the team finished 21-13 and just missed out on the NCAA Tournament. This year’s Pirates, behind a top recruiting class, have similar aspirations and will look to Karlis’ experience to help ground the young talent.
“I don’t try to force things, that’s for sure,” Karlis said. “I just try to help everyone out and if they want to listen to me they do, and if they don’t, they still listen but maybe they don’t take it. But I think everyone is doing a nice job and all of the young guys, they’re listening to us (Karlis and Brandon Mobley) as seniors. They know we’ve been around successful teams like our freshman year and that we know some things.”
A social behavioral sciences major with a minor in economics, Karlis is not ready to leave the game he loves just yet.
“I will most likely try to go pro, most likely in Europe,” he said. “I can’t imagine my life without basketball so I’ll probably stick around basketball for a while. We’ll see, if it doesn’t work out I’m not going to push it…we’ll see.”
Karlis’ basketball journey has been nothing short of unique.
David Heim can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @DavidHeim12.