Injury nightmare shattered the NBA dream – now he takes the Firi League by storm

After three years of college basketball in the USA, 23-year-old Lars Fredrik Mensah Espe is back in the childhood club Gimle this season. Here he is a very important part of the Bergen team that tops the table with 11 wins and only one loss so far this season.

When TV 2 hits the big talent in Gimlehallen, he bounces around easily like a feather. Knocking on the approximately 3 meter high baskets does not seem to cost him a calorie.

But a year ago, the situation was completely different – when a knee injury was about to ruin his career, almost before it had begun.

Today, Gimle goes for their 12th victory in this year’s season, when they meet Centrum Tigers at 17.00. You can watch the match on TV 2 Play.

BIG TRANSITION: The transition from college basketball to the Norwegian Firi League is big, but Gimle player Lars Espe in no way thinks that it has been a downturn.  Photo: Synnøve Astrid Malt / TV 2

BIG TRANSITION: The transition from college basketball to the Norwegian Firi League is big, but Gimle player Lars Espe in no way thinks that it has been a downturn. Photo: Synnøve Astrid Malt / TV 2

Was picked up in a private plane

The 23-year-old was named “Talent of the Year” in the Norwegian elite series in 2017, and had the world at his feet when he crossed the pond to play college basketball as an 18-year-old.

– Playing college was my dream, ever since I started playing basketball. That was what everyone was talking about, what everyone was concerned about. So it was big, says Espe, and adds that basketball, as most people know, is something completely different in the US than in Norway.

– At most, we had 7500 spectators at the home games, and it was a fully American program with school corps and cheerleaders, says the star player, who here at home has also made a name for himself on the national team. There he was an important part of the squad that beat Kosovo in the first World Cup qualifier in November this year.

GOOD MOOD: There was an impeccable atmosphere in Haukelandshallen when Lars Espe and the rest of the national team won the first European Championship qualifier against Kosovo on 25 November this year. Photo: Synnøve Astrid Malt / TV 2

The first year in the United States, Espe played for the University of Montana. One of the experiences he remembers best was when the team was to participate in March Madness, which is the final game in American college basketball.

– Then we were picked up in a private plane, and flown to the fights. It was pretty sick. Then you felt a bit like a superstar.

– A difficult decision

Espe eventually struggled to get enough playing time in Montana, and therefore chose to move after only one year. The journey continued to Miami, where the goal was to get better opportunities to develop as a player.

– But then it did not go exactly according to plan there either. Already the first season in Miami, I started to struggle a lot with my knees. There was a very high amount of training and a lot of pressure, so it was harder to get better as well.

Espe had developed the sports injury “jumpers knee”, a relatively common injury among basketball and volleyball players. After a summer at home in Norway, with plenty of time to do injury prevention training, he began to feel better.

HARD TRAINING: Lars Espe has always worked hard to be the best he can be, and has put behind him countless hours of training on the floor in Gimlehallen.  Photo: Synnøve Astrid Malt / TV 2

HARD TRAINING: Lars Espe has always worked hard to be the best he can be, and has put behind him countless hours of training on the floor in Gimlehallen. Photo: Synnøve Astrid Malt / TV 2

– But then I came down again to the USA and felt that it got worse pretty quickly. So then I decided not to play the last year, says Espe, and emphasizes that it was a very difficult decision.

– Then of course there was pressure from coaches and those who want you to play. But then I felt it was the right thing to do.

– Do not regret anything

In the last year of college, there was therefore little basketball on the great talent. But even though the time in the United States did not go exactly as he had planned, he does not regret leaving.

– It was weird that it did not turn out the way I thought, but I do not regret anything. I had many cool experiences, and learned a lot. And it was especially fun to play over there as the sport is so great, says Espe.

– The worst thing was really just not being able to play. I love basketball, it’s such a big part of my life, so not being allowed to do it just felt completely wrong.

Although it was heavy, the year of basketball break did wonders for the knee injury, and Espe can tell that the body now works very well.

– It is a type of injury that does not necessarily go away, but I have control over it now and have had good progress. So I believe that things will go well going forward.

Put the NBA dream on the shelf

What will be the way forward for the young Bergen native after the one-year contract with Gimle expires, is currently uncertain.

Espe makes no secret of the fact that the biggest dream has always been to reach the NBA, but after all the injury problems, it is unlikely that that dream will come true.

– There are hundreds of thousands of good basketball players out there, so it is insanely difficult in the first place, the point guard says with a laugh.

– And now I have not been allowed to train as I want for a long time because of the knee, so it is quite unrealistic. So then it will probably unfortunately not be like that.

But the national team player has not stopped dreaming for that reason. As long as the knee holds, the new plan is clear:

– Now I really want to get out in Europe, and get a real feel for the foreign professional life. That’s what I train for.

But before that time, he and the rest of the Gimle guys have another important goal, which they are already well on their way to reaching:

– We will win the series here at home, of course. Undoubtedly!

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