Elston to play in Malta

There were several occasions since his Indiana career ended in March when Derek Elston started to get discouraged. Times when he wondered if any professional team in any country was going to take a chance on a player with his history of knee trouble and if he was wasting time training that he could have using to get a job.

But Monday provided evidence that it was all worth it. The 6-foot-9 forward signed a contract with the Floriana Basketball Club in Malta, a team that is coming off its first Malta league championship in its 35 years of existence. Elston begins his professional career in September.

The Tipton native said he was initially told by friends and coaches who were trying to find him a place to play — including former Indiana teammate Kory Barnett — that he was likely to end up playing in Sweden. He was then in negotiations with a team in Israel, but that fell through, he said, when that team found a 7-footer with a similar skill set to fill his spot. Floriana got in contact about two weeks ago, and when the Israeli talks broke down, his next step was obvious.

“A lot of teams didn’t really trust my knee,” Elston said. “And I couldn’t really send them video from much of what happened in my senior year. But this team really liked me and was really interested in me. I talked to them the last 2 ½ weeks and decided this is where I should be.”

And so Elston, whose torn meniscus held him to just 120 minutes of total action and 21 points in his senior year, will join classmates Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls as well as early NBA entrants Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller in professional basketball this season.

“Professional basketball is what I’ve been living for,” Elston said. “It’s what makes you want to work that much harder. When I didn’t hear back from some of those teams, I lost my way with it a little bit. I started to wonder what I was still doing here, because if everything failed I would’ve wasted four or five weeks when I could’ve been out looking for a job. But when Florian started to show a lot of interest, it changed my whole outlook, and I’ve been in the gym every day.”

Elston said IU coach Tom Crean and the rest of the staff have allowed him to come by and participate in pick-up games and individual workouts with the returning new players and incoming freshman as he’s stayed on campus to finish up all of the requirements for his master’s degree. The knee, he said, has held up well.

“The knee is fine,” Elston said. “My athleticism is back. … I’ve been working out with (strength and conditioning coach Je’Ney) Jackson and using my weightlifting card, trying to find ways of improving my athleticism. It’s been like I’ve had another year here.”

Elston’s fire was sparked in part by a brief stint in semi-pro basketball with the Indiana Diesels, a team in the Midwest-based Premier Basketball League that plays its home games at Broad Ripple High School. He joined that squad toward the end of its season in May when one of their big men went down and opened up a spot.

“It was a big confidence booster for me,” Elston said. “And at the same time, I got to play with some guys who had also played in Russia and Germany and other places overseas and got an idea what that was all about.”

Of course, now he knows he’s in for a culture shock. The Tipton native will be the only American on his squad in Malta, so he will be one of the only ones getting used to being a stranger in a strangeland. However, Elston said his new teammates have already made a point to get in touch.

“I’m excited and a little scared at the same time,” Elston said. “But we’ve already had some communication. Those guys have already gotten in touch with me on Facebook. I’m playing for their team, so hopefully they’ll get me caught up with the culture of the team and we’ll go from there.



  1. Derek hit the jackpot. Maybe not necessarily basketball-wise (although it he’s the big fish in a small pond, that could be fun), but definitely in terms of quality of life and a fun twenty-something adventure.

    Being a tall, muscly tatooed foreigner on a balmy Mediterranean island is a nice setup, as long as he can minimize the Tipton side of himself.

  2. I’m glad that Dustin got it right when Verdell sure didn’t: Malta is an independent country, not a part of Italy. Guess Verdell should have taken G120-World Regional Geography at IU. Or maybe it’s just that great Champaign high school education.

  3. What side of yourself do you need to minimize?

    Do you seriously think being stuck in a college town forever stuck in hippie mode 1970’s and wasting the weekends away while hanging out at Soma’s with the great intellectual minds of the world for the last 10 years has made you the uber sophisticate compared to a kid from Tipton, Indiana?

    Are you bitter for all your beauty and culture be contained in a Sméagol suit?

  4. Given that Malta is still a part of the EU, I hope Elston gets paid in American dollars or English pounds. Otherwise he could return home with nothing more than fond memories of a nice island with a pleasant climate.

  5. Podunker, last time I checked a Euro buys you $1.30 USD. I think being in the EU is just fine for Derek, thank you.

    Downing, my days at Soma over the last *8* years (not 10) have been spent scorning the feaux-intelligentsia hipster elite, not imagining myself part of them. I’m much-too-much of a red-blooded sportsfan to identify with that crowd.

    That being said, I fully acknowledge that being a Tipton Wannabee Gangsta doesn’t buy you much social capital elsewhere in the world.

  6. Wow, living on a Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy. How much do I have to pay?

    As I understand it most of these situations include your housing and many of you other expenses.

    Anyone with a lick of sense would love to be Derek Elston right now. It sounds like an incredibly sweet gig to me.

  7. Anyone but Harvard and Geoff that is. There so dumb, they would try to put a circular piece in a square peg. Harvard, go away. Your post above is one of your dumbest. Harvard, Geoff you address me as only Coach Valvano.

  8. I’m sure situations vary a bit from league to league and team to team, but the handful of buddies I’ve had that have played at a high level overseas all had housing, transportation, and meal plans as part of the gig. They had no expenses other than discretionary spending. The caveat being that many times actually getting your paycheck wasn’t a given. A couple guys are still fighting to get 6-figures that is “owed” to them.

    I’m sure Derek will love it for a couple years and then he’ll have a decision to make.

  9. Chet, are you stealing coachv’s name and writing ridiculously funny comments? I feel like that last abomination has your sense of humor plastered all over it.

  10. There so dumb…”

    Gotta love it. They + are = nearly as dumb as you are.

  11. I wasn’t… I should probably be supervised when attempting humor…

    I dont know what’s funnier – thinking of you taking his name and writing an inane post, or coachv actually sitting down and typing that and hitting “Submit Comment” with his name on it.

  12. Congrats Derek! I wish you well in your play with Malta and much success in your professional basketball career. And thanks for the contribution you made to restoring IU basketball to prominence.

  13. post above wasn’t me. although my grammar is peccable, it is better than that. also, not big on caps. congratz, Derek. jealous as all get out.

  14. Congratulations Derek! Getting paid to play basketball is awesome for a good Hoosier kid from Tipton. Learn a foreign language, meet some nice people, enjoy the beach, learn to sail, have a few beers, meet pretty girls, play some ball, life is good!

  15. Who cares. Anyone recruited by Sampson deserves zero recognition and goodwill. He helped wreck the program!! He helped wreck the program!!

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