Kaihla Szunko and Shonda Long have traveled down a similar road.
Both are Saginaw natives that took a liking to basketball. Szunko played at Heritage High School and Long played at Buena Vista High School.
That road continued up I-75 and west on M-20. Szunko and Long became basketball players at Central Michigan University.
They made an impact on the CMU basketball program and now continue on a similar road, but are taking a different route. This route will take the two overseas to play professional basketball.
“I think it’s great,” women’s basketball head coach Sue Guevara said. “Good things happen to people who work their tails off and both of those kids did. It will be a great experience for them.”
Szunko joins ToPo, a team located in Helsinki, Finland. Long will play in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Szunko and Long are playing professionally after a career at CMU that saw its struggles and triumphs. The Chippewas finished 6-23 in 2007-08, the first year they played together at CMU. Last season was much improved from 2007-08. They finished 20-11 in their final college season together.
Guevara said the European game will be an adjustment for them, but CMU’s style of play should help.
“Our style of play lends itself to the European style of play,” she said. “They are both used to running. It’s going to be an adjustment, but I think both of them are really looking forward to the challenge.”
For Szunko, this has been a dream she’s wanted since high school — and now it’s a reality.
Since CMU, she has been playing with a semi-pro team in Flint. Szunko credits some of her recent success to her one season with the Flint Monarchs. She has the confidence her game will translate well because she was able to work on different moves and be versatile with the Monarchs.
“I think it was really important because at Central (Michigan) I played a certain role,” she said. “On the Monarchs, I was able to step out of that comfort zone and do moves, shoot more three’s outside and it was kind of more versatile than my role at Central (Michigan) was.”
In Finland, Finnish and Swedish are the national languages—Szunko cannot speak either, but was relieved to hear most of her teammates and coach can speak English.
“I think most of the girls speak English,” she said. “The coach does speak English. It’s a little bit broken, but I think within a couple weeks, I’ll be able to understand it a lot better.”
Szunko and Long helped prove CMU women’s basketball players can play professionally. Guevara said the Chippewas style of play is beneficial for the aggressive and fast paced European game and professional goals can be met at CMU’s program.
“If you aspire to play professionally, then you’re going to get challenged here at Central Michigan,” she said. “You’re going to get ready to play overseas.”