Kyle Fogg was sitting at home in Southern California last Thanksgiving weekend, unemployed, when a couple of recruiters called from about 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
The first was Jesse Perry, his former Arizona Wildcats teammate. The second was Derrick Crayton, Perry’s coach on a struggling team known as Korikobrat of Lapua, Finland.
Korikobrat needed a point guard. Fogg needed a job, and some point guard experience wouldn’t hurt.
The fit was ideal on the court, but not so much off it. Fogg had a pair of boots and a winter coat, but really no experience with any sort of winter, especially not a Nordic winter.
After all, he grew up in Orange County, played college ball in Tucson and began his pro career in South Texas. Sunshine all around.
And Lapua in midwinter? Cold, snowy, small and dark.
Mostly dark. Almost always dark.
“When I got there, it was a couple of hours of light, max,” Fogg said.
The basketball was even bleaker. Korikobrat was struggling early last season, with productive frontcourt players but no direction on the court. Perry was a newcomer with the team after playing part of the 2012-13 season in Lebanon and the beginning of 2013-14 in Lithuania, but he spoke up.
“We had me and two other (big) guys, like a 3-4-5 rotation,” Perry said. “But we needed a point guard really bad, so we cut one guy, and I told them about Fogg. I was surprised he was available, but he was. I gave him a call and he came, and it went from there.”
It did more than that. Fogg became the Eurobasket.com Player of the Year in Finland, lifting Korikobrat into a near-playoff team, and Perry put up the kind of numbers that could finally accelerate a career stalled by a domestic violence court case as he left UA in 2012.
That was what they did for their team, and themselves. What they did for each other might have been just as valuable.
“It was a great feeling,” Perry said. “Couldn’t have been any better. You’ve got somebody who’s going to fight with you and go hard, and off the court, it’s just having fun and having a guy I can relate to and actually know.”
Korikobrat typically played at least twice a week, often with bus rides of four or five hours separating road games. But there was still plenty of free time, which meant the two spent plenty of time hanging out together, often cooking their own chicken wings and potatoes.
“They love potatoes over there,” Fogg said.
Whatever it was like outside in their temporary hometown of about 14,000 people never really mattered much.
“The whole time we barely saw the sunlight,” Perry said. “But it was OK because we were together, and I had somebody I could talk to when I needed to. It was a situation where you had to get through it.”
The feeling was mutual.
“It was huge” having Perry around, Fogg said. “It was my first year overseas, and being so far away from my family, and going from California to Arizona to freezing cold Finland. It was big having a guy you feel is like a brother when you’re going through the grind.”
As it turned out, Fogg began to warm up to the rest of the environment. Even if it didn’t actually warm up.
“Living in the snow was pretty good to me,” Fogg said. “The fans are really good. When I got there, we were in last place, but they came and supported us. As the season went on, and we played better, the fans got more excited. We barely missed the playoffs, and it was pretty amazing. We got a lot of love.”
The excitement peaked during a night in March when Fogg threw down 51 points.
It wasn’t a huge surprise that the league’s top player found a hot hand while taking advantage of rare single coverage against him, despite playing with foul trouble. What was: that his teammates were just as happy for him as everyone else.
“All of the guys were so excited,” Fogg said. “It was a pretty cool deal. It got in the news all over the country. You might think people would be jealous but they weren’t.”
Fogg wound up leaving Finland not only with eye-opening numbers — averaging 27 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists over 29 games — but also picking up valuable point guard experience he wasn’t able to gain at UA or in 2012-13 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League, having been primarily a shooting guard throughout his career.
He said he’s hoping the experience will lead to another NBA shot, after previous tries with the Houston and Denver organizations.
“It was great for me to be able to play the point and really come alive at the position,” Fogg said. “I was able to have a big role for that team, and my confidence is on a roll right now.”
The experience was probably even more critical for Perry. Having faced felony domestic violence charges in April 2012 — later accepting a plea agreement for a reduced misdemeanor charge at Pima County Superior Court — Perry couldn’t even start his pro career until after the September 2012 agreement because a felony would have severely restricted his career.
The charges “definitely hurt me of course because I could have done some things (with an NBA team), or overseas I had some (possible) big deals,” Perry said. “It was like teams were worried how I was off the court with that one thing. But now I’m back and building my career.”
Perry averaged a double-double — 18 points and 10 rebounds — over 24 games with Korikobrat. Known as a hard-nosed player for Arizona, Perry was so pumped last season that he tried to plow through after breaking a rib in one game.
“I was going to keep on playing,” Perry said. “I told Fogg I was going to keep playing. Fogg was like, ‘You better not.’ “
The injury proved so bad that Perry missed 11 games. So that was pretty sound advice.
From brother, to brother.