By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

MALTA – Evan Bruinsma, a former basketball and soccer All-Stater at Western Michigan Christian, had several viable options after graduating from the University of Detroit-Mercy back in May.

One of those options was pursuing his dream to play professional sports. Or he could hang up his basketball shoes and accept a position at Ford Motor Company.


Evan Bruinsma

“It was a great opportunity (at Ford) that was difficult to turn down, but my goal was always to be a professional athlete and I knew that if I didn’t go for it now, the opportunity would pass by me,” said Bruinsma, who played four seasons of basketball for the U-D Titans.

Today, Bruinsma is tearing up the basketball court for Virtus, a team in the small country of Malta. The island is located in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of Italy.

Through four games, Bruinsma, a 6-foot-7, 215-pounder, is averaging nearly 33 points per game. In his third game, he led Virtus to the Shield Cup title, a domestic tournament in Malta.

While Bruinsma has found success on the basketball court, he nearly went in another direction in his dream to be a professional athlete.

Back in April, Bruinsma was recruited by the United States branch of the Australian Football League (USAFL). He was invited to an AFL ‘combine’ in Los Angeles to showcase his athleticism.

“I was caught completely off guard,” Bruinsma said. “I had never heard of the sport before and honestly thought that the person had the wrong number when they called me.”

Bruinsma received information and after reading it over, decided to give it a shot. At worst, a free trip to California sounded good after a dreadful Michigan winter.

Bruinsma was one of 20 U.S. athletes, mostly former Division 1 basketball players, invited to the combine, which was attended by coaches and talent scouts from the AFL.

There was standardized testing (standing vertical jump, running vertical jump, 30-meter sprints, agility tests, etc). There were body measurements and the athletes were given an introduction to the game.

The second day also was full of testing with a focus on endurance.

“They really liked that I had a strong soccer background,” said Bruinsma.

Two months after the combine, Bruinsma was contacted again. He was one of two Americans chosen to travel to Australia so scouts could get an even closer look. In the running vertical jump, Bruinsma’s 97 cm was the second best jump of all time.

While in Australia, he was able to attend the Grand Final, the Australian version of the Super Bowl. More than 100,000 spectators packed the stadium and Bruinsma got a first-hand look at all the hoopla surrounding the event. He also had the chance to tour some of the AFL facilities and meet some of the coaches.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Bruinsma.

But Bruinsma’s phone rang again in late October, a month before the AFL draft. This time, it was an offer to come to Malta to play the sport he loves most, basketball.

“It all happened really quickly,” said Bruinsma, who received an email on a Friday night and by Tuesday was in Malta. Five days later, he made his professional debut on the basketball court.

“I had been working out over the summer and fall to stay ready in case this kind of opportunity happened,” he said.

In his first four games, all Virtus victories, Bruinsma scored 36, 38, 31 and 28 points. He also had a 20-rebound game. For his efforts in those games, Bruinsma was named the Enervit Player of the Month for November. He is the first Virtus player ever to receive that monthly award.

Each team is permitted one foreign player so he is usually heavily relied upon to be a team leader.

“It’s a bit different from the Division 1 basketball I’ve played for the last 4 years, but it is a really good experience for me,” he said. “I want to become the best basketball player I can be and wherever it takes me, I will be content. Athletics have taken me to a couple amazing places this year already and I want to enjoy the ride.”

While he’s enjoying his time on the court, he also has taken in the sights of Malta.

“The country is extremely beautiful with awesome history and extremely friendly people,” Bruinsma said. “The weather isn’t too shabby either … most days are around 70 and sunny. It’s a welcome relief from the snowy winters of Michigan.”