NMU grad and basketball standout Naba Echols signs pro contract in Croatia

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MARQUETTE, Mich.(WJMN) – He came to Northern Michigan University from Memphis, Tennessee, and had an enormous impact on the Wildcat basketball team. Naba Echols posted to social media on Tuesday, announcing he’s taking his talents to Croatia.

While at NMU, Echols was honored multiple times, being named Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball North Player of the Week. In his collegiate career averaging 19.5 points per game.

Echols graduated from NMU in December of 2019.

WJMN talked with Echols while he was in between flights on his way to Europe on Thursday.

“The past couple of days have gone by real fast,” said Echols.

Echols agent works out of Serbia. He gave him a call and said a team in Serbia had interest in him.

“At this time, with everything going on, it was something you can’t turn down,” Echols said when he got the offer, it was a feeling of relief. “It was a lot of emotions. When they first offered, I wasn’t shocked but I was like, finally.”

He talked with the head coach every day. The offer letter was penned on Friday, and then in the early morning hours of Monday with the time change between Croatia and Memphis, he got the call to put pen to paper.

The turnaround happened quickly. Echols said one regret was not having the time to make it back to Marquette, and visit with some old teammates and friends. “We were a real close-knit group. When I played my four years there we were super-close and we would hangout every day. We would do everything together.”

Echols said he went through a lot of change during his time at NMU. He said during his first year, people couldn’t understand him because of his southern accent.

“I didn’t talk to a lot of people, I barely talked to my teammates. I was ready to transfer after that. My first year we had a really bad season. I was ready for something new and to get back close to home.”

After a conversation with the athletic director and coaches that lasted several hours and then Head Coach, Bill Sall he decided to stay and said it was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I knew wasn’t going to get the chance to go home a lot. So I just decided, from here on out, I’m going to talk to everyone. No matter how they look or what they do for a living, I’m just going to talk to them. You know, get to know people,” said Echols.

Echols stayed in Marquette the summer between his Freshman and Sophomore year. He said the new approach turned things around, allowing him to meet people and make new friends. “I tried to know three or four girls or guys on every sports team,” he added.

We asked Echols what advice he would give young players trying to follow in his footsteps. He said, “Don’t listen to your peers. I went to a great high school. The whole starting five went to division one, except for me. I went to D2, and there was a lot of pressure.” I would tell them just keep going and find a place that is right for you. I feel like I was so blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to go to Northern, a school I didn’t know about in high school.”

Echols takes this new challenge seriously, shedding his formerly quiet persona. “I got comfortable in Marquette so I felt like I could start using my voice more. Now, this is a business. I can’t be quiet playing my position, even though I don’t speak their language.”

With his first game less than three weeks away, Echols says he’s not sure what to expect. “I’m walking into this like a blind date. I don’t know what they got for me and they don’t know what I got for them.”

What he does know is that from Memphis to Marquette and now to Croatia, he always has a home in the Upper Peninsula.

“I can’t wait until I can make enough money to get back. That is a life changing community and town. Anything to do with Marquette, I want to be a part of. That’s why I try to stay in contact with my past teammates and classmates.”

Here is a feature Local 3 Sports did with Echols before his Senior season.

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