Lisbon, Portugal -- Mackenzie Latt was still feeling the effects of a transatlantic flight, arriving in Europe for the first time just a few hours earlier. Now the former Davidson basketball star was scrimmaging with her new team in Portugal, which like most European leagues expects big-time performances from its American imports.
"I was feeling a little bit out of whack. I was like a fish out of water," Latt says, sitting in a pastry shop in downtown Lisbon a few months later. "I was completely lost. You feel like you are in a little bubble [without knowing the language]."
Latt had to adapt to new rules and was surrounded by a language and culture that was totally foreign to her. But that was part of her personal challenge, as she vowed to continue her basketball career after the Wildcats were eliminated from the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in her final college game last March.
"At the end of the day I wanted an adventure," said Latt, who graduated with a degree in communications in 2018.
She certainly got one, arriving in a country she knew little about.
Her agent, who had seen her play at a tournament in Ohio, laid out possible first-year pro stops in Luxembourg, England and Czech Republic. She decided on Portugal, partially due to the veteran coach she had heard good things about, the warm weather and the relatively small size of the country.
Latt has taken advantage of budget airlines in Europe to explore other countries.
"So far I have gone to Madrid and London," she said, sitting in the Lisbon café in mid-January. "Sometimes we have weekends off and I have really tried to take advantage of those when I can. It has been empowering to go on a day trip on your own, as silly as that sounds."
The 6-foot-1 Latt survived those rough first few days, scoring a season-high 26 points in her second pro game in Portugal.
"To have a little bit of a breakthrough game so early, I was so thankful," she said. "It was a reassuring moment and it was like ‘you are where you are supposed to be.' I think we ended up winning in overtime. To be able to contribute to a very good team win was reassuring and a little bit calming."
Latt's experienced several "ah-ha" moments off the court as well, living far from her family. She was able to share her new life with her parents, who visited Portugal last year. Her mother played basketball at the University of Toledo, in Ohio.
Latt averaged at least 10 points per game in all four seasons with the Wildcats, and scored 14.9 points and grabbed 8.2 rebounds per game as a senior in 2017-18 when she was named third-team all-Atlantic 10 Conference while playing for head coach Gayle Coats Fulks.
In her first 14 games at the pro level with Lombos Quinta in Portugal she averaged 10.7 points and 5.4 boards per contest.
Latt is one three Davidson women who are playing pro hoops overseas this winter. The others are Katrin Chiemeka and Sofija Aleksandravicius, who both ended their Davidson careers during the 2012-13 season. Chiemeka is playing in her native France, while Alekandravicius, who went to high school in New York, is playing in Krakow, Poland. She was the Southern Conference defensive player of the year in 2012 and 2013.
A high school standout in Michigan, Latt said Davidson prepared her for life overseas on and off the court.
"Davidson is all about new experiences, being put out of your comfort zone in order to grow," she said. "I have been told I am one of the more adaptable players they have seen, which I take as high praise."
It is not unusual for Americans, both men and women, to have careers of at least 10 years overseas with pro basketball. Latt said she sees herself perhaps playing a few
years as a pro.
So what would Latt be doing if she was not playing overseas?
"That is a good question," she said. "I am definitely considering the grad assistant route. I would like to go back to school; the question is what would I study. I think I could do well in public relations. I could see myself as a coach. I love sports, it would be fun to stay around it."
For now she is playing a few miles from Lisbon and enjoying a country of about 11 million people, where many speak some English. She was the only American on her team for part of the season before Kansas native Merissa Quick joined the team in October. Latt has her own apartment and relies on public transportation.
"I am here to play basketball but I am also here for the experience and to explore and to be on my own and try new things," she said. "I could see myself doing this one or two more years maybe. But I am close to my family and close to my friends. I would hate to miss out on things by being here, which sometimes seems a world away."
David Driver/Special Correspondent
Editor's note: Virginia native David Driver has interviewed American basketball players in more than 10 European countries, and lived in Hungary for three years with his family. This semester he is travelling to Portugal, Poland and Hungary to interview former Division I college players. He has covered the Atlantic 10 Conference for more than 20 years and has contributed to the Charlotte Observer, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Daily News on college basketball.