When Noah McCarty played his last game for Northern Illinois, he had no idea it would be his last game of college basketball.
The Huskies lost a senior night battle with Ball State at the Convocation Center, but still had a first-round bye for the MAC Tournament in Cleveland, and still had hopes of postseason basketball.
The pandemic may have wiped out those postseason hopes, but it did not mean and end to McCarty's playing days. The former Newman and NIU post player who grew up in Rock Falls will be taking his talents to the Mediterranean coast. He signed to play with second-division Spanish side Club Basquet Benicarlo in Benicarlo, Spain.
European basketball may be on the other side of the Atlantic, but McCarty still has some connections with guys he knows and has played with who are over there.
An agency in Europe that specializes in bringing over American basketball players, Helping Ballers, reached out to McCarty, and teams saw his highlight tapes and reached out to the agency to snatch him up.
"They're always looking for kids to come over. There's plenty of countries with leagues over there," he said. "One of my best friends, Levi Bradley, who I played with from my freshman year to my junior year [at NIU], he played in England last year."
McCarty said the Spanish game is very similar to his own, with teams searching for the best available shot.
There might be the issue of culture shock off the court, living a couple of hours south of Barcelona. He took 4 years of Spanish at Newman, but said he still will have to brush up on the language.
"You're going to live someplace new for an extended amount of months," he said. "With that being said, I'm kind of a reserved person. I don't go out unless I have to. Besides going and playing basketball every day and getting workouts in, I don't think I'll be doing too much extra stuff."
One of the big hurdles in getting ready for that style of play is not being able to get into the gym with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging. He is trying to stay on top of conditioning, but it's hard with gyms just opening up.
"With everything going on with trying to stay sharp, it's hard right now with the virus and the pandemic," McCarty said. "I've been working out with one of my friends. He has a hoop in his shed, so I've been working out there, just trying to get up as many shots as I can."
After playing his last game at NIU, McCarty said he wasn't sure what came next. As it turned out, what came next was a global pandemic.
That cost the Huskies any chance they had at a postseason run, and cost McCarty a shot at extending his college career.
"We were going to play Miami of Ohio [in the MAC quarterfinal] and got to the hotel, practiced the day before," he said. "We went to shoot-around the day of and came back from that and had a team meeting and they told us they were canceling the tournament.
"As you're sitting there, you're thinking 'Wow, I don't even get to play my last game, win or lose.' We just go out with no tournament, no NCAA Tournament."
He soon enough started hearing from agencies about playing in Europe, though. At that point, someone who saw his college career end not knowing if there would be basketball beyond that started to see a shot at a professional career.
"I sat down with my family and those closest to me and had to think if this was an opportunity I wanted to do," he said. "I thought about it, and thought if I pass up on this, it could be something I regret later in life."