After spending time with the Memphis Grizzlies and their G League affiliate Hustle’s training camp this past fall, former Kent State star point guard and Solon product Sincere Carry will officially begin his professional basketball career with Greek club Iraklis BC after the New Year.
As a rookie, he’s going to be entrusted midseason to help turn around an organization that is looking to climb the ranks and return to its former glory under a new, Cleveland-led ownership group headed by Broadview Heights native Bobby Mansfield and Carry’s longtime family friend Dennis Barba.
“Knowing the Barba’s and the owners being from Cleveland, it just felt like the right place for me to go,” Carry said in an exclusive phone interview. “It’s in Greece. It doesn’t get much better than that. I’m hearing a lot of good things about it, so I just felt like it was the right opportunity for me to keep this thing going.”
Barba and Carry’s relationship goes back to when he was in grade school. For close to 20 years, Barba played a big part in Ohio youth basketball. Along with Mike Duncan, he ran Ohio Basketball Club, an elite AAU program throughout the state that Carry joined during his high school days.
Their bond goes even further beyond that though, which made this an easy decision for all parties involved.
“I know his family. My son Andy has known Sincere and his brother Mike since grade school, and Andy and Mike were teammates and roommates at Duquesne. It just sort of all fell into place,” Barba said in a conversation over the phone. “We were looking to make a move. Bobby knew who Sin was. I’ve always been a big Sin fan ever since I saw him play in the fourth or fifth grade. I’ve followed his career and worked with him when he played for OBC.
“The kid is a winner. He loves the game of basketball. He competes. He’s an elite point guard. He was one of the best guards in the Atlantic-10 and then he went to the MAC and was Player of the Year and one of, if not the best guard in the Mid-American Conference.”
Duncan has been training Carry since those late elementary school days.
“Sincere is good at reading the defense well and he’s setting the offense up pretty well,” Duncan said in a separate phone interview. “Whatever the coaches want to run, that’s what he’ll run. His thing’s just winning. He competes. When I say compete, he competes. I don’t think he takes losing well.”
Mansfield and Barba are fully behind Carry to lead Iraklis back to prominence. Currently, the team is in the middle of the pack at 8-7 in the Greek A2 Basketball League, but only two games behind first place. Similar to soccer, Iraklis must finish in the top two to be elevated next season to the Greek A1 Basketball League, the highest level of competition.
“He’s a winner, man. He doesn’t cause problems. He don’t do any of that,” Duncan said. “You’ve got some people that wherever they go, they’re a problem. He doesn’t cause problems.
“They’re gonna like him over there. He’s gonna bring a winning attitude, ‘Come on, pick it up, let’s go.’ He’s gonna do all of that. He’s just gotta make that adjustment. Once he makes the adjustment, they’re gonna love him. Going over there is definitely different than playing over here. Going over there, you’ve got to get the trust of the new players, all of that.”
Carry is grateful to have earned that reputation and level of belief to lead as a rookie.
“It really shows my character, just how consistent I can be my whole life,” Carry said of Barba’s confidence in him. “He’s been watching me play since I moved to Ohio [from Pennsylvania]l, so just seeing my growth and still wanting to bet on me and take chances on me, It just says a lot. I’m just gonna try my hardest to win games and make everyone proud. I know how big they want to get to the Tier 1 League, so I’m just trying to make that happen for this team.”
On the court, Mansfield values the intelligence Carry has, believing that it will translate to the overseas game.
“European basketball, you see, [differs from] the NBA. It’s a very technical game,” Mansfield said over an additional phone call. “So we feel like even as a rookie, he has the ability because of his technical knowledge and the way he sees the game and the way he plays to adjust very quickly. So that was a big benefit.”
“To be honest, it’s gonna take about maybe two or three games. He’s got to figure it out,” Duncan added. “They play different than we play. They push the ball. We think we push the ball over here (laughs). No, they push it. I don’t think he’s gonna have any problems because he’s gonna adjust good. He’s alright because he knows how to get his shot off, so he’ll be okay on that end. And he put on about 20 pounds, so he’s got some good muscle. He’ll be physically ready.”
Carry’s college basketball accolades speak for themselves. He was a member of the A-10 All-Freshman Team at Duquesne, finishing at the top of the conference in assists per game (5.8) and in the top 15 in the NCAA in steals per game (2.4).
“He makes the other players better on his team,” Duncan said. “With Sincere, it’s not really about points. It ain’t because of points. Sincere just made everybody better with the right pass, the right open shot. In basketball, that’s what they look for. They look for people that win. The game is winning. It’s not about points. A lot of people got the wrong idea.”
“We can talk about D all day, but he has the skill level where he can pick somebody up full court and you’re not gonna beat him because he knows how to use his body pretty well to keep you in front of him. He’s aggressive on defense.”
Carry was also named to the All-MAC Team, All-MAC-Defense Team, and All-MAC Tournament Team in his last two years at Kent State. In 2021-22, Carry led the MAC in total assists (161) and the next season was second in the same category (167).
Among all of that, Carry averaged 17.7 points on 48.7 percent from the field overall with the Golden Flashes, playing nearly 37 minutes per game.
“In college, I was more of a true point guard. But I feel like now that I’m a professional, I’ll show the way I can score the ball more,” Carry said. “Just my energy. I play defense at a higher level, so guys always want to play with a guy who takes defense serious and takes pride in that. I know I have a high IQ. I know when to pass, when to shoot and I can just take control of the game. I’m a winner at the end of the day. I can impact the game at any level.”
“What I give him credit for, is he averages five rebounds. Think about it. For a guard, that’s a lot of rebounds,” Duncan added. “He’s about 6-foot-2, but he’s mixing it up. He’s not scared, no matter who’s inside. He ain’t scared of the contact, getting pushed, all of that. His thing is he’s a great rebounder for a guard. That’s gonna be good for the game because once he grabs the rebound, he’s gone already on the break. He never would sit there and wait for an outlet.”
With Iraklis in striking distance and the second half of the season set to begin on Jan. 13, Mansfield explained that the holiday break was the perfect time to make this move.
“Sincere is the last piece of the puzzle,” Mansfield said. “We added three new Greek players, and we also added another foreigner, and Sincere is the last piece.”
“When Bobby and I talked, you get kids that win like this and we think he’s really gonna come in and compete and play hard and try to help us win,” Barba added. “He’s performed at every level, and there’s no reason to think that he’s not gonna continue to just work hard and produce at this level.”
Carry admits that things haven’t gone his way since training camp with the Hustle, and he has “come too far” to stop chasing his dream of getting to the NBA. He’s appreciative of his guardian Kevin Bekelja and his family being with him every step of the way of his journey.
“Nobody in my family has played in the G League or NBA or overseas, so we’re just learning as we go,” Carry said. “You have to trust people, new agents, new coaches and stuff. I feel like just having him on my wing, it just makes it easier.
“My family is a big supporter of me. My mom [Melissa] she comes to all my games, Kevin’s wife. My little brother [Mike] has followed me to every college, my sisters [Jordan and Dee]. It’s just a family effort. It’s much bigger than me.”
(The Bekelja family is full of basketball talent. Like Carry, Mike Bekelja transferred to Kent State after two years at Duquesne and is currently on the team. Dee finished a career at DePaul in 2022, while Jordan played at Clarion University from 2015-19. Kevin was a member of Elizabethtown College’s roster in the early 1990s.)
“The league is definitely different and tougher. Probably three years from now, he’ll get a shot at the league,” Duncan said of Carry’s NBA aspirations, adding that his time spent with Memphis at training camp will serve him well.
“That gives him an idea of what he needs to do and what he needs to say. But he’s got to develop. He’s got to develop over there. It ain’t as easy as people think. He loves the game. Every day, he works out. He’s in the gym every day, which is good for him.”
The beginning of Carry’s professional road will start in Thessaloniki, Greece — a great chance to kick off his career with people he knows in his corner and a passionate Iraklis fan base.
“I got a chance to watch their last game, a rerun of it where it went into double overtime, and the fans were going crazy,” Carry said. “It’s definitely an environment that I’ll love to play in and be around, that type of love for sure.
“I just want to win. That’s all there is. Just go over there and win.”
Having been neglected by previous ownership over the last few years, Iraklis BC is undergoing a transformation. Just weeks after its 115th anniversary, Mansfield and Barba are determined to elevate the historical, decorated franchise back to the top where it belongs.
“They fell on some more difficult times where they went from First League to Second League two years ago. We’ve taken over the team to set it right and to bring them back to their glory days,” Mansfield said. “I asked Dennis to be a part of this. Luckily for me, he said yes and he’s been a really impactful person in this. We have several other Clevelanders in the ownership group as well.”
Greater Cleveland area folks such as Aaron Fazulak (founder of All Cleveland Coffee and CEO of Performance Lighting), Drew Parker (director of strategy at Trajektory), Joseph Delio (senior vice president of IWA Technical Services Inc.) and Christian Kovacevic (recruiter for Robert Half) all have a stake in this.
“Greek basketball, it’s debatable whether soccer or basketball is the No. 1 sport, which is impressive in itself when you consider Europe and Greece. This is one of the most historic clubs. It’s a club with a rabid fan base. In the Second League, we’re still selling out the gym. The support’s been amazing. It’s almost like the [Cleveland] Browns. You can’t buy support and fans. The fans and the brand is what made Iraklis attractive for us.”
Barba can’t hide his excitement for this new venture.
“I coached for 20 years, so it’s my intent now to not coach and to scout and help put together how we’re gonna scout in the United States, help with the branding,” Barba said. “I’m excited to be involved in this. It’s a new basketball project to fuel my passion for basketball, and I hope to be able to help other people realize their dreams.”
Asked where and how things are going to change, Mansfield laid out his vision for Iraklis, a brand he is trying to make a household name in the second-biggest city in Greece.
Step-by-step, since officially taking over the team in November, he’s already begun the process. There is an emphasis on apparel and bringing in fresh sponsorships behind a new and improved marketing department. It’ll also be easier for fans to attend games by going through Ticketmaster.
“This is a total revamp,” Mansfield said. “We’re lucky that we can be Picasso and we have the blank sheet of paper to paint. So we’re starting from scratch, and we’re starting from scratch literally midseason.”
There will always be conversations about talent acquisition too. If they add a foreigner from outside the nation, midwest players like Carry will always be considered because of the style they play and the knowledge they can trust them. As far as the local talent is concerned, their biggest focus, the pool is deep.
With a population of 1.3 million people, the club’s arena and facilities are centrally located in the heart of Thessaloniki, with younger fans and aspiring pros always nearby. Mansfield and Barba both mentioned that one of the more attractive parts of the opportunity is working with the Iraklis Basketball Academy.
“We have an academy that is assigned for the amateur club, which is slowly being merged into the professional basketball team,” Mansfield explained. “So we will have all categories from Under-10 to Under-18 all part of Iraklis. We plan to develop. We plan to have camps with people from the United States coming over and so forth where we can really make this a place where we are also developing talent.”
Mansfield said they hope to follow the Serbian model that helped players like Nikola Jokic, Boban Marjanovic and Bogdan Bogdanovic mature and ultimately make it to the NBA. (Many other overseas franchises have these focuses on junior teams regarding their affiliations and player development with pro clubs, such as Real Madrid fostering the growth of Luka Doncic.)
“We feel we have a great talent pool in the area if we can bring knowledge and expertise and continued professionalism, which all starts from the professional basketball side,” Mansfield said. “This is gonna merge down to the youth categories, which is super exciting and is a long-term ambition for us.”
Mansfield, Barba and their partners in the ownership group plan on being hands-on with this operation. They didn’t get into this for nothing. They truly feel this is an investment with incredible potential in multiple ways.
“As soon as the fans found out about what was happening, they’ve gotten very excited. They send me videos of these games,” Barba said. “The support’s been unbelievable. So we’re very excited and we’re looking at everything, really trying to get this as efficient as we can and install the culture that Bobby knows he can put in.
“This is really good basketball. When you watch this basketball, it’s fun basketball. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this. I went and I started watching games. These are good players, they play good basketball, they compete and I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. Bobby will be able to really help us turn this thing around and get it moving in the right direction, or I wouldn’t have gotten involved in it.”
Mansfield and Barba are fans themselves. They just happen to be two basketball junkies from Northeast Ohio looking to restore a once-great franchise on the other side of the world back to prominence.