Former Edward Little High School star and professional basketball player Troy Barnies at Gully Basketball Courts in Auburn in August 2018. Barnies is looking to leave Russia after his pro team suspended play. Barnies will either join his wife in Norway or return to Maine. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

In the time it took many of his fellow Mainers to prepare their first lunch from home during the coronavirus epidemic, Troy Barnies went from preparing to play his next professional basketball game to trying to find a way out of Russia.

As late as noon (Eastern Daylight Time) on Monday, the former Edward Little High School and University of Maine star was scheduled to play a game Wednesday for his Kupol-Rodniki Izhevsk team in Russia’s Superleague 1. Then word came down from the Russian Basketball Federation, which oversees all basketball leagues in the country, that all games scheduled on or after March 22 were suspended until April 10.

By mid-afternoon in Maine, or late night in Izhevsk, Russia, where the 31-year-old Barnies lives, he received word from his team’s coach that all games were suspended indefinitely and foreigners were banned from competing or coaching until April 10.

Rather than wait for a conclusion to the season that might not ever come, Barnies and his coach, who is from Montenegro, were starting to make plans to leave the country.

“All I know is that foreigners can’t play right now,” Barnies said in a direct message on Twitter, “and my coach is working on possibly sending me home (either Norway, if I can, or Maine) if the Russian borders become more intense.”

Barnies was exploring Norway as his first option because his new bride, Sandra Steffensen-Barnies, left her medical studies in Hungary to help Norway, her home country, deal with COVID-19. They were married last July and haven’t seen each other in person since late last summer.

Russia shut down its border with Norway over the weekend and imposed severe travel restrictions between the nations to contain the coronavirus. That may leave returning to Maine as Barnies’ only other option.

While he was disappointed his season is over, in some ways, the action taken by the Russian Federation was a relief to Barnies because it was one of the last professional sports leagues in the world to suspend its season.

He said the federation, his league and his club were barely acknowledging the global pandemic before Monday. The only foreign-born player on  his team, Barnies said it was rarely even brought up in casual conversation with teammates and other team personnel. Much of the information he has been getting about the virus has come from times spent messaging friends and family back in America.

“It hasn’t been a real big issue,” he said via a phone interview before play was suspended. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. My world is continuing to spin while the rest of the world stops.”

Barnies said he’s heard reports of “one or two” coronavirus cases in his city and doesn’t know of any personally, but he wonders how much the Russian people are being told. Izhevsk is located in the western Ural Mountains and is the capital of the Russian republic of Udmurtia. It is the largest city in the republic with an estimated population of 630,000, which makes it 19th-largest city in Russia, according to Wikipedia.

Barnies’ last game was March 7 in Moscow, an 80-75 loss to MBA Moscow in which he scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.

Kupol-Rodniki is 14-11, ranked seventh in its division and was hoping to clinch a playoff spot if it won Wednesday’s home game against Surgut. Izhevsk had five games remaining on its regular-season schedule.

The league spans the entire country, Barnies said, with flights as long as nine hours to away games on the east coast as well as bus rides of up to 10 hours for road games.

Barnies sat out last season to recover from a knee injury he suffered playing in Hungary in 2018. Last October, he signed to play with a team in Latvia, where he had played for two of his previous seven seasons playing professional basketball overseas.

After a successful seven-game run with BK Liepajam, during which he averaged 18.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, he signed with Kupol-Rodniki in January. In seven games there, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9.7 points and four rebounds.

Barnies said he supported the federation’s decision to suspend the season and, regardless of whether he ends up in Norway or Maine, plans to join many in trying to help stop the virus’ spread by staying home.

“I’ve seen (social media posts) of people going out and going to bars over there, and I can’t believe it,” he said. “You should be able to stop your world for two weeks to help everybody else out.”


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