As a senior year at Division II Lincoln University (PA), Antonio DePina started four games, averaged 2.6 points and 1.1 rebounds per game, dished six assists and shot 1-of-9 from three. On Feb. 18, 2017, he notched a season-high seven points against Virginia State.
He was playing professionally in Portugal to start the following season.
I know what you’re thinking: “What the … how?” That’s the same reaction many people in his life had, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. All he had to do was send a Facebook message.
“I went on some website, I found rosters, I found coaches names, I Facebook’d one of them coach’s names and DM’d him on Facebook,” DePina said. “I sent him my film, he liked it, and he signed me.”
Yes, it was really that simple.
Playing basketball professionally feels like a near-impossible goal for many after their collegiate careers end, but as DePina explained, it’s much easier than generally believed. A lot of it comes down to connections and a willingness to make it happen.
“Most of the time, the best player goes overseas, but I feel like 70 to 60 percent of the time, it’s the player with the most connections, who has the best agent, who knows someone who knows how to get in contact with someone else,” he said. “I feel like those are the players who are the most successful overseas.”
Electrico FC accepted Antonio DePina for the 2017-18 campaign, but it was far from the only team that received an inquiry from the player. He marketed himself extensively, reaching out to whomever he could find, and eventually, one of his attempts stuck, and he had a professional contract.
In 11 starts, DePina averaged 9.6 points, 2.2 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game and seemed to find a solid role for himself on the court.
That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing, though. In December, the team started paying him late, an issue lots of American players face when balling overseas. DePina told his agent he wanted to move to Spain, and the two of them worked to make it happen. In hindsight, though, the player isn’t sure if his agent was even necessary.
“I did the same thing I did with the Portugal team,” DePina said. “I contacted them, they wrote me back saying they might be interested, and I told my agent to talk to them. Then, they signed me. Really, I connected the dots first, and then my agent put a little extra effort into it. Who knows, maybe I could have got the deal by myself as well? I really connected all the dots myself.”
Antonio DePina spent the remainder of the 2017-18 season with B.C. Martorell Solvay in Spanish LEB Silver. In Spain, he posted 4.8 points, 1.1 assists and 1.7 rebounds in 14 appearances.
The player agreed to a deal to continue his overseas career into the next season, signing with a team in France, but an ankle injury derailed that plan. After spending two weeks in France, the injury sent him home. That effectively ended his playing career, and DePina said he doesn’t currently have any plans to get back into the professional circuit.
He didn’t set any records or play in an elite legaue, but DePina did achieve his goal of playing basketball overseas, and he made some money doing it. That made a lot of people around him asking how he, a Division II player who barely scored, pulled it off.
“A lot of people asked me, especially people who knew I only scored two points per game, and then the players on my team who averaged 20 didn’t even go overseas,” he said. “They were like, ‘How did you do it?’”
While on a bus ride from New York to his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Antonio DePina realized he could give people those answers.
“I was on a freaking bus ride from New York, and I thought about the idea,” he said.
DePina created an online course showing people how to get overseas for basketball last October, and it took off even more than he expected, bringing about even further evolution.
“I was running Facebook, Instagram advertisement, targeting basketball players between the ages 18 to 27,” DePina explained. “It was really working, man.
“Let’s be honest: basketball players are lazy. A lot of them are lazy,” he continued. “They want the direct connection. They don’t want to know how to put the work into finding overseas teams. So, I figured that out, and I’m like, it would work if I could just directly connect them to a team without using an agent at all.”
That led to the further development of his idea: an app. It would allow players to easily access his information and create a central area for interaction and engagement.
That led to the further development of his idea: an app, bringing about the launch of Overseas Basketball Connection (OBC). It would allow players to easily access his information and create a central area for interaction and engagement. It was perfect. He just needed to find someone to build it.
“I found a developer,” he remembered. “I want to say they lived in Pakistan, and that was the most horrible experience. I ended up losing like $2,000 from that.”
After that misstep, he recalibrated and discovered developers in his home state of Delaware. The app was released earlier this year, and you can download it on OBC’s website for Apple iOS or Android.
Some of its main features are job postings and the ability to submit applications, but informational podcasts, pop-up gyms, testimonials and more are to be incorporated, too.
“Players only need an agent when dealing with EuroLeague teams, big-name teams or NBA teams, where you’re playing with hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of dollars,” DePina explained. “Overseas basketball doesn’t pay as much as people think, so getting an agent to take that money out of your paycheck is unnecessary.”
An even bigger break came DePina’s way when he was accepted as a contestant on “The Circle,” an originally-British reality show that Netflix adopted to have versions from different countries.
In the show, players are isolated from one another in their own apartments. They have no communication with the outside world and can only interact with one another via a portal dubbed The Circle. Players can outwardly portray themselves however they want, and slowly, the field is whittled down in different ways until there is one winner of $100,000.
Antonio DePina arrived back in America from France in December 2018. In April 2019, he auditioned for the show, and in August, he was in London filming it.
“’The Circle’ helped me tremendously, man,” DePina said. “Without ‘The Circle,’ I wouldn’t even be able to do these things.”
He didn’t win the money, but in being on the show and how he conducted himself on camera, he gained an incredible amount of exposure.
“It gave me a perception,” DePina explained. “I got verified on Instagram, I have tons of followers now. So, what I’ve been doing is connecting with NBA players. A lot of people have been watching ‘The Circle,’ and I’ve been DM’ing NBA players, and they’ve been supporting the app.”
DePina said he has tons of photos of NBA players, including many all-star caliber ballers, holding up his app’s sign that he is preparing to release, among other shows of support from members of the league. It’s a big deal for his business.
“It builds trust with the app,” he said. “When players see NBA players holding up the, ‘Overseas Basketball Download Now,’ it builds a trust factor. It makes them more willing to sign up with us.”
DePina has certainly done plenty of work on his own to launch and grow OBC, but he credits “The Circle” as the catalyst for his engine.
“I don’t want to say it made everything boom, but it kind of did, man,” he said. “When it came out January 1, people didn’t even know I played basketball. I didn’t expect it to blow up this big, but with the virus, everyone is home watching TV.”
The success of “The Circle” and the momentum that it drives has Antonio DePina feeling great. He said after OBC takes off and is large enough, he plans to create the same thing for different sports: Lacrosse Overseas Connection, Soccer Overseas Connection, and so on. He sees an opening in the market, and he plans to fill it.
For DePina, it seems like things are really coming together. From “The Circle” to OBC, life is good for the once-Division II role player.
“Everything is connecting right now,” he summarized. “I feel like it’s the perfect time.”
Photo credit: Antonio DePina – @therealantoniodepina
Content co-produced by Justin Meyer.