Basketball is more than just a sport – it’s a passion, a way of life, and a kind of magic that turns the unimaginable into reality. In our latest article, we introduce the inspiring story of Szécsi Orsolya, where basketball transcends being just a hobby and becomes a beautiful example of dreams, determination, and the realization of aspirations. This story takes you on an incredible journey from childhood to the United States, showing how a sport can transform not only one’s life but also serve as a guiding force towards opportunities, success, and self-realization.
First, please tell us about your background, where you were born and raised, and why basketball became your calling. What does basketball mean to you?
I was born on a beautiful summer Tuesday in Budapest (or at least that’s what they say, as I don’t remember much). I spent the first half of my childhood in Budapest and Badacsonyörs, then we moved to Budakalász. Sports were never a choice in my family; everyone was involved, and it was a part of our lives. My mother played basketball her whole life and introduced me to the world of basketball. I started sports at the age of 7 and also tried water polo, but I truly felt at home on the basketball court.
Honestly, basketball was an escape for me, not only from the everyday life but also because it offered me opportunities that a non-athlete might not get. Basketball taught me many life lessons. It taught me that success requires hard work, that you get out what you put in, and that talent alone is not enough for someone to be successful. Moreover, it took me all around the world, offering lifelong friendships and opening up a world full of possibilities. I never dreamt that through basketball, I would receive handwritten letters from Geno Auriemma (UConn basketball coach), win the Hungarian Cup final in front of a full house in Miskolc, or travel to Sweden in the middle of December to play in a European cup game where it was -35 degrees.
When and why did you decide to move to the United States?
In 2008, a dream came true for me. I had the opportunity to continue my high school studies and play basketball on a scholarship at the Oak Hill Academy, a private school in Virginia. This school has produced famous NBA basketball players like Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, and Keldon Johnson. So, it was a massive opportunity for me. I was 16 years old at the time, didn’t speak English, and had to venture out into the world on my own. Initially, I didn’t want to take this huge step, but as time went by and I thought it through, I decided to go for it. After all, if it didn’t work out, I could always return home.
The school had a strong basketball program, and I received an excellent education. However, the first few months were challenging in terms of adaptation, as I didn’t speak English, and it was a significant culture shock. Both teachers and students were very helpful as it took me five months to start understanding English and even longer to speak it fluently.
Which university did you attend, and what did you study during your college years?
In 2010, I chose Duquesne University, where I became a student-athlete on a scholarship. The university is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During my four years at the university, I learned a lot. I’m not only referring to the knowledge I gained in my major but also the numerous life lessons I received from both school and sports. Pittsburgh is a wonderful city and, in some ways, always reminded me of Budapest. During my university years, I made significant progress. I learned how to live independently, face daily challenges alongside my studies and basketball, and balance it all. In 2014, I graduated with a double major in International Business and Marketing.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your student-athlete years?
The most significant challenge during my student-athlete years was finding a balance between school, sports, and social life. Sports demand a lot of time and energy; we had practices in the morning and evening, totaling about 4-5 hours of training per day. At the beginning, it was challenging to find time to excel in both academics and spend time with my friends. This was a massive challenge, not only physically but also mentally.
Another challenge was taking care of my body. As a student-athlete, I felt like I was thrown into deep water because physical fitness was equally important as academics. We had strength and conditioning sessions every day, focusing on explosive strength. My body had to learn what it could handle, and I had to pay attention to my daily nutrition. Sports and training come with the risk of injuries, and I experienced several injuries. Fortunately, my only significant injury was in 2013 when I tore a ligament in my shoulder, which required surgery. It was very frustrating, especially when I had to take a break for several months.
Why did you decide to stay in the United States after finishing college, and where are you working now?
After college, I moved back to Hungary and played professional basketball in Miskolc for three years. However, I always knew I would return to the United States. The years spent in the United States left me with a positive attitude, numerous opportunities, and a lifestyle that I cherished. Before moving back permanently, I wanted to try the professional life, as I had dedicated 15 years to basketball, and it was time to start earning a living from it.
In 2017, I hung up my basketball shoes for good and moved back to the United States to be with my then-girlfriend (now, we’ve been married for six years). In 2022, I earned my MBA (Master of Business Administration) from Ohio University. Just like my basketball career, my personal life led me to live in various places. Over the course of six years, I lived in four different states: Washington, D.C., Madison (WI), Memphis (TN), and Delaware, gaining a wealth of experiences. Now, we’ve found our home in Bear, Delaware, and it looks like we’ll stay here for a few more years. I’ve been working for three years at a startup EdTech (education technology) company called Infini-D Learning, where I serve as the Head of Customer Success. In short, our company transforms traditional classrooms into spaceships. We create educational software aligned with the curriculum to teach children 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving.
Do you have any advice for Hungarian students who want to study and play sports in the United States?
I could offer plenty of advice to those who want to live, study, and play sports in the United States. Here are three pieces of advice that I wish I had received when I was 16:
- Embrace new opportunities. You will be thrown into deep water. New country, new friends, a new life. Don’t let your English language skills or uncertainty get in the way. From experience, I can tell you that you don’t need to speak the same language to enjoy time with your friends. You’d be surprised at how creative people can be in explaining something without sharing a common language.
- “Don’t fall into the ‘Freshmen 20’ trap. This term refers to the weight gain often experienced by freshmen university students, which typically ranges from 15-20 pounds (7-9 kg). You’ll encounter plenty of processed and sweet foods not only on campus but also off-campus. Oh, and the portion sizes are much larger than in Hungary. It was very surprising for me to see how much processed and sweet food people eat here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner… and how much they eat. Of course, I’m not saying don’t try American delicacies, but be mindful of what and how much you eat.”
- “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. University presents challenges for everyone, but particularly so for student-athletes. You need to learn how to balance your academic workload, athletic commitments, and, on top of that, personal challenges. You’ll be under pressure not only mentally but physically as well, and all student-athletes go through this. You’re not alone, and there are numerous resources available, including mentors, coaches, teammates, and sports psychologists. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance when you need it. Believe me, there will be both easier and tougher days, but that’s when you should keep your goals in mind.”
Lastly, but not least, here are some rapid-fire questions:
1. Burger or Hungarian layered potatoes (Rakott krumpli)? It’s a tough choice because I love both, but I can’t say no to a good burger.
2. Cheesecake or Somlói dumplings (Somlói galuska)? In all honesty, Somlói galuska in any form.
3. Peanut butter and jelly or Pancakes (Palacsinta)? Pancakes are versatile; you can fill them with anything, sweet or savory (such as Hortobágyi palacsinta).
4. Chicken fried steak or Chicken paprikash (Paprikás csirke)? Chicken paprikash. Paprika is a “must-have” spice in our house, and when American friends visit, chicken paprikash is on the menu.
4. Mac and cheese or Cottage cheese noodles (Túrós csusza)? This is a tough decision. Mac and cheese for lunch and cottage cheese noodles for a snack.
5. Chain Bridge (Lánchíd) or Brooklyn Bridge? No question here, it’s the Chain Bridge (Lánchíd)!
6. Balaton vacation or Florida beach? I know some people see Lake Balaton as the Riviera, but I prefer the real Riviera. If not Florida, any beach, with sand and saltwater, is the true vacation.
The “My America” blog series introduces several successful Hungarian athletes in America, click here and get to know them too!