4,000 Miles From Home to Pursue College Basketball
In August 2019, Malevy Leons said goodbye to his beloved family in his hometown of IJmuiden, Netherlands—about 25 minutes west of Amsterdam and about 4000 miles from MAC—to pursue his dream of playing Division I basketball in the United States. Some adjustment was necessary moving from a more metropolitan area to life in Park Hills—no Uber, no public transportation, no home cooking. Though he missed his family terribly, he found a local “family” in his teammates, classmates, MAC employees, and community members.
Then, Covid complicated everything for everybody. Despite the challenges, MAC’s basketball—like so many other things—figured out how to adjust and survive. Consistent winning and national JuCo poll rankings helped position Cardinals’ basketball “on the map.” During Malevy’s two years, the Cardinals created a new page in men’s basketball program history. The Cards went a combined 54-3 record, the most wins in any two-year span in program history, and won two conference championships plus one region and one district championship. The 2020-21 team recorded MAC’s best season in program history—finishing the regular season with a perfect 20-0 record—and adding the Region 16 and Midwest District Championship titles. Then, the Cards earned a top spot in the NJCAA Division I National Tournament. There, the Cardinals posted the program's first-ever NJCAA Tournament victory as they advanced to the Elite 8. Malevy was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Malevy chuckles about some off-court memories, “Once, Stone (Kevin) and I had to stay at Coach’s house for a couple days. His wife made some cookies for us. I bet we ate two dozen. They were very, very good. So, when Coach was looking for different ways to motivate the team, he offered his wife’s wonderful applesauce cookies to Stone and me! Oh, another thing … I don’t think I’ll ever look at pizza the same. On almost every road trip, we’d jump on the bus and our post-game meal was waiting. We had a steady diet of pizza. In fairness, I realize it’s a convenient food that got us on the road and home faster. But, that was a lot of pizza!”
When Malevy reflects on MAC basketball successes, he repeatedly references the team effort, his teammates and Coach Strege, Coach Walsh and Coach Livengood. In addition to his academic achievements, he earned numerous accolades. At commencement, he was recognized as MAC’s Outstanding Student in Athletics. And, his 2020-21 stats tell the story: He averaged 18.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, while shooting 56.4% from the field (ranking him 37th nationally in points and 25th in rebounds), plus 3.1 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game. He was named the NJCAA Region 16 Player of the Year and earned First Team All-Region and All-Conference honors. Then, he received First Team All-American honors. To close the year, Malevy brought national recognition to himself and MAC when he earned the nation's two top junior college athletic honors. Malevy was named the NJCAA D1 National Player of the Year and the NJCAA David Rowlands Male Student-Athlete of the Year.
Malevy with MAC Teammates Manu Musemena and Kevin Stone
The unassuming 6-foot-10 forward was highly recruited by well-known programs such as Missouri, Marquette, Wichita State, Vanderbilt, DePaul, South Carolina, and others. He whittled his choices to three—Bradley, Wichita State, and Missouri—and selected Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois to continue his basketball and academics. One attraction to Bradley was the chance to reunite with one of his Dutch basketball friends. For the 2021-22 season at Bradley, he honed his on-court skills and was a major contributor during his first season in the Missouri Valley Conference. In Summer 2022, Malevy was invited to play with the Dutch men’s national basketball team and was pleased he got some play time.
When asked what Malevy considers his strengths on the court, he contemplates for a bit and says, “My natural abilities—inherited from my parents—are important. I run well and try to play smart. Ultimately, it’s all the time I invest in practicing with my teammates and on my own. It’s through my practice—lots and lots of it—that I learn and develop my capabilities on the court. Then, in game situations, I’m able to adapt and have the confidence to execute the skills I practice day in and day out. So, my commitment to practice is the foundation to almost everything I do on the court.”
While playing basketball and studying in the U.S. is very rewarding, one significant sacrifice is Malevy really misses his family back in the Netherlands. “We’re all really super close, so it’s extra hard not to be with them. But, we use FaceTime and WhatsApp so we can actually ‘see’ each other when we talk,” he explains. When asked where he got his height and athletic skills, Malevy says, “Definitely, my parents. They’re both tall, athletic, and played sports. My dad, Iwan, played soccer and my mom, Monique, played basketball. Actually, my mom taught me how to play basketball. My sister and brother are pretty cool, too, and are good at sports. My 19-year-old, 6’7” brother Benicio plays basketball at a high level and hopes to play professionally in the future. My sister, Jazzlin, is 16. Besides being very good at badminton and a few other sports, Jazzlin is an amazing artist. She especially likes drawing and creates art both by hand and digitally with her tablet.”
Malevy Leons at Bradley vs. SIU Game
Of MAC, he says, “MAC was the best decision for me. Because I was so far away from home, I’m sure my parents worried a lot. MAC’s a safe place where I enjoyed the quietness of the area and met great people. I made lifelong friends with my teammates, especially my great roommates Kevin Stone, Manu Musemena, Kevin Legardy, and Angelo Stuart. I guess I should thank Stone for helping me with some of my classes! Plus, many people outside basketball were really kind and there when I needed them. There are so many—Mr. Mitchell, Mrs. Sikes, Ms. Stahl, Lisa and Larry Underwood, Dean Julie Sheets, Colleen our yoga teacher, Matt in General Services, Jeremy in the Wellness Center, the people in the cafeteria where I worked…and so many more. They helped me feel not as homesick.”
Malevy continues, “Then, the MAC fans who came to our games and people in the community really made us feel welcome,” continues Malevy. “Making connections in the community was fun even though Covid prevented us from doing much our sophomore year. Our team helped with Habitat for Humanity projects and read to kids in elementary schools. I’m glad I have Sue, Dave, and Peggy as friends, too. I learned to play tennis with them. I give a big thank you to my ‘MAC family’ who supported me. I appreciated all they did for me.”
In his first year at Bradley, Malevy had a successful season starting 29 games of the 31 games in which he played. He was named to the 2021 Sun Bowl Invitational All-Tournament Team. Bradley’s 2022-23 season is underway, so follow Malevy and check out his player stats here or more team information here.