Culture shock to his system

Special to the Times

Guillermo Diaz, who grew up in Puerto Rico speaking only Spanish, never dreamed his life would take this kind of a twist.

But now that the Clippers’ second-round draft pick is playing his rookie season of pro basketball in the Czech Republic, he has become so desperate for English-language programming that he recently installed a satellite dish that shows mostly soccer games from Britain.

“At least I can understand what they are saying,” Diaz said. “Before that, all I had were Czech stations.”

Few people in the Czech Republic speak English. Fewer still know Diaz, a 6-foot-2 combo guard who was second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference the previous two seasons at the University of Miami.


He left Miami after his junior season for the NBA draft and was picked late in the second round by the Clippers, as the 52nd overall selection.

The Clippers persuaded him to sign with Nymburk for one season to develop his skills and told Diaz he would have a chance to earn a spot on the Clippers next fall in training camp.

Nymburk, the three-time defending league champ, jumped at the chance to grab Diaz. They made him the highest-paid player in league history at $250,000 and provided him with a free one-bedroom apartment, a new 2006 Czech-made Skoda car and a cellphone.

Diaz is leading the team in scoring at 21.4 points per game, second-best in the league, and is making 46% of his three-point shots. Overall, he is shooting 55% from the field, despite the physical play that is typical of the Czech league. He also is averaging 4.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

“We want Guillermo to be a success here, and we want to see him in the NBA next season,” said George Zidek, Nymburk’s assistant general manager and the starting center on UCLA’s 1995 NCAA championship team. “We want to make sure he is comfortable.”

However, even with the best efforts of Zidek, General Manager Rudolf Simecek, Coach Muli Katzurin and the rest of the Nymburk staff, Diaz has not exactly been comfortable. He admits he gets bored and lonely and spends plenty of hours with the PlayStation controls in his hands. He also makes regular calls home to his mother, brother and girlfriend, as well as his high school coach.

Diaz misses the rice-and-beans diet he enjoyed back home. Here, he frequents McDonald’s or a local restaurant called Alegro’s. He goes to the local eatery with Nymburk point guard Walker Russell, another rookie who played in the U.S. for Jacksonville State and was not picked in the NBA draft.

When Diaz and Russell enter Alegro’s, no words are spoken. Hand signals let the waitress know to bring the usual dishes -- chicken for Diaz and salmon for Russell.

“I don’t know what I would have done without ‘G’ here,” Russell said of his new best friend. “We both have the same goal -- get to the NBA.”

Lately, though, Russell has missed several games because of a groin injury. That has forced Diaz to play the point and the wing, causing him concern that he is having to do too much and his body could wear down over the long haul of the season.

Still, Diaz has excelled in leading Nymburk to wins it its first eight games. But that is not the main thing on his mind.

“Me and Walker have started a countdown for Dec. 20,” Diaz said. “That is when we get a one-week break to go home.”