People may know Maksim Salash for his polished low-post game, strong ball-handling skills and even a dribble between the legs before nailing a three-pointer from the top of the circle. But how about knowing the Cajasol Seville big man for playing chess as a youngster growing up in Belarus, or being a soccer player and Barcelona fan before finally taking on basketball. And others also might not know that the 18-year-old Salash studies economics remotely online at a Belarus university. No, Maksim Salash is no ordinary basketball player.
The Minsk native says his mother introduced him to chess at about the age of 5 or 6. “I really like it. My mother asked me if I wanted to play chess and I said, ‘What is chess?’ I went to classes for chess five days a week and I had a teacher. I liked it a lot. And there were tournaments. It was so exciting to play against older guys. It’s still one of my favorite games and I still play it sometimes, on the computer or against my father online,” said Salash, who couldn’t take the smile off his face talking about kings, knights and rooks.
But like most youngsters in Europe, it didn’t take long for soccer to peak his interest at about 8 years of age. “I really like sports, all sports. Soccer and basketball are the two sports I really like. I played soccer for two years and I was the tallest guy on the team. When the basketball coach said I should come to play basketball, I said no, I liked football and didn’t know anything about basketball.”
But that would change once he discovered the hardwood and rim. “Then I came to practice and I liked it a lot. It was something different.”
After having played chess and soccer simultaneously for two years before deciding to focus on the ball sport, Salash then played both soccer and basketball for two years. “Sometimes I had to choose between soccer or basketball practice. I was growing and growing and I understood I couldn’t play soccer anymore. I was too tall and it was physically difficult for me to play against the smaller guys. I decided I was going to basketball,” recalled the mild-mannered 2.06-meter big man about the decision he made when he was 12.
The next big decision came about four years later, in December of 2012, when the only child was confronted with the fact that he wouldn’t be able to take the next step in his basketball career in Belarus and was considering an offer from Cajasol to come to Spain. “What attracted me to Cajasol? It’s Spain. The name and everything. It’s one of the best basketball countries in Europe, and the decision came really fast for me.”
And what about the parents, leaving their only child go off to far away Spain? “They supported me a lot. My mother said, ‘Oh, how am I going to be without you?’ My father was like, ‘It’s a good opportunity for you. You have to go.’ The first month was tough, but it got better quickly, when I went to school and practice. I miss my family, but it’s worth it.”
Salash has turned himself into a highly-regarded prospect, but that doesn’t mean he is content with basketball. After finishing his schooling in Belarus after 11 years, there was another decision for Salash. He would have needed to do another year of school in Spain to then study on the Iberian peninsula. Instead, he decided to start studying economics online remotely with a university in Belarus.
“I wanted to do it as well. You never know what happens in the future. I hope not, but I have to have something else in my life,” said Salash, who turned 18 less than two weeks ago. Salash must return to Belarus twice a year to take exams. He went back in December and will make another trip in the summer. “I hope it will be okay. I don’t know if I will pass. It’s really difficult and there’s nobody there to help you. You’re alone. They give you the books and you just have to do it.”
Looking at his past success already, it seems he should master that exam as well.