By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Erik Czumbel’s parents reside in Europe, and so they won’t be in the UTSA Convocation Center tonight.
Nevertheless, the sacrifices they made in their lives likely will come to mind in a major way for their son, as he prepares to play his last basketball game on the Roadrunners’ homecourt.
“I definitely want to pay ’em back one day,” UTSA’s fourth-year senior guard said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
Originally from Romania, Gyorgy and Hajnalka Czumbel welcomed twin sons — Erik and Mark — into the world in January 2000. The boys were born in Satu Mare, in northwestern Romania, a country that had been torn for decades by political strife and economic hardship.
With conditions unfavorable to a life that the parents wanted for their sons, the couple anxiously weighed their options. Should they stay close to family and friends and try to make it work in Romania? Or should they try to get out, as so many other countrymen were doing.
“My dad definitely wanted to leave the country,” Czumbel said. “He wanted to go to Germany (at) first. But (the language) was harder to learn. Italian and Romanian are similar languages.”
Initially, Czumbel’s dad tried to flee Romania but couldn’t make it out of the country.
“They caught him (and) he was released, (but) nothing bad happened,” Erik said.
Later, when the twins were infants, Gyorgy tried again and succeeded, settling in Italy to acclimate to his new surroundings and to find a job.
“A lot of people in Romania were skeptical of his decision (to leave),” Erik Czumbel said. “They were like, ‘You’re not going to be lucky. It’s going to be the same there.’ Because it’s hard. You go to another country. You don’t know the language. You have to learn. Find a job. You have to be disciplined.”
Eventually, Gyorgy’s wife and infant sons packed up and left themselves, in a time frame that Erik estimates was late in the year in 2001, or in 2002. Together again, the family made a home in Verona, Italy.
The young boys were basketball players. Erik became one of the nation’s best prospects, competing in club sports and rising up in the national team system. His brother, Mark, played for a time with Virtus Avechi Salerno.
He’s now playing on an amateur level while taking graduate courses in civil engineering. The boys’ parents, meanwhile, are working. Erik’s mother is an assistant director in a manufacturing corporation.
His father? He’s a truck driver, and has been hauling freight in 18-wheelers for 20-something years.
“He’s gone for, like, a week and he comes back home on the weekends,” Czumbel said. “It’s definitely a hard job.”
Czumbel said his dad has always loved basketball and, years ago, played in an “old guy’s league” while following Tim Duncan and the Spurs.
“In the summer, we go and play some ball,” Czumbel said. “He has some skills, you know. He’s a big Tim Duncan fan. The bank shot — he loves that.”
Czumbel said his mother is also into fitness and likes to take long walks on weekends with her husband. But she, too, loves her work.
“She’s a work-aholic,” Czumbel said. “I think she works a little too hard, because she does some extra work where they don’t pay her. But she loves it, and they love her at her firm. (It’s) kind of like me, she has her whole family at her firm. You know, it’s good.”
Czumbel has been part of the UTSA family since 2019. He arrived at the same time as an incoming freshman center named Jacob Germany. Together, UTSA will honor Czumbel and Germany tonight on ‘Senior Day’ ceremonies. Tipoff for the Charlotte at UTSA game is at 7 p.m.
Next week, the Roadrunners will journey to Frisco for the Conference USA tournament.
Czumbel is expected to participate in commencement ceremonies in May and plans to knock out his last two classes for a finance-economics degree this summer. Beyond that, he’s not sure whether he wants to continue playing, perhaps in Europe, or to pursue a job in the United States
“It’s been a beautiful journey here at UTSA,” Czumbel said. “You know, I love San Antonio. It’s … I mean, it’s hard to talk about. I’m definitely going to miss it.
“It’s been an amazing journey, through ups and downs. But I enjoyed every moment. I’m super appreciative of the fans, of the people who supported us, the coaches and my teammates. It’s been a beautiful part of my life.”
As for his parents, he calls them “amazing,” for obvious reasons.
“Just, super grateful for them,” Czumbel said.