Matt Bingaya, who has taken a circuitous route in his basketball career and overcome many obstacles, will be playing professionally next season.
The 2012 Delaware Hayes High School graduate, who helped lead Fairmont State University to the Division II national championship game last winter, has signed with Hubo Limburg United in Belgium.
"I'm leaving in the first week of August and I'm really excited about this," Bingaya said. "I got a few calls, but I was interested with the process and getting things locked up. I wasn't concerned about money at all. I did some quick research and the biggest thing was just going to a place where I'm comfortable and I can really jump-start my career.
"I talked with (Fairmont State coaches Joe Mazzulla and Jerrod Calhoun) and I reached out to (Delaware coach Jordan Blackburn) and a couple of other people to try and figure out if this was the right decision and if this was going to start me off in the right place."
Calhoun is now the coach at Youngstown State.
Bingaya, who is represented by Court Side, an agency based in The Netherlands, said he and his agent discussed playing in France, Italy and Israel before settling on playing in the Euromillions League, the top league in Belgium.
Hubo Limburg United had six Americans on its roster last season.
"Starting my (professional) career, I thought everything seemed right and that this would be a comfortable fit, with most everyone speaking English," said Bingaya, who graduated from Fairmont State with a degree in political science. "I have heard good things about the team and the league from (former Buckeye Valley standout Scott Thomas)."
Thomas, a 2008 Buckeye Valley graduate, was a three-time all-Mid-American Conference player at Bowling Green before playing in Belgium, including a season with Hubo Limburg United.
Bingaya's route to the pros wasn't nearly as direct. After suffering a torn posterior cruciate ligament and dislocated kneecap playing football for the Pacers in 2011, he did not play basketball as a senior.
"He really had opened some eyes his junior season, but he needed to get his grades up," Blackburn said. "(College coaches) were very interested, but were cautious because of his grades and then when he had to sit out his senior year, most of the big-time looks were washed away."
Bingaya, a 6-foot-4 forward, ultimately ended up at the University of Southern Mississippi. After sitting out his first year, he averaged 5.9 points and 3.7 rebounds as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14 and was the Golden Eagles' second-leading scorer as a redshirt sophomore in 2014-15, averaging 13.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. But the coach who recruited him, Donnie Tyndall, left after that season to become coach at Tennessee.
"I didn't want to sit out another year and one of my AAU teammates suggested Fairmont State," Bingaya said. "I could've gone to some Division I school, but I just didn't want to (sit out) another year (for transferring)."
Bingaya averaged 18.2 points, 6.7 rebounds as a junior at Fairmont State and 19 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals as a senior when he was named a first-team All-American and Player of the Year in both the Mountain East Conference and Atlantic Region. The Falcons finished 34-3 after losing to Northwest Missouri State 71-61 in the national championship game March 25 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
As good as his numbers were at Fairmont State, Bingaya realizes what it's going to take to continue his development.
"I shot pretty well for a No. 4 man, but I'm a natural off-guard or wing at my height," said Bingaya, who shot 58.8 percent last season, including 34.5 percent (19-for-55) from 3-point range. "I'm trying to become a more consistent shooter and I've got to get over that mental barrier.
"I'd like to be an off-guard who occasionally runs the point to impact the game and get the ball to my teammates in good shooting position. I know I can score the ball and I rebound as an athletic guard, but I need to shoot better and facilitate better."
Blackburn expects Bingaya to continue to improve his shooting and ball distribution.
"I wouldn't put that past him," Blackburn said. "He wants to work his way into the Euroleague, which is the second-best league in the world behind the NBA. He has average size but no other limitations. He still has an uncanny knack of getting to the basket and can drive and kick. But he does need to hit the 3-pointer and deliver the ball on time to his teammates.
"I am so proud of him and the example of resiliency he is to all of those who know anything about him. What he has overcome is incredible."
Bingaya, who worked with third-graders during a recent youth basketball camp conducted by the Pacers, said he is grateful to have Blackburn and the Delaware community as supporters.
"(Blackburn) has been like a second dad to me," Bingaya said. "He has helped anytime I needed it. He drove me and my girlfriend 13 hours to Southern Mississippi. ... My dad is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and my mom is from Rwanda, so they really didn't know anything about basketball, or sports in general, when I was growing up in Delaware.
"But I'm a believer in doing your best no matter where you are in life. You take what is given and create a path to where you want to go. That's what I was trying to teach those third-graders. Have confidence and never give up. You can make mistakes, but you can't let mistakes change your path to your goal."