Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
June 22, 2017
He had never stamped his passport to a foreign country, but Pierce Cumpstone, a 2012 Kenston High School graduate, wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to play some European pro ball in Malta upon graduating from college last spring.
The 6-foot-7 cager averaged 14.9 points and 9.7 rebounds a game to help lead the Stonehill College Skyhawks, out of Easton, Mass., just south of Boston, to an Elite Eight appearance in Frisco, Texas, during the Division II NCAA tournament his senior season.
Stonehill capitalized on a pair of overtime victories during that 2016 tournament run, including a 75-74 battle against Southern New Hampshire University in the East Region semifinals, when Cumpstone notched his 13th double-double of the year and dropped five of the Skyhawks’ 10 points in OT.
“That was the season I envisioned when I committed there, especially because my senior year in high school they made it to the Final Four,” he said. “And, so, coming in my freshman year at Stonehill, we were nationally ranked in the preseason and all excited to get back to that stage, but my freshman year was anything but successful.”
The Skyhawks posted losing records during Cumpstone’s first two seasons at Stonehill, before they returned to the NCAA tournament scene with a first-round exit during his junior campaign in 2015.
His senior year, Cumpstone was one of four regular starters at Stonehill to average double-figure scoring, and he did so by canning 44.9 percent of his shots from downtown – splashing 62 treys in 32 games. He finished his collegiate career with 996 points, 605 boards, 126 blocks and 72 steals.
“My stats were pretty good, but they weren’t anything outstanding,” Cumpstone said. “But I think what helped me the most is how tall I am, being a 6-foot-7 guard. That kind of opens the door to being able to play most positions on the basketball court. I think that’s what really allowed me to be marketed as a player who could make it overseas.”
Cumpstone was also able to spread the floor during his high school days with the Bombers, when he knocked down a program-standard 69 of 138 threes, or 50 percent, his junior season under former Kenston head coach Josh Jakacki in 2011.
Cumpstone missed some action with a broken finger his senior year, in 2012, but was overwhelmingly an integral part of the Bombers’ 20-2 campaign – the winningest season in Kenston history.
And while 3-point shooters aren’t always known for their ability to take over games – but don’t tell that to a certain unanimous MVP over in Golden State – Cumpstone’s marketability caught the eyes of pro agents by the end of his collegiate career.
“Because I was super new to this whole thing, I didn’t even know how to choose the right agent,” Cumpstone said. “And, so, it was kind of just a process of elimination, asking everyone questions, and whoever I was most comfortable with I went with. Middle of June last summer, I picked an agent to sign with, and then it was just in that agent’s hands to find a team.”
Cumpstone inked a one-year deal with Rui Nunes, a Federation of International Basketball Associations certified agent, who leads a team at Coast to Coast, the first full-time basketball agency in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
Through Nunes, Cumpstone shipped out for an eight-month professional season, from September 2016 to May 2017, to play in the six-team Bank of Valletta Powerade League in the Republic of Malta, a densely populated island country of less than 500,000 people – located about 50 miles from Sicily in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
Cumpstone made his journey from Cleveland, to Washington D.C., to Frankfurt, Germany, before landing in Malta and meeting up with his new team, Bupa Luxol, and getting situated in his home away from home.
“Especially being my first time leaving the country, I didn’t really know what to expect, both with lifestyle and the basketball there,” he said. “But I went in with an open mind, just kind of ready for anything. I didn’t want to expect anything too high and have it not meet my expectations. But everything there was great. It was an unbelievable experience.”
Fortunate for Cumpstone, there wasn’t much of a language barrier. The majority of people in Malta speak English, Italian and Maltese, he said.
Four days after he arrived, however, league action started, and the 6-foot-7 product from Bainbridge Township was thrown into the hot seat of being his team’s go-to scorer.
With soccer regarded as the No. 1 sport in Malta, foreign basketball players are highly sought after in the BOV Powerade League, but each team is limited to one such player, Cumpstone said.
“That’s why the coach brought me there. He expected me to be averaging 20 to 30 points per game and playing all 40 minutes and kind of doing everything I could on the court to help us win,” Cumpstone said. “And so, yeah, I was given a big role to fill when I first got there. It took a little getting used to, because in college I wasn’t really our team’s main go-to scorer or defender or anything of that sorts.”
Three Americans, a Canadian, an Italian and a Spaniard made up the “import players” of the league, which featured good talent across the board, with plenty of guys who had the potential to play ball at Division I colleges in the United States, but nothing off-the-charts spectacular, Cumpstone said.
More or less, Cumpstone was a franchise player, drawing other teams’ primary defenders and also having to defend his opponents’ top scorers.
“I think with that responsibility comes a whole new level of confidence on the basketball court, because, if you’re not very confident when you have the basketball, you’re not going to be able to do much – you’re doubting yourself, and you pass the ball,” Cumpstone said. “And, so, when you’re relied on to score and produce, you have to have a certain level of self-confidence that you can be that player. That’s a big factor that came into my game this past year.”
Under his contract, Cumpstone also played in a 23-and-under league, leading his team to a title with a 43-point effort in the championship game.
But his main competition came in the BOV Powerade League, where Bupa Luxol went 7-3 in regular-season games – playing each opponent twice – and did not win one of the five tournament cups.
Adding a Maltese 7-footer to its squad midway through the season, after the giant returned to his homeland from a short stint playing in a Canadian league, Bupa Luxol was dominant in the playoffs.
“He was a huge key in helping us win,” said Cumpstone, who is no stranger when it comes to playing alongside that kind of size. Fellow 2012 Kenston graduate Eric Truog, at 6-foot-10, was the centerpiece of Kenston’s league dominance as a three-time Chagrin Valley Conference MVP.
“Yeah, it was kind of like that,” Cumpstone said. “He was just someone physically bigger and more dominant than other people on the court.”
With the top four teams advancing to the playoffs, Bupa Luxol won both of its best-of-five series, 3-0, to capture the championship trophy.
“That was exciting. There was definitely an added bonus with that,” Cumpstone said. “Overall, I think I got lucky where I ended up and the experience I had, because, obviously, not everyone has an opportunity that works out like it did for me.
“I think the opportunity in Malta will lead me to something bigger. I think I had a good enough season in winning the league that that definitely helps out when you have a basketball resume like that.”
While weekend trips to the world-renowned beaches of Malta, not to mention a winter holiday getaway to meet some family in Denmark, were some valid perks in his first taste of pro ball, Cumpstone is hoping to further his basketball career to the next step, wherever that may take him.
Back home this summer, he plans to work on his game every day with former Kenston coaches Jakacki and Bob Patton, whom he also developed his game with during his collegiate career, he said.
“I’m super proud of him,” Jakacki said Cumpstone. “He’s a great kid who’s earned everything. He works his tail off. He’s a kid who is in a relentless pursuit of the next level of basketball and not afraid of hard work. He just loves the game of basketball and doesn’t shy away from putting in that sweat equity that a lot of people are afraid of.”
Academically, Cumpstone majored in environmental studies and earned first-team academic all-district honors from the College Sports Information Directors of America, as well as Northeast-10 Conference Commissioner’s honor roll and the Division II Academic Achievement Award, among other scholarly accolades.
But right now his first passion is his love for the game.
“I mean, my family has been super supportive,” Cumpstone said. “I think they have confidence in me, and they always tell me to pursue this great opportunity that I have to continue playing basketball professionally. So, yeah, I’m going to do that as long as possible.
“Once that stops, then I have the rest of my life to try and find another job to do, because this is the one and only chance that I have to do this. I think it’d be something that I’d regret for a very long time if I didn’t pursue it.”
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