INDIANAPOLIS — There’s been a different dream at every corner and Michael Ertel has worked hard to make sure each one comes true.
After being an all-star basketball player at Mt. Vernon High School, Ertel lived his dream of playing NCAA Division I basketball.
After transferring from the University of Louisiana-Monroe — where he was the SunBelt Conference Rookie of the Year — to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, he lived his dream of playing in the NCAA tournament.
The next dream was to play professional basketball.
It’s coming true, too.
Ertel has signed to play with Finland’s Lahti Basketball. The Finnish club is in the Korisliiga, the highest tier league in Finland.
“I’ve worked all my life on basketball,” Ertel said. “I thought I’d try to reap the rewards of that a little more and go play pro. I’m not going to lie. I don’t want to start the real world just yet. I still want to play basketball and continue as long as I can. I love playing. If I can play for a little money, I think that would be awesome.”
Ertel is not finished dreaming. He has more plans. He hopes his rookie season as a pro is the first of many.
That’s the next dream.
“The dreams kind of change,” Ertel said. “When I was in high school the dream was to play Division I at the best school I can. After I was at Monroe and I’m transferring, I had a different perspective on things. My dreams kind of changed. It wasn’t necessarily about playing at the highest level, I wanted to go somewhere I could win and go to the tournament.”
“Then, the dream was to put myself in a place where I can play professionally, so that’s what I’m doing. Now the dream is to build my career up so I can play well enough so I can make a living playing basketball. It is a dream. It’s kind of cool. Hopefully all the work I have put in will continue in to me making a living doing this.”
Ertel was an Indiana All-Star his senior season at Mt. Vernon (2017). He would have liked to have stayed a little closer to home to play collegiately, but he didn’t have any offers.
Louisiana-Monroe was the only school that wanted him. Ertel played three seasons at ULM before using his grad-school year to transfer to UAB.
The Blazers had hired Ryan Cross as an assistant coach. He was an assistant at ULM and had offered Ertel out of high school. It made UAB a perfect fit.
With the NCAA granting student-athletes an extra year due to COVID-19, Ertel was able to play two seasons with the Blazers. This past March, they won the Conference USA postseason tournament and earned a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In the CUSA semifinals against Middle Tennessee State, the Blazers came back after being down six points with just 30 seconds to go. They beat Louisiana Tech in the conference championship game.
Against MTSU, Ertel had a season-high 26 points in the 102-98 triple-overtime victory. He played more minutes (54) than anyone on either team.
Ertel made the All-CUSA tournament team and finished his college career with over 2,000 points.
The NCAA tournament, though UAB suffered a first-round loss to Houston, was a great experience, Ertel said.
It included a chance to meet Indiana Pacers Hall of Famer Reggie Miller.
“Playing in March Madness was awesome. I met Reggie Miller (who was part of the broadcasting team for UAB’s NCAA tournament game). The arena (in Pittsburgh) was packed. We got a tough draw. I thought Houston was better than a No. 5 seed, but it was super cool to have that opportunity.”
The next step is a move to Finland to start his professional career.
Ertel will leave in August and start practicing with his new team on Sept. 1.
He said he doesn’t speak any Finnish and is thankful his coach and others involved in the basketball organization are fluent in English. He has been told that many people in Finland speak both Finnish and English.
He said, for now, he’ll bank on getting by with English.
His new team is banking on what they’ve seen Ertel do during his collegiate career.
“(The Finnish club) said they wanted me and said they liked my game,” Ertel said. “My agent said it would be a good opportunity as my first job and good starting point for me to grow my career. If I do well in this league, I can move up and try to make other opportunities to build my career.”