From war-torn Europe to European basketball star: ASU Online student hustles on the court and in the classroom

If life’s challenges help a person grow, it’s no wonder that Robert Rothbart stood a literal 6 feet, 10 inches tall by the time he entered his freshman year of high school.

Genetics may have played the more likely role in his eventual 7-foot-1 stature, but Robert’s experiences as a boy in war-torn Yugoslavia taught him from a young age the importance of keeping your head up.

“At the age of 6, I was living in the middle of the most dangerous fighting zone in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia,” he says. “My family went from being very successful to living in our apartment without water, food, and electricity.”

Robert escaped the war with his mother and brother, traveling on foot with the clothes on their backs to Israel. The family lived there for two years before moving to the United States, where they relocated yet again to the San Francisco Bay Area.

“I constantly had the ground shaken under me,” he remembers. “I started to ask myself who am I, what am I? Then I turned to basketball.”

By junior year of high school, Robert had full scholarship offers from multiple colleges. Ultimately, he chose Indiana University, hoping to play as a Hoosier under then-coach Mike Davis. At the same time, he was also harboring interest from the NBA.

Although he was a decent student, Robert decided to try going pro, turning down IU to put his name in the NBA draft. At the last minute, however, he pulled his name out and moved back across the ocean to play professional ball in Paris. He has remained in Europe ever since and now, 14 years later, has played for teams in countries that include Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Israel, and Slovenia.

In the hundreds of interviews he has done since turning pro overseas, there is one question that has stuck out most.

“They would always ask if I regretted not going to college, since it didn’t end up working out the way I wanted to with the NBA,” he says. “I don’t regret it because I’ve had a nice career and enjoyed myself. But I promised myself when I was 18 that I would go back and get a college degree when I could pay for it with the money I had earned from basketball.”

Fulfilling a promise

Ten years into his basketball career, Robert was in a car while back home visiting his parents when he heard a radio commercial for ASU Online.

“For 10 years, college had been in the back of my mind, but I didn’t go for it because I thought if I did online school while doing basketball, I wouldn’t be able to perform the way that I should,” Robert explains. “I was getting paid a lot, and thought I should only be focused on what I was getting paid to do.”

It was a conversation with his dad that would ultimately influence his decision to apply.

“He said if you push yourself to the limit, you’ll be surprised by what you find out,” he says.

A couple of weeks before the new semester started, Robert had been accepted into ASU’s program to study business with a concentration in global leadership. At the same time, he was preparing to travel with his wife and two children back to Israel for another season of basketball, already secure in his roles as full-time player, husband and father.

“I vowed not to let school take away from life with my family,” he says. “I studied when the kids went to sleep, staying up until 3 in the morning many times that first year.”

Although the basketball season started out shaky when he tore his calf muscle, an injury he says was caused by not getting enough sleep, Robert learned how to balance himself, and would ultimately go on to have the best season of his career.

“I was the most valuable center of the league and the most valuable player of the all-star game that year,” he says. “I also got an award at the end of the year, the Israeli Basketball Super League Most Improved Player, for making the biggest jump from one year to the next.”

Robert would go on to finish his degree in two years and three months, taking extra courses and at times overloading his schedule with as many as seven classes per semester.

“I really enjoyed taking math classes again,” he says, when asked what he liked most about the program. “The business aspect of the school with regard to marketing, global supply chains and dealing with other people … the online business school is one of the most highly ranked in the country, which speaks for itself. I speak five languages and have lived in nine different countries and 15 cities. I’ve had a lot of multicultural experiences, and enjoyed taking courses dealing with international workers. Now I understand life in a whole different way. You go through life consuming media, and this program gives you so much more. I talk to people here in Israel about my future after basketball. ASU has put me 10 steps above.”

Robert graduated summa cum laude in 2016, delivering on his promise to himself of earning a degree paid for with his own money.

“Because I paid with my hard-earned money, I took as much as I could. It felt great to go back and do what I said I would to provide an example for my kids. My wife has a master’s degree, and it definitely says something about a person’s ability to finish something.”

He credits his ASU Success Coach for getting him on the right track from the beginning.

“I was buying my first home, getting ready to fly back to Israel and in such a rush. But we did set up a meeting, and soon began meeting every week after that. He added so much value, helping me prepare and set goals for life after my studies and basketball career.”

His ASU advisors, too, served as a secret to his success.

“I told them I need to finish as quickly as possible,” he says. “They never met me in person, but were so helpful and ready to give me the support I needed to make it happen. ASU is amazing. I would tear up my degree just to do it again!”

Life after basketball

While Robert still enjoys playing the game that changed his life, he knows there will come a time where his professional career is off the court. Already he mentors, coaches and speaks about his life story, and he hopes to expand on that role in the future.

“I want to motivate people to go and get their degrees,” he says. “It has opened up everything for me, and I want others to understand it’s really doable. People who want to make a change in their life and add value to themselves can make it in any condition, no matter who they are or where they came from. The only quality you need is wanting it for yourself. Everything else will fall into place.”

And now when he does an interview, he adds that in addition to having no regrets about his career choices, he has earned his degree … and so much more.

Learn more about ASU Online’s Bachelor of Arts in Business (Global Leadership) degree.

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