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Illia Antonenko invites teammate Jerrell Jones to his hometown for the experience of a lifetime

IMG Academy
Teammates Illia Antonenko and Jerrell Jones

This holiday season Jerrell Jones, IMG Academy Junior Varsity guard, stepped out of his comfort zone and visited his Russian teammate Illia Antonenko.  Jerrell traveled thousands of miles on a 21 hour trip with Illia to his home of Cherkasy, Ukraine for a 2 and a half week stay over the holidays. Illia’s hometown of Cherkasy is located about 200 miles away from the capital of Ukraine.

When Jerrell arrived he faced immediate culture shock. In Illia’s family every day there is fresh food being prepared for dinner. Food that was very different than what Jerrell was used to. It took Jerrell some time to adjust to their eating habits and he even became sick after eating some meals because he simply was not used to it. Unfortunately, there weren’t many alternatives. Fast food isn’t nearly as prevalent in Cherkasy as it is in the U.S. In fact, there is only one McDonalds in the entire city. Therefore, Jerrell kept trying new things to see what Ukrainian food he liked best. It took Jerrell some time to get used to the food, but by the end of the trip he was asking for seconds. 

In addition, the two still played a lot of basketball. Jerrell was able to meet with many of Illia’s friends and learn how they play basketball in the Ukraine. They played with the city’s professional team. Many of them spoke English so they were able to explain the different rules and similarities of American basketball, and basketball in the Ukraine. Illia would have the unique opportunity of playing for the professional team if he stayed in the country but he’d rather be at IMG Academy. When asked about this he stated, “There’s no point of me playing for the Ukrainian team, I would rather finish college and maybe go pro over here”

During their time in the Ukraine Illia and Jerrell didn’t just play basketball, they also ventured out to do many new things. One experience that stood out for Jarrell was their trip to the Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Illia exposed Jerrell to immense churches with golden domes that he had never seen before, as well as other amazing scenery around the capital. After that, the two visited several outlets including Niketown and Addidas. Jerrell was very surprised to find out that there were no “fancy shoes” or “cool socks”. He stated, “It’s a different culture over there, they don’t care about shoes or socks. They cherish the important stuff, the little things.”

Not only were the stores different but holidays are celebrated differently in the Ukraine. Christmas was not on December 25th like most Americans are used to; it is celebrated on January 7th, after the New Year. On Christmas, Illia’s family sits down for a large dinner in which Jerrell was able to join this year. No presents were given out for Christmas like Jerrell is used to. In fact, the presents were handed out when celebrating the New Year.

This very special 2-week experience humbled Jerrell and taught him many new things. Illia was happy to have him, and was a great host. The two had such a great time, and Jerrell expressed that he would be happy to come back!