It wasn't the jump-start Jakub Dombek envisioned when he traveled half the world to try his hand at major college basketball in the United States.
Dombek had begun learning English back home in the Czech Republic a few years earlier, but practicing in a classroom proved a world of difference from needing a basic mastery of the language to deal with day-to-day life.
On top of that, while Dombek was comfortable with taking a redshirt season in his first year with coach Tad Boyle's Colorado men's basketball program, a young player tasked with using the year on the sideline to add bulk to his lanky frame was almost immediately waylaid by a strength-sapping bout of mono.
The inevitable homesickness for the 6-foot-11 Dombek proved more challenging than expected. Months later, however, the raw-but-talented forward is starting to feel a little more settled at his new home.
"At the beginning it was hard. Especially because I couldn't really speak English when I got here," Dombek said. "But I'm so happy here. Everybody has been really nice to me on the team. Everybody is helping me as much as they can. I feel like I'm getting better at school because my language is getting better. A lot of times the guys will make fun of me because of my language, but it's getting better.
"At the basketball, I feel like I'm getting better, but I'm still far from where I want to be. Especially after the mono."
Dombek arrived in Boulder at a lean 190 pounds and says he dropped to 184 while battling mono. After slowly getting up to practice speed with the Buffs, he often makes plays going to the basket — either by finishing or setting up a teammate — more comparable to a big guard or small forward than a player an inch shy of seven feet.
"Jakub has some flashes of brilliance. The learning curve I think is still pretty steep for him," Boyle said. "He's coming along. He makes some plays offensively at practice where you're shaking your head like, 'Wow.' He's just consistently not where he needs to be yet. And physically it's going to take some time for him."
During the preseason, Boyle left the option open to possibly take back that redshirt as the season progressed, either due to an injury along the frontcourt or by Dombek pressing the issue through his development. While the injury situation will remain an x-factor, Boyle's growing confidence in third-year sophomore Alex Strating as the Buffs' fourth forward available in a pinch means Dombek's redshirt status isn't likely to change.
"I have a really good feel for Alex Strating," Boyle said. "You look at the minutes he gave us at New Mexico, he's that dependable fourth post guy. If we didn't have Alex, obviously Jakub would not be redshirting. The fact you have a guy like Alex on the roster who's dependable, has the trust of his coaches, has the trust of his teammates, it allows us to be in the position to redshirt Jakub."