Sean Merriman, web editor, October 2, 2015

Robbie Hummel has experienced life in the NBA, while Trevor Mbakwe and Brian Randle have not. Getting to that level, or back there in Hummel's case, remains the ultimate goal for all three of these former Big Ten basketball stars. But for now, they are all doing the next best thing.

After spending the past two seasons in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Hummel, a former Purdue standout, is currently playing in Italy for Armani Milano. He returned to the states this week as Milano took on Maccabi Tel Aviv Thursday night at the United Center. The game was part of a preseason United States Tour, which will also feature another game between the two squads on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Randle, who played at Illinois from 2003-2008, and Mbakwe, who played at Minnesota from 2010-2013, both play for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Thursday's game was a homecoming for all three players, who all grew up within 400 miles of the Windy City. It also served as a chance to play against some familiar faces.

"Going against Robbie, playing with Brian, it's great," Mbakwe said. "I'm sure we all had some family here, and we made some history too."

The game marked the first-ever matchup between two Euroleague teams played in the United States. It is part of an ongoing development in the ever-growing popularity of Euroleague basketball in America.

While Mbakwe and Randle both play on the same team, their paths to Maccabi Tel Aviv could not be more different.

Since graduating from Illinois seven years ago, Randle has spent all but two months of his career playing overseas in Israel. He played on four different Israeli teams from 2008-2014, which required patience, as well as a major lifestyle change.

"I remember when I first moved out there, I was basically living in a glorified shed," Randle said. "I was stuffing holes in my apartment with plastic bags and there were spiders and bugs everywhere you looked.

"It's those experiences that help you appreciate things in life and where I am today."

Randle admits he considered leaving throughout his first four years in Israel as the adjustment was extremely challenging at times. But then something changed; a major life event occurred that allowed the former Illinois star to put everything into perspective.

Randle and his wife welcomed their first child into the world — Noah, who is now three years old.

"After that, I became content, and everything just seemed to fall into place," Randle said. "Before that, I would worry too much. If we lost a game and I didn't play well, I felt like it was the end of the world and I would just go into a funk for days.

"Now, I'm happy. I'm enjoying life and have learned not to take everything so seriously. Some people may think that's a carefree attitude, but playing basketball is a game. It is meant to be fun."

While Randle spent six years playing in Israel before given the chance to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Mbakwe took a completely different journey.

After going undrafted in 2013, Mbakwe signed his first professional contract with the Italian team Virtus Roma. He spent a year in Italy before moving to Germany and signing with Brose Baskets, where he led his club to a German League title.

That led him to Israel, and according to the 6-8, 240 pound forward, "when Maccabi comes calling, you can't say no."

While the NBA remains the dream stop for Randle and Mbakwe, both seem to be enjoying their time in Israel.

"Great city, great food, what's not to love," Mbakwe said. "Everyone speaks English as well, which makes it easy."

There is plenty of English spoken in Milan as well, which is where Hummel now calls home for the first time. He did play his first year out of college in Galicia, Spain before making his dream come true in the NBA. But when the Timberwolves didn't offer the former Purdue star a contract, he joined the Italian club owned by well-known fashion designer Georgio Armani.

"It's great to be able to see different parts of the country and get to spend some time in the fashion capitol of the world," Hummel said. "But when you grow up watching the NBA and then get a chance to experience it, yeah, you want to be there."

Basketball has taken all three of these former Big Ten stars across the globe. But on Thursday, in a memorable and historic game, the game they love brought them all close to home.