Tom Meschery (r) played alongside legends including Dave Bing (center) and Wilt Chamberlain during his 11 seasons in the NBA. (AP)

All over the country this time of year, commencement speakers are trying to figure out how to advise and entertain members of the Classes of 2012. Very few of them played 11 seasons in the NBA, but Tom Meschery — who’ll be the graduation speaker at St. Mary’s College in California on May 19 — can claim that distinction, among others.

Meschery is both the first NBA player born in China, and also claims he’s the first Russian player. His parents were Russians loyal to the czar, but fled to China during the Russian Revolution. At the outbreak of World War II, while fleeing from Manchuria to the United States, Meschery, his mother and sister were captured by the Japanese and held in a concentration camp until the war ended.

Meschery graduated from St. Mary’s in 1961 and went on to play with the Philadelphia / San Francisco Warriors and the Seattle Supersonics from 1961-71. Despite being named St. Mary’s “Basketball Player of the Century,” Meschery said he’s more nervous about giving the commencement address than he ever was in the NBA.

“At my core, I am an athlete,” Meschery said. “It has suffused my life, it has made my life enjoyable. I’ve actually learned a great deal from being an athlete and living as an athlete. So I’m going to start off talking about athletics and some of the things you can learn from athletics, but I’m going to segue into the other two parts of my life that have very important to me, and that is teaching.. and of course, poetry, which has has made my life livable, I think.”

For 25 years, Meschery taught English at Reno High School. He recently published his third book of poetry, Some Men.  His first, Over the Rim, came out a year before he retired from the NBA.