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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

This American's Basketball Career in Europe

So, I've lived in Germany, Belgium, Spain, and have visited many of the countries in Europe. But how did I come to live in Europe? Basketball. 

For those too lazy or uninterested to read the entire post, here is an infographic that sums it all up:




Preface

I was living in Kansas and playing pickup with some guys, when one of them asked me to try out with them for a local Division 1, mid-major, college team. After speaking with the coach, he recommended that since I already finished my university studies, that I should go directly to Europe with my talent. Even though I did not basketball in college*, I had the talent to be successful. This was interesting, because I was already planning to move to Germany in two months, and from there, to go try out for some teams in France. I chose France because I spoke the language, and wanted to improve, and it seemed it would be easier to live in a country where one can communicate.

*Playing in college is one of the most important "qualifications" that determines whether or not you get to tryout and play with teams.


Germany

When I moved to Germany with my parents in 2008, I quickly started playing pickup and was fast-tracked to summer tournaments and team tryouts. I was hungry and I played like it. I wanted to play at the highest level possible, but I had no idea what I was doing and I was simply taking the advice of those around me. I was told to play one season at any level, so coaches and scouts could see me, and then the following season, I would get offers at higher levels. I ended up playing for a team in the 3rd division, where the players all spoke English and were very nice guys, and with the exception of a few players, we were all under 30. We had an American coach, which I thought was going to be in my best interest - oh how wrong I was.

Playing with the U.S. Army team in Stuttgart
Playing with the U.S. Army team in Stuttgart
After a few games, the coach started having problems with the team management and began to take it out on me for some reason. After an amazing game where I scored 29 points and I ended up in the newspaper, the next game I only played 4 minutes. I spoke to the coach about this and he blamed it on the management, saying that some players weren't playing enough. So, I asked management, and they said, some players weren't playing enough, but that they never said to bench me and they wanted me to play more as well. 

I stuck it out for a few more games and still received second-hand treatment and I decided I would try my luck with another team. Later, I found out that one of the players was actually the team manager as well, and he begged me to come back before they fired the coach, to which I said no, but then after they fired the coach, the player-signing deadline had passed and I could not return until the following season.


The highlight film I used to solicit teams after my first (half) season playing:



The following two seasons I played for the U.S. Army basketball team in Stuttgart, and we traveled around Europe playing American and European teams. I tried out for a few more teams in Germany, including a Pro-A (second highest league in Germany), but did not find any teams that I wanted to play for, that also wanted me to play for them. 


France

After my first season in Germany, I was still fired up about playing professional basketball in Europe. I solicited over 50 agents and found one based in southern France that I would try to work with. I flew out to France for two and half weeks of nothing but basketball. 
The eight foreigners causing ruckus in southern France
The eight foreigners causing ruckus in southern France

We were five American pro-players, three British junior players, and a Serbian coach, all working with a British agent, to find jobs in France. Myself and two other Americans had played one season in Europe. The two other Americans had both recently graduated from college, where they played for their respective schools. The three British players were recent high school graduates looking to start their basketball careers in France. The other seven players had already played a few games together before I arrived, but the Serbian coach arrived at the same time as me. He was all about work ethic and training, yet he let us play to our strengths, which is why we did so well.

Before my first game, I told one of the junior players that I was going to dunk on the biggest player on the other team, and that's how I planned to turn heads and get signed. A point guard who can attack the basket like that is sure to get some attention. True to my word, within the first minute of my first game, I stole the ball and dunked on the other team's (third) largest player, who was considerably taller than me. That play set the tone for me for all six games that I played, and I never had a bad game. I wanted a contract.

In my last game, our shooting guard lost his mind and dropped 50+ on the team we were playing, and though he was the star of the show, I still had a great game and 20+ assists. 

I left France without a contract with a team, with no game tapes, and without a contract with the agent. After me, all the other players also left France without contracts.


Belgium

My parents came to watch me play in Belgium
My parents came to watch me play in Belgium
After receiving no help from agents, I decided I would try to use my French to be my own agent, but this time in Belgium. I found a local team in the 2nd division and asked if I could train with them. The coach was really generous and let me practice with his team for a month. Due to insurance and administrative issues, I was not allowed to play in any games, including exhibition matches, so the team helped me find another team in the 3rd division, about 40 minutes outside of Brussels, in Nivelles. 

My french was still coming along, and it was really put to the test with this team because there were only two players who spoke any English, and none of the coaches or management spoke any. I signed a contract with them and played the entire season. I enjoyed playing with them, but I wanted and needed a higher level, not just because the pay is better, but because I play better at higher levels, and worse at lower levels. It was an excellent experience for me, but I parted with the team at the end of the season to try my luck in the higher leagues.

The highlight film I used to solicit teams after my first season in Belgium:



All summer I was driving around Belgium (it's not that big, but it was still tiring) going to tryouts and playing in summer games in front of coaches. I played in a summer tournament in Leuven and ended up pulling a muscle in my back and slipping a disc. I couldn't play basketball again until January.


In January, I spoke with the first coach I met in Brussels, and he said I could come train with his team again if I wanted to get back in shape. I began training again and once I regained my strength, the junior team wanted me to play with them. It was in the 4th division and I really didn't want to, but I needed to get back into shape, so I said yes. I was also allowed to play with the 2nd division team, if they were not playing a French team (Belgian politics), so I did play a few games in the 2nd division as well.

Again, all summer, I went around Belgium trying out for teams, soliciting agents, and I even went into the Netherlands and Germany looking for teams. No luck. So, I decided to play in the local U.S. Army league to stay in shape. Obviously, I was a ringer and we won the entire league and I garnered several awards. We even had the opportunity to play against the UK's Royal Air Force Basketball team. 


Scoring champion of the league
Scoring champion of the league

The following year, I had planned to not play and start doing other things with my time, but I got a phone call from a 3rd division team who badly needed a point guard and was willing to let me run the team the way I wanted. So, I signed with this team and the first two games were a bit rough, as I was getting back into shape, and I had just started my ketogenic diet experiment

Games three and four, I found my groove, helped the team get its first two wins of the season, and thought that this season was going to be my great comeback. Again, I was wrong. The coach began trying to force my game instead of letting me get into my groove, and I began to play worse. I stuck it out for the entire season, but there were several times when I was just confused as to what I was supposed to be contributing to the team. I also never received my last paycheck.


The boy can shoot
The boy can shoot

RPC Schaerbeek 2013-2014
I did this while eating a high-fat diet
It was at this time that I decided I was done with pursuing my basketball career and I was ready to try something new. Anything. Like, move to Spain and learn Spanish. I quit my job at NATO, I found a family to au pair for, and I moved to Spain at the end of 2014.


Spain

It just so happens that the family I began to au pair for had two teenagers who loved basketball. I was unintentionally thrust back into the world of hoops. I played with the kids and started going to their practices, when I was offered a chance to practice with the school's men's team, who played in one of the lower divisions. I agreed to practice, just because I enjoyed playing and I had to pick up the son of the family, who had practice around the same time. I was not allowed to play with this team because of some FIBA rule that makes it quite expensive for American/foreign players to play, even in the non-professional leagues. So, I realized again that I was done with basketball.

A few months later, I get a phone call from the 2nd division team in Pamplona, and the dad of my au pair family helped arrange a practice with the team. I decided to go and give it yet another, one more, last shot. I practiced with the team for about three months and felt I could definitely play at this level. But, the same problem existed: American players are expensive (even more so at the pro level) and the team couldn't afford to hire me.

It was around this time that my time as an au pair was coming to an end, and therefore my visa, and I needed to find employment if I wanted to stay in Spain. I tried out for the 3rd division team in Pamplona and they tried to work with me, but there was no way for them to assist me with a work visa or a contract. Thus, the current end to this American's basketball career. Thankfully, I found a job as an English teacher and I obtained a visa to stay in Spain another year. 

Epilogue

Now, am I still playing basketball? No. I haven't touched a basketball in about six months. Do I plan to return to the game? Absolutely. But, after years of injuries and poor mechanics, I decided I wanted to get my mobility and mechanics in order before I started playing again. I will likely start playing again in the summer, maybe in a summer league here in Spain.

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