Diary of an Overseas Baller
What is the skill level of basketball players and games overseas?
It varies. This is why I’m excited to be playing in the Euroleague this year. That is where the best teams play and the opportunity to play in the Euroleague is a big reason why I chose to play in Slovakia for the Good Angels Kosice. In Slovakia the competition level is still developing so some teams/players are at a higher level than others. I have four Americans on my team, including Natasha Lacey of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
Which countries have the best competition?
Russia is always talked about at the top. Turkey is up and coming. Italy has a good league as well. China and Korea are good, too.
Is the nature of the game more physical or finesse overseas?
The Euroleague is very physical. You need to have a well-rounded game to be successful. I’m personally working on consistently going to the basket. The overseas game is extremely fast paced.
How do the league divisions work?
Well, there are two leagues in Europe. There is the FIBA Cup, which some would say is a slight step below the competition level of the Euroleague. The FIBA Cup is on its way up. The Euroleague has a lot of the WNBA’s biggest stars like Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. There is usually more money to be made on Euroleague teams but that is not always the case.
Are there rules for number of local and foreigners on each team?
It varies. For my team there aren’t any strict rules. We have three Slovakian players, as well as Serbian, Hungarian, and American players. I know in Israel and many other leagues you can’t have more than three Americans on the court at one time.
How are players compensated?
You play for six to seven months overseas, however some big-name players can arrive later in the season and stay for less time. Many of the teams are privately owned or owned by sponsors or organizations. Traditionally post players get paid more money, as well as WNBA players overall. Even if you don’t play much in the WNBA, having that on your resume can boost the amount of money you demand. It is a bonus if you are a player with dual citizenship, too. By being able to claim two nationalities you can join a team and not be counted as an American player. That is a big benefit for the team and will make you a more valuable player for leagues where there is a limit on how many American players can be on the court at one time. In addition to your salary you make you are often given a car, all of your meals, an apartment and healthcare. So everything you need is taken care of. We are definitely very fortunate. It is a blessing to see the world, play ball and save your earnings.
What is the fan support like overseas and specifically in Slovakia? Do you get big crowds?
The crowds are very good! People are into the team and the games. Fans come out and pack the gym. The gym is loud! Fans are fanatics overseas; they yell, scream, sing, beat drums, and wave flags. For them the game is about national pride. It is all very exciting!
How big of a factor are language barriers and cultural differences?
It’s not that bad. Sometimes a coach doesn’t speak English, but in those cases, often an assistant coach or player can translate for you. In the majority of situations, most coaches can speak some kind of broken English. I’ve also picked up some of the languages of the countries I’ve played in. I can speak a little Hebrew. I can understand it better than I speak it. But the language and cultural gaps are often why the American players, on both women’s and men’s basketball teams, stick together and hang out a lot. It does help because there are frustrating or lonely moments sometimes. It’s natural to gravitate toward people who have something in common with you. Having other people who are from the U.S. definitely helps you get through the day. Most teams will give you two weeks off for the holidays. During that time at home I cherish the moments with family and friends.
Which countries have you played in? Which is your favorite?
I’ve played in Israel, Italy, Greece, Russia, Turkey, Poland, and Slovakia. I loved Israel. Most players do because English is often spoken and in some ways it is like a mini America. I also enjoyed Russia. I like to immerse myself in the different cultures of the countries I am in.
How do you stay in touch with family and friends back in the U.S.?
My favorite ways to stay in touch are through Instagram, Twitter, Skype, and Slingbox. They keep me in the loop and sane!
What is your best experience overseas?
One year that sticks out in particular was 2006. In 2006 I was on the WNBA’s Detroit Shock championship team and then went overseas and won the Israeli League championship. Two championships in one year- that was special! I treated myself to a car that year.
With all good, there is sometimes some bad, too. What is your worst experience overseas?
Unfortunately, getting paid overseas is not always a given the way it is in the U.S. It’s always upsetting to leave a country and not have your contract fulfilled. There’s no way to really protect the players from a team running out of money or refusing to pay a player. You hear sad frustrating stories like this. Players have to look for teams with good reputations. By word of mouth and with a good agent you can try to learn which teams pay their players consistently and honestly and which teams don’t.
What advice would you give to a first year player going to play ball overseas?
First of all, playing overseas is not for everyone. But for those that give it a try, use the Internet and social media to keep your family and friends close. However, make sure to come in with an open mind and try to make friends with locals. It is a once in a lifetime experience!