In book, Harrisonburg native captures essence of European pro hoops for Americans | College Sports

Thousands of miles from home, playing professional basketball in an unfamiliar land has its advantages. Among them, according to former University of Dayton women’s star guard Kelley Austria, can be the language barrier.

“Most of the time the coach is speaking and coaching in Hungarian, which can be nice at times because when he is yelling at us, I have no idea what he’s saying,” said Austria, the 2017 A-10 defensive player of the year.

She received the messages soon enough. A teammate translated.

Her perspective is among many amusing and informative anecdotes captured in a book written by David S. Driver, a native of Harrisonburg and a 1985 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University. “Hoop Dreams in Europe: American Basketball Players Building Careers Overseas” started as Driver’s selfish pursuit.

Driver, very familiar with NCAA basketball, wanted to learn more about ex-college standouts who relocated to assorted European destinations for months or years to play professionally.

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“I really had no clue how it all worked,” wrote Driver, a former sports editor of the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record. How often are games played? How much money do American players make? What do foreigners do when they aren’t at practice? How do they deal with a new culture and new language?”

The opportunity for answers came through a family relocation to Hungary, where Driver, his wife, Liz, and two daughters moved for three years. Liz went for a teaching job, and the Driver family received an education: life abroad during the early 2000s.

“I was along for the ride as the trailing spouse,” wrote Driver, who now lives in Cheverly, Md.

In Hungary, he supervised the household while his wife taught. In addition, Driver explored the basketball scene in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, writing stories for US periodicals, such as alumni magazines, websites and newspapers about former college players active in European leagues.

The 115-page paperback is a collection of those narratives.

Among his connections was Nick Faust, a former Maryland guard who played in Poland, Israel, Italy and Hungary.

“College is talented kids playing basketball,” Faust says in the book. “Europe is grown men playing basketball.”

Top American players in some European leagues can earn six-figure salaries to go with use of a car, complimentary lodging and meal allowances. Most players are compensated in significantly lesser ways. Some view the international endeavors in part as a way to experience another part of the world.

Said Austen Rowland, who played at Delaware and Lehigh before heading to Europe: “I try to learn things about other countries. Be humble and realize the United States is not the only country in the world.”

With that sometimes come headaches.

“We take a lot for granted here in the United States. If we say you get paid the first of the month, you get paid the first of the month. That is not always the case in some Europe leagues,” said Jay Locklier, a 6-foot-10 former Washington State player.

It’s common to practice twice a day and play once a week. European basketball requires some acclimation. The game “is more technical,” according to former Saint Joseph’s forward Rob Ferguson.

“The basketball IQ is very high in terms of reading situations,” said guard Ceola Clark, a former All-Summit League player at Western Illinois. “I think having a 24-second shot clock overseas at such a young age makes players learn the game faster and puts them in situations to make decisions more often.”

Former William & Mary star Omar Prewitt (Class of 2017), went from playing in Lithuania to playing in Greece to playing in Poland.

“The craziest thing about pro basketball here is no one is safe,” Prewitt said. “I have seen coaches moved like that. I have seen players moved just like that. If they are going to bring you all the way from America, you are going to be one of the highest paid players on the court and you are expected to score. That is the perception of us.”

Driver got around mostly by train, using league schedules and rosters to find familiar names from his days as a sports writer and editor. He did not speak Hungarian, or any language other than English, so Driver had business cards made – a picture of a basketball with words in Hungarian and English that identified him as a journalist.

To start with, Driver also learned to say “Good evening,” and “I am a journalist,” in Hungarian. That was enough to gain entry to a new and interesting hoops world.

joconnor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6233

@RTDjohnoconnor

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