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Have hoops, will travel

Former Bearcats play for pay in Europe, Asia, South America

by David Driver

While many UC hoopsters began their college careers with an eye on playing professionally, the law of supply and demand often hit home. Although the NBA and WNBA have drafted plenty of Bearcats, dozens of former UC ballers have carved out a nice career, as well as a profitable one, by playing hoops around the globe.

Take Tony Bobbitt, for instance. After finishing his UC career in '04, he saw his NBA dreams come to a halt a year later when he was waived by the perennial title-contender Los Angeles Lakers.

Bearcat fans may best remember Bobbitt for two big shots -- the game-winner he sunk his senior year in the final seconds of the opening NCAA tourney round against East Tennessee State and the painful low blow he sustained a week earlier when DePaul's LeVar Seals punched him in the groin. Bobbitt eventually got up off the hardwood and finished the game with 17 points to help UC to yet another Conference USA championship.

Such determination kept Bobbitt from letting the Lakers end his pro career. Instead, it launched a global sojourn of playing in Italy, Germany, Cyprus and Mexico. These days, heÕs back in the states in the NBA Development League with the Idaho Stampede.

"The advantages you have overseas are being provided with a free car, a free place to stay and making good money," Bobbitt says. "The fans over there are really, really into basketball."

Cincinnati native Michelle Jones recalls fans coming out to watch her first practice in Finland at the beginning of the '10-11 season. "They just wanted to see who the new American player was. People take it seriously over there. The whole town was at our first game."

Her team was more popular than the local men's team and drew more fans than some of her college games, notes Jones, after returning to Cincinnati to be with her 4-year-old son who had stayed with family members while she was abroad.

At last check, 14 men and two women who once wore the C-Paw are playing overseas, including Kareem Johnson, who began this season in Switzerland after stops in Spain, New Zealand and Slovakia. Immanuel McElroy has been playing in Germany since '04, and Cedric McGowan, who began this season in Argentina, has also seen time in Finland, the Netherlands, Uruguay and Mexico.

Pete Mickeal has played in Greece, Russia and South Korea and began the '11-12 campaign in Spain, which has one of the top leagues in Europe. Rashad Bishop began this season in Israel before heading to Brazil. Adam Hrycaniuk was in his native Poland. Steve Toyloy played in Turkey last season, and Nick Williams, one of the few Americans to play in Bosnia since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, began this season in Germany before heading to Hungary.

Even UC players with significant NBA experience have stamped their passports in foreign lands. DerMarr Johnson has played in Italy, Puerto Rico and China. Kenyon Martin played in China in 2011 before returning to the NBA with the LA Clippers. James White is in Italy after playing with the Houston Rockets.

Not always a vacation

Playing overseas is not just fun and games. While most top Americans with Division I experience can expect free housing and the use of a car from European clubs, there are drawbacks. Not only do players find themselves in a culture in which everyone does not speak English, but their teammates may only include one or two other Americans.

"You have to be self-reliant and tough -- mentally and physically," says associate head coach Larry Davis, who has made recruiting trips to Europe. "You are isolated, especially when you first get there."

Madinah Slaise, one of the top scorers in UC women's history, recalls those early days in France, Switzerland and Israel, following her one WNBA season in Detroit in 2000. "I was 22 years old, living in another country and couldn't just pick up the phone and call my mother.

"In Switzerland, I was the only English-speaking player, and the coach would speak in his native language," says Slaise, now stationed overseas in the U.S. Air Force. "Everyone knew that I was getting paid more than the (local) players who were there. It was a lot to handle for a kid just out of college."

Today, American men in lower-level European leagues can start out around $50,000 per season while NBA-caliber players in western Europe or Russia can pull in high six figures. But American players, men and women, are almost always expected to be the top scorers for their teams.

"The general manager may threaten to fire you if you donÕt get enough rebounds," says coach Davis. "Some of that is a bluff, and some of that is true."

The biggest adjustment overseas, according to '09 grad Mike Williams, was getting used to the rules used by FIBA, the governing body of international basketball. Some of the rules differ from those at the NCAA Division I level and the NBA level. For instance, under FIBA rules, touching the ball in the cylinder is not goaltending, and a player has to clearly dribble the ball first before picking up his pivot foot.

Williams says his pro career in Zwolle, The Netherlands, was his first time out of the United States. "I was always open to going to a different country because it is the sport I love. I don't care what country I'm playing in.
"For me, it was not really an adjustment. Everything just worked out. I don't get homesick because I like to travel and see new things."

Since '06-07, when Mick Cronin, A&S '97, became UC men's head coach, the Bearcats have sent seven players overseas. The coach and his staff assist players who want to play pro ball overseas.

Coach Davis recalls Deonta Vaughn,  who averaged 11.7 points and 3.5 assists his senior year in 2010. When the NBA failed to pan out, his agent focused on options abroad. "We talked to him about how to succeed over there," Davis says. As a rookie pro in Poland in '10-11, the 6-foot-1 guard nearly duplicated his senior-year stats by averaging 11.6 points and 3.5 assists. This year, he is lacing up his sneakers in Ukraine.

Kristen "K.B." Sharp has played pro ball ever since ending her Bearcat career in '03. First, she spent time in the WNBA with New York, Indiana and Chicago, then signed a two-year contract with USO Mondeville in France in '10. Last season, she was a second-team All-French player. This season, she averaged 11 points and four assists in her first 10 games.

"In Normandy, life is simpler," she says. "It is smaller than America. It is a historic town where World War II happened. There are remains of castles.
"Of course, it is a job. But for me, it is a pleasure," she adds. "It is still fun for me to play.
"I really fell in love with France. I speak French fluently, and I am trying to become a French citizen. I like the country. I like the life here. I love the food. Maybe I will live here after my career is over."

UC's Globetrotters

Though the Bearcats have a pair of 2011 grads on the actual Harlem Globetrotters -- Darnell "Spider" Wilks and Anthony "Biggie" McClain -- UC has had many former players who have made careers out of playing basketball professionally around the world. Below is a list of former Bearcats who have international experience in the last decade. While many have laced it up in multiple countries, only the most current country is listed.

Men Country/Year Last Year at UC
Taron Barker Iceland/2004 2003
Rashad Bishop Brazil/2012
Tony Bobbitt Mexico/2011
Bobby Brannen
Jamaal Davis
Terrence Davis
Ryan Fletcher
Eric Hicks
Adam Hrycaniuk
DerMarr Johnson
Kareem Johnson Switzerland/2011 2004
Herb Jones Argentina/2004 1992
Donald Little Singapore/2012 2002
Steve Logan Venezuela/2008 2002
Art Long Venezuela/2010 1996
Kenyon Martin China/2011 2000
Immanuel McElroy   
Germany/2012 2002
Cedric McGowan Argentina/2012 2006
Pete Mickeal Spain/2012 2000
Kenny Satterfield
Japan/2012 2001
Marcus Sikes
Argentina/2012 2008
Ruben Patterson
Lebanon/2009 1998
Jermaine Tate
Libya/2008 2000
Steve Toyloy
Brazil/2012 2010
Deonta Vaughn
Ukraine/2012 2010
James White
Italy/2012 2006
Mike Williams
Canada/2012 2009
Nick Williams
Hungary/2012 2005
John Williamson
Australia/2011 2008
Women Country/Year  
Last Year at UC
Michelle Jones Finland/2010   
Valerie King Greece/2005 2004
Kristen "K.B." Sharp France/2012 2003
Madinah Slaise Israel/2002 2000
Karen Twehuse Italy/2012 2007

Source: Eurobasket.com

Two former UC players are currently playing in the NBA -- Lance Stephenson, att. '10, (Indiana Pacers) and Jason Maxiell, A&S '05, (Detroit Pistons). This list does not include professional players from the NBA Development League who haven't played outside the United States.

David Driver has covered European basketball for nearly 10 years. He lived with his family in Hungary for three years.

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