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Taking a shot overseas
Former Bronco basketball players keep their careers going by playing professionally around the world
By David Driver
Uwe Sauer played for the German men’s basketball team in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
He then stayed in California and entered Santa Clara that fall as a freshman, and was a member of the men’s basketball team.
The next season his teammate was Jens-Uwe Gordon, and now some two decades later Sauer is Gordon’s coach for Karlsruhe in the top professional league in Germany. Sauer said that Gordon gets kidded about that relationship sometimes when he is back home in California.
"I have known him for 20 seasons now," Sauer says of Gordon, 37, during a pre-season tournament in Hungary. "Most likely he will finish up (his career) with us. In his head, he is still young. He is still on fire the way he approaches the game. He is a veteran and knows the game. He is a fighter. He keeps the guys together."
How intense is Gordon? While sitting on the bench during a pre-season game this past October, he shouted "Baseline! Baseline!" to his teammates who were on defense midway through the fourth quarter. A few minutes later, he hollered "rebound!" with his team clinging to a two-point lead with 4:31 left in the game.
The 6-foot-9 Gordon, whose mother is from Germany, was born in Salinas. He played four years for the Broncos, and averaged 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as a senior in 1988-89. He has played professionally in Europe for more than 10 years, and this is his third straight season in Germany.
Gordon and Sauer are just two of SCU’s overseas basketball connection. Other former Santa Clara players who began this season outside North America include Brian Jones (Tuebingen, Germany), Marlon Garnett (Treviso, Italy) and Jason Sedlock (Mt. Gambier in Australia). Also, SC products who played last season overseas were Brendan Graves (Austria), Jamie Holmes (Netherlands), Harold Keeling (Venezuela) and Steve Ross (France).
Garnett scored 12 points for his Italian team Benetton Treviso, one of the best clubs in Europe, in an 86-83 exhibition game loss against the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 20 in Canada before more than 10,000 fans. But the NBA is a long way off for many former NCAA standouts that head to Europe.
Sedlock, from Oregon, just finished his fifth season in the Australian Basketball League. The season in Australia runs from February to August, and Sedlock considers the caliber of play to similar to that of the West Coast Conference. He majored in political science and received a bachelor of science degree, with a minor in general business, in 1997.
"Santa Clara has helped me tremendously (for) living in another culture," Sedlock wrote in late October, before heading back to Australia for his sixth season. "Many times the sport is the easy part. It’s adjusting to everything else that take patience and the right attitude. Santa Clara opened up my mind to see other cultures from their point of view and not judge them regarding to the American lifestyle."
"On the court Santa Clara taught me to never become complacent," Sedlock added. "Coach (Dick) Davey always preached to us, ‘You are getting better or getting worse.You are never staying the same.’ "
What is the biggest overseas challenge for Jones, who finished his career at SC in 2001?
"The first thing I have to mention is the language. That was the first adjustment I had to deal with," Jones says from his apartment in southern Germany. "I can now understand a lot of what they are saying, but I can’t say what I want to say to them."
Jones, one of two Americans on his team, said another challenge has been the lifestyle. He lives in a town of about 90,000 people about two hours from Munich.
"In America we are used to having everything convenient for us. The 7-11 is open 24 hours a day. In Germany, it is not like that," he says. "In Germany, on Sunday the market is closed. You can’t go out to eat at 2 a.m. if you are hungry. The banks are closed from 12 to 2 p.m. (weekdays). You have to plan stuff out a little more."
Sedlock said some of the biggest challenges overseas is dealing with broken promises, monetary issues, or when team management is trying to take advantage of him. And what about being so far from home?
"I don’t feel like I get too homesick while I’m playing overseas," he says. "I find it creeps in when I have too (much) downtime on my hands. I’ve learned to try to keep myself busy learning new things that the opportunity presents," such as learning to play the guitar.
Jones is provided a two-bedroom apartment and a car by his team, which is standard for Americans who play in Europe. His team won the B league title last season and moved up to the A league this season, and that meant that Jones’ tax-free salary also rose: he said he receives about the league average for Americans in Germany’s top league, around $50,000 to $60,000 American money.
Jones, meanwhile, and other former NCAA players have to adjust their games overseas.
"The game is different in that they don’t let you play as aggressive on defense. That was one thing I had to adjust to in my game," he says. "In America, we play with our feet but we also use our hands (on defense). Here, you can’t use your hands" unless you want to be called for a foul.
It was Sauer who played a key role in Jones’ arrival to Germany as a rookie pro three seasons ago. Jones, who graduated in 2001 with a degree in sociology, played for Sauer his first year in Europe. Sauer then switched German teams after that season.
Jones, unlike German-born Sauer, is a long way from home. But he says there are some things that seem familiar.
"My town (in Germany) is similar to Santa Clara in some ways since this is a university town. Everything revolves around the students," he says.
Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer from Maryland and has contributed to The Washington Post, Basketball Times, and several alumni magazines. He lives in Hungary with his family and covers pro basketball in Europe.