Tuesday, October 13, 2009
When Josh Childress signed with Olympiacos in the summer of 2008, I knew where the blame fell-the Stanford educational system.
How could a guy give up the NBA for the Greek League? It would be like allowing your talents to be sold to the Emerald Bowl, when you were good enough to go to the Las Vegas Bowl. Uh, bad example, but you get the point.
Then the 20-million-dollar sunrise dawned on me: It's all about the money. Why play for the Atlanta Hawks when you could be treated like a Greek god and be paid like one too?
But playing basketball overseas isn't all about the money. For some former Cal men's basketball players, it's about continuing to live the dream in the hopes of coming back to the NBA.
The man whose 29 points were responsible for my one good Ben Braun memory-the 2007 upset of UCLA in the Pac-10 Tourney-is now playing in Australia's pro league.
The guard they used to call (sub-vocalize your best announcer voice) "The Golden One," Ayinde Ubaka, is playing for the Gold Coast Blaze, averaging 16.7 ppg so far this season.
Last year, Ubaka saw limited action in his 12 games with the Anaheim Arsenal, an NBA D-League team, and decided to move elsewhere to continue his career.
Another player who was afforded the unique opportunity of learning under Braun is DeVon Hardin.
Hardin has been all over the place since graduating. After being drafted 50th by Seattle, which then moved Oklahoma City, he didn't make the roster.
His next stop was Turkey, but he was released due to a foot injury.
Eventually, the center found a spot on Estia Egaleo in Greece's A2 league in 2008-09, leading the league in blocks with 1.5 bpg. The big man then came back to the States, playing with the Thunder's summer-league team in Orlando, but he didn't latch on.
Now, Hardin is back in Greece, this time in the top league with Egaleo AO in Athens.
Then there's Eric Vierneisel.
He will be the first to tell you that his stats weren't great in college. And that's why he's in the lower-level leagues overseas, trying to develop a statistical resume to get picked up by a team in a top league.
"For me it was a decision that I didn't want to stop doing what I love to do after college and feeling like my best basketball was still ahead of me," Vierneisel said in an email.
The 6-foot-7 shooter has landed in Germany, playing in the league just below the Bundesliga on USC-Heidelberg, at least for now.
"I don't know where I am going to be until about a week before I have to leave, so I always have to keep a bag packed," Vierneisel said.
Not a situation that sounds conducive to success by any means.
But Heidelberg's not so bad, he says, because there's a huge American military base and a university there, and it actually reminds him a lot of Cal.
Before his current stop, there was Syria, Jordan and New Zealand-not exactly basketball towns.
"Honestly, I never dreamed about playing professionally except in the NBA like every school kid does," Vierneisel said.
The forward didn't even know the option of playing overseas was available until high school.
The dream has changed a bit since his days in Illinois. Once, it was getting to the NBA. Now, it's a little more realistic.
"I tried out for the L.A. Defenders last summer and did well ... I can play in the D-League if I wanted to," Vierneisel said. "But realistically, I'm not going to play in the NBA, so I would rather play overseas with a realistic chance at making good money in a top league than play in Bismarck, N.D., with no chance at the NBA."
Vierneisel believes that he can develop his game and eventually make around 100,000 Euros a year in a top league.
And although Heidelberg's 3,500-seat stadium is not where Vierneisel originally dreamt of hitting a game-winner, it's where he is right now, and he's comfortable with that.
"A lot of people have jobs that they don't like or that they can't get excited for, but I get to do something that I truly love to do, so it doesn't even feel like a job even though technically it is," Vierneisel said.
Living the dream isn't so bad, especially when you get paid for it.
Get paid to live the dream with Joseph at [email protected]
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