Photo by Miguelo Henraquez
Initially what took me over there was I was drafted by the Houston Rockets. They wanted me to go and play in a tougher league in which they deemed Europe to be a little bit tougher than Australia at the time.
I chose to play in Greece. At the end of my first training session the coach said “if you can survive in Greece you can survive anywhere”. This was a clicking point for me. Although it was an extremely tough environment I thought if I could smash through a year here I’ll be set to play anywhere overseas. It was a great year. The team qualified for the EuroLeague which they’d never done before. It was an incredibly proud moment for me. I used my first year in Greece as a learning tool to see where the best places were. I was lucky that I got there when there were no money troubles.
The number one thing I learnt basketball wise in Europe was that it is a very passionately followed sport. This really rubbed off on me as I’m a passionate kind of person so I really enjoyed that.
Every moment of the game is important. You value the ball and every opportunity because they place such high importance on it.
Training is not just physically tough but mentally tough because over there most days per week you are doing a session in the morning and then go back at night for another. I remember in Australia it was always in the morning and have your arvo off. In Europe you were dialled in to basketball 24/7. At times that would test you out a little bit because sometimes you’d like to switch off a little. I was fortunate to have coach, Ian Stacker, my first two years in the NBL; a lot of his basketball theories he’d learnt from ex-Yugoslavian countries. The majority of the coach’s I played for in Europe were ex-Yugoslavians. This gave me a big heads up before I got over there.
I’m a pretty easy kind of going fella, for me to survive in Europe I had to be able to adapt easily. One thing I’d tell a young kid going over for their first year is to fall in well with the locals straight away; they all stick together. If you are in with the locals, then you have a good link with everyone else. Do what the locals do, eat and hang out. I prided myself on this. I immersed myself in the culture and lifestyle.
My first day over there I didn’t know what to do, it was quite scary. I got off the plane where the team delagato picked me up and drove me to my new apartment and said “you live here” I thought ‘Do I get a choice?’ He then handed me a big envelope full of euros and said this is your money. I hid that in my cupboard for a couple of weeks before the bank account was activated which was a worry. Within a day of being in the apartment I was off in the mountains for pre training for two weeks.
My wife, Brigid, met me over in my first year. We were together since we were in high school. We moved into our little apartment starting our lives as 21 year olds. I’m guilty for ruining her basketball career. She was playing professionally back in Australia and gave it up to come over. There were testing times as she’d get bored and felt like she was looking after me all the time. When we moved to Lithuania she started playing again which was great. She got to meet a whole group of really great people. Unfortunately, I left the team I was playing for at the time to go to Valencia. Brigid decided to leave the team, so I kind of ruined her career twice.
It was an experience and a half bringing up a child in Europe. It was funny within a week of getting to Gran Canaria a couple of my team mates told me “this is where you come to have kids”. It was a real family club and within a year I was a father.
It was tough the first few months without the doctors speaking English and our Spanish wasn’t fantastic.
The day the baby was born the club was playing. I wasn’t expecting to play but the team was in foul trouble so I got the call up, drove over and ended up playing in the second half. We came back from a big deficit and won. I got straight in the car and sped back to the hospital to be back with all my girls again. Brigid did say that would never happen again!
Gran Canaria was based on an island about 3-hour flight from Madrid, the nearest big city in Spain. At the end of the year we’d calculated we’d travelled the world twice over in total flying time. I wouldn’t see my wife and child for long periods which was tough.
If you asked anyone if Gran Canaria would ever play in a Copa del Rey final they’d say you’re crazy. The way the island reacted after the Copa del Rey final was amazing, it was like we’d won it without winning it. That team will be a legacy forever.
In my whole Spanish career, we never managed to beat Madrid, Real Madrid. They always got us. Funny enough they were the team that beat us in the cup final. They were my biggest enemy.
In Europe, Sergio Llull, was the toughest player I came up against. We opposed each other a lot. He was just so fast; I consider myself pretty quick but he had some jets. In a heartbeat he could bury you with a few crazy shots. The best import was Tyrese Rice. I was lucky enough to play with him when he first started out in Lithuania. The level he has got to now at FC Barcelona is very well respected. He tore our hearts out in the Euro Cup Final. It’s normally the guys that we went down to in finals are the ones I respect the most.
If you said to me, you would play in two Olympics three world champs a commonwealth games and almost 10-year career in Europe and 13 years as a pro baller I’d be pretty happy.
We’ve decided to go home and enjoy Australia life for a while and show our daughter where her parents are from. However, we’ve had to tell our little girl it’s vegemite sandwiches now not olives and cured ham.
Australian Olympic Basketballer, travelled Europe playing the sport I love now a Sydney King in the Australian National Basketball League. I'm a family man with my wife and young child.