By David Driver
Used with permission
Marcellus Sommerville ’06 was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as Bradley made an exciting run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament during the 2005-06 season. On more than one occasion this season, Sommerville’s photo has been in Nemzeti Sport, a colorful, national daily sports newspaper in Hungary.
Things have changed for Sommerville, who had never been outside of North America. However, he was grateful for the chance to begin his pro career in Europe. "It seemed like this was a good situation for me as a first-year guy," Sommerville said, who joined a Hungarian team that won the league title in 2005 and 2006.
He lived with his family in an apartment building in Paks, a town of about 20,000 people in southwest Hungary, just one hour south of the capital city Budapest. The coach of his team spoke broken English. "It was just different, a different way of living than in the United States," said Sommerville, who graduated with a degree in advertising/communications.
Sommerville came home to Peoria over Christmas, spent time with former teammates, and then went back to Europe. This time, he headed to France to play in the Pro B league after his team in Hungary allowed him to leave and his contract was bought out by Angers BC 49. "I just saw a better opportunity in a better league, so I came here to France," Sommerville said in an interview in January.
Angers, France is a town of about 140,000 people, less than three hours southwest of Paris. The French Pro B league is among the best in Europe, along with the Pro A league in France, and leagues in Spain and Italy.
Sommerville said his team in Hungary was willing to let him leave because, for one reason, the team was not doing as well as it had in the past two seasons. "I thought the Missouri Valley Conference was a little bit more competitive," Sommerville said of the Hungarian league, in which a few NBA players have played.
The Hungarian leagues, like several leagues in Europe, allow at least two non-Europeans (usually North American imports) per team. Most European teams provide American players with the free use of an apartment and a car, and some provide free meals.
On the down side, if a team is doing poorly, the North American players are the first to be blamed for the team’s performance. European teams are quick to find other imports to take their place. North Americans can make at least $100,000 per season in many leagues, and the salary is not taxed by the host country in Europe.
Braves around Europe
As 2007 began, Sommerville was one of several former Braves playing pro basketball overseas. The list includes Eddie Cage ’01 (England), James Gillingham ’04 (Germany), Jerome Robinson ’03 (France) and Angelo Flanders ‘01 (Belgium). Last season, Jason Faulknor ’04 played in Portugal, Aba Koita ‘00 in France and Phillip Gilbert ’04 in England.
Robinson, a veteran of European hoops and good friends with Gillingham, was averaging about 14 points and three rebounds per game in January. In addition, he was among the league leaders in blocks for Etendard de Brest, a team in the same French B league as Sommerville.
"Brest is a coastal, naval city of about 150,000 people. I live about a block from the Atlantic, and I can see the ocean from my window," Robinson wrote in an e-mail. "I spend my free time with my wife and daughter."
"My biggest challenge on the court is for my team and myself to be consistent. Continuing to play at a high level in every game is also a challenge. Off-the-court challenges would be not knowing the language and not having food that I am used to."
A native of Canada who has also played in Austria and Belgium, Robinson is provided a furnished house and a car, and the team pays most utilities. He is also provided with basketball apparel and shoes. He keeps in touch with Cage and Gillingham.
In his third season in Germany, Gillingham was averaging about 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal per game in late January. He is playing in the top league in Germany for Trier, one of the oldest towns in Germany. "There are a lot of old Roman monuments here and that makes the town very beautiful," he wrote. "The city has about 100,000 citizens. In my free time I like to go downtown and go out for dinner or go to a café and relax.
"The biggest challenge on the court would be making the playoffs; we have a strong league. Off the court, the biggest challenges would be all of the down time and being away from loved ones." Gillingham is provided an apartment, car and insurance, and the team pays his German taxes. He calls it a "pretty sweet deal."
Some of his former Bradley teammates would most likely say the same thing about playing hoops for pay in Europe.
For former Braves in Europe, they need to look no further than Anthony Parker ’97 for inspiration. Parker, who played in the NBA for Philadelphia and Orlando several years ago, returned to the NBA in 2006-07 with Toronto after playing overseas several years, most recently in Israel in 2005-06 when he was named Euroleague Player of the Year.