By David Driver
Used with permission
Gmunden, a small town in central Austria, sits on a scenic lake about three hours west of Vienna. Tourists can take a ski lift, where the reward in the winter is a fabulous view of snow-capped mountains. The town has a sports hall that holds about 2,000 people. When the local hoop team is playing, it is filled with loud fans.
It is in towns like this, as well as nearby Wels, where Bradley product Jerome Robinson '03 played his first season of pro basketball as a visiting player this past winter.
The debut was worthwhile for forward Robinson, who was out of organized basketball for two seasons after he finished his career at Bradley. But this past season the 6' 3" Canadian landed his first professional job, and he made the most of the opportunity.
"I was so [motivated] when I got there. I knew I had to do well, since I had been out [of the game] so long," says Robinson who had been the defensive player of the year in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2001. Robinson won a boatload of awards in Austria's top pro league: Eurobasket.com named him All-Austrian forward of the year, import of the year, and defensive player of the year, and he was named to the all-import team, all-defensive team, and all-league first team.
"I felt like I played my heart out in every category. I felt I deserved it," he said of the awards, without sounding boastful. Teams in Austria were allowed three Americans per team last season, though that may be reduced to two for 2004-05.
Robinson, first-team all-MVC as a Bradley senior, is one of several former Braves who have found hoop success overseas. Other athletes who played overseas in 2003-04 included Bayo Akinkunle '98 (Japan), Ed Cage '01 (Germany), Angelo Flanders '01 (Spain), Aba Koita '00 (Estonia) and Anthony Parker '97 (Israel), who is one of the top Americans overseas and was named most valuable player of the Euroleague championship when he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the title past Skipper Bologna, 118-74, this past season.
"The one common thread all of those kids have is adaptability," Bradley assistant coach Al Biancalana said. "I could see them fitting in in a foreign land. They are all intelligent with good heads on their shoulders. You have to fit in (in Europe) and not stand out."
Robinson said his two American teammates and a soccer player may have been the only four people of color in the town of Oberwart.
"You get a lot of stares. When you first get there, it kind of bothers you. But you get used to it," he said.
Some former Division I players, whether they have NBA experience or not, can make a competitive salary in countries such as Italy, which has one of the top leagues in Europe.
Robinson played last winter in the small town of Oberwart, which is less than one hour from tourist hub Vienna in eastern Austria. The team provided Robinson with a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment, a vehicle, and a competitive monthly salary that was tax-free.
"I loved the city of Vienna," Robinson said. "I just like the way they keep the buildings and don't try to modernize everything. They leave it like it is."
Robinson, who was born in Toronto and grew up in Ontario, worked out several times for the Toronto Raptors of the NBA prior to the 2001 draft, but he did not make the team.
Now he is a real basketball player. And he is getting paid to play in one of the cleanest and most beautiful countries in Europe.