July 13, 2008
By David Driver
Used with permission
Special to the Statesman Journal
Casey Nash began to ponder her post-college options during her junior season at Oregon State.
"I wanted to play basketball. It was something I had been doing most of my life," said Nash, who was known as Casey Bunn as a standout at Stayton High School. "I love the game so much. I wanted to keep playing."
She got that opportunity after her senior season at Oregon State in 2006-07, when the 6-foot-1 forward averaged 20 points per game after scoring 6.9 points per game as a junior.
Nash secured a California-based agent after college and had options to play pro basketball in Greece, Turkey, Poland and Israel during the 2007-08 season.
She decided on Greece because she thought that would be the best fit with her husband, former OSU player J.S. Nash, playing in The Netherlands. Casey Nash hoped the couple could see each other weekends but that did not happen because of their team's conflicting schedules.
But distance was not the only challenge that she faced while playing in Athens in the top women's league in Greece.
"It wasn't the best situation. We did not get paid on time. It was frustrating," said Nash, who added that she eventually got paid in full.
Her story is not unheard of for American imports who continue their hoop careers overseas.
But for every horror story of late payments or promises broken about playing time, there are positive experiences for former NCAA basketball stars who play in Europe.
Nearly every European country has a pro league for men and women. Some allow two non-Europeans on the team, but leagues in places such as Germany have relaxed import rules in the past few years.
J.S. Nash has played in Estonia, Belgium and for three years in The Netherlands after his college career at Oregon State.
The guard ended his four-year career at OSU in 2005.
"Of course it is everyone's dream to make the NBA," he said. "But a lot goes into making it. So you look for other options and a way to make a living."
Other former Oregon State men who played overseas during the past basketball season (which normally runs from October to June in Europe) included Sasa Cuic (Cyprus), Nick DeWitz (Japan), Kyle Jeffers (Germany), Clifton Jones (Finland), David Lucas (Poland), Jose Ortiz (Mexico), Philip Ricci (France), Josh Steinthal (Australia) and Angelo Tsagarakis (France), according to www.eurobasket.com.
Brian Jackson played in Germany for a short time in 2004. He played this past season for Utah in the NBA Development League.
"I was trying to get back in shape," Jackson said of his time in Germany. "It is a different place. It is kind of neat. The top level there is pretty good."
Jackson said German Dirk Nowitski of the Dallas Mavericks was becoming a big star in his home country at the time.
"Everyone looked at him as their hero," Jackson said.
Former Oregon players playing overseas include Jay Anderson (New Zealand), Bryan Bracey (France), Kris Kristofferson (Denmark), Ian Crosswhite (Australia), Flo Hartenstein (Germany), Robert Johnson (Spain), Brandon Lincoln (Germany) and Alex Scales (Russia)
Former Beaver women overseas in 2008-09, in addition to Nash, included Lisa Pardon (Australia), Maryna Sazonenko (Ukraine) and Kim Butler, who played briefly in Slovakia. Shannon Howell played in Portugal in 2006-07.
Former Ducks women playing internationally include Andrea Bills (Lithuania), Kaela Chapdelaine (France), Brandi Davis (Sweden) and Gabrielle Richards (Australia).
American players in Europe have to adjust to rule differences in the international game: A player must clearly put the ball on the floor before they pick up their pivot foot; the ball is alive in the cylinder; and the three-second lane is a trapezoid and wider near the basket than in the NCAA or NBA.
Leagues in Western Europe, such as Spain, France and Italy, are considered among the best in Europe. Top American male imports in those countries can make $300,000 per year or more.
Some of the perks in most European countries for top imports include a tax-free salary for Americans, free housing and transportation, and the chance to live within a different culture.
Language can be a barrier in some countries, although most European players and coaches speak English — and hoops is an international language.
European players have made major inroads in the NBA the past few years. More than 10 players from Serbia have played in the NBA and Tony Parker, from France, is a star guard for San Antonio.
In recent years, there have been players in the NBA from Spain, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, and the New York Knicks took Danilo Gallinari from Italy in the first round in the recent June draft.
Many American players, meanwhile, have to decide between playing overseas or staying home to play in the CBA, ABA or NBA development league.
"You don't make near the money," Jackson said of North American minor leagues. "But if you play well you are constantly being looked at. I've got myself in a pretty good situation."
That was not the case for Casey Nash.
She left her team in Greece during around Christmas to live with her husband in The Netherlands. She returned home to Oregon after one of her brothers, Riley, was killed in a plane crash Feb. 8, northeast of Albany.
J.S. Nash is under contract to play this coming season in The Netherlands. Casey said she might try to play for a team there, not play but still live in The Netherlands or stay home in the United States.
"Just being away from your family is the hardest part," J.S. Nash, from California, said of playing overseas. "You are making good money. But the whole part about being away from your family is difficult. It is a 13-hour plane ride."