Torraye Braggs is becoming an expert in world geography. The 1998 graduate and former standout with the men’s basketball team was selected in the second round of the National Basketball League draft by the Utah Jazz, but he has spent most of his career making a scenic tour of Europe, South America and Asia. His goal: to find a place to keep showcasing his on-court talents. Although he returned to the States in December to play in the NBA’s Development League, he spent the beginning of the season in South Korea, while previous ventures led him to teams in Russia, Spain, Greece, Israel, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Braggs, however, isn’t alone in his world travels. While the list of former Musketeers playing in the NBA is growing, the list of those making a living playing basketball in professional leagues overseas is just as long. Anthony Myles, for instance, began this season playing in China, as did Reggie Butler. Romain Sato now plays in Italy and Pete Sears in Finland. Kevin Frey played in Germany last year before returning to the States to play for a Development League team in New Mexico. Michael Hawkins played in Spain last year before moving to a team in Syria in the fall. Lionel Chalmers, a second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Clippers, now plays for a team in Greece.
When the limitations of NBA rosters prove too much but the desire to play the game—and get paid to do it—hasn’t diminished, heading overseas is a common destination for many former college standouts. It’s a great opportunity to see the world while at the same time further developing the skills that might land them in the NBA.
Most Americans who play in Europe are provided the free use of an apartment and car, and some get meal allowances. Most of them have very little expenses, and the host club normally pays the players’ taxes in that country. Top stars can make more than $500,000 in countries such as Spain and Italy. Top Americans in Hungary can make nearly $100,000, while first-year Americans in countries such as Germany and Austria may have a salary around $40,000 a season.
But, it certainly has its challenges.
“The biggest adjustment to playing overseas is the culture and the way of life—the languages, food, rules, how they do things, how they live, their thoughts of Americans,” says Myles, who has also played in Spain and Turkey. “As far as on the court, their rules of the game and their style of play are different. For example, in Spain it’s about the team—who is in the best shape and has the better players. Here in China, the top teams run the fastest because they are not strong enough to play one-on-one.”
Myles began this season with the Guangdong Southern Tigers, a team in the Canton province near Hong Kong and the south China Sea. He’s one of about 56.5 million people in the province, although the 6-foot-9 African American is certainly one of the most noticeable. “Well, being black here, a lot of the Chinese people are scared of us,” he says. “I don’t know why. They are always watching us no matter where we are and what we are doing. They follow us around, but they are scared to talk to us if we say something to them.”
Still, he hasn’t allowed that to affect his play. In his first game, he had 31 points and 15 rebounds. In his second game, he had 48 points and 16 rebounds, the most points he ever scored in a game at any level. He joined the team after playing in the first division in Spain, which many American players say is the best league outside of the NBA.
Sato, a second-round draft pick of the San Antonio Spurs in 2004, is also making an impact, leading his team in scoring in the B league in Italy, which is considered one of the best in Europe. Sears, too, is doing well, averaging 13 points per game in his first five contests in Finland.
Being overseas does not mean that the NBA dream is over. James Singleton from Murray State University, who played the past two seasons in Italy, is a rookie this year with the NBA’s L.A. Clippers.
Myles and others are well aware of that. In addition to spending his free time playing video games and watching movies, he likes “keeping tabs on the NBA games and season, because it is my dream to some day be playing in the league.”
David Driver is a freelance writer who covers American basketball players in Europe from his home in Hungary.