Chris McLaughlin – From The CIS To Austria
My name is Chris McLaughlin and I played 5 years of CIS basketball at the University of Victoria. I was given the opportunity to share a blog post about my first season as a professional basketball player in the ABL of Austria. As the CIS is becoming more competitive and internationally recognized, I thought it would be a good chance to share some of the things I have learned so far as I made the transition from CIS to European pro. Hopefully this blog will give insight to current CIS athletes who are looking to extend their basketball careers overseas. Seeing that writing was not my major in university, I will try and keep this short and sweet about my life so far in Europe.
I officially signed my contract while I was playing in Korea in the middle of July. It was made official that I would be heading to Gmunden, Austria to play for the Gmunden Swans on August 23rd. I was lucky enough to arrive on a Saturday because practice started early Monday morning. The other 3 imports (North American players) got in Sunday afternoon and were on the court the following morning with barely any sleep. This was the first time I had ever been to Europe and I really didn’t know what to expect coming to small-town Austria. I was lucky enough to find myself in a town that really supported the basketball club. The GM, Treasurer, Coach, and all other support staff made sure I was settled in and comfortable in my apartment, showed me around town, and gave me insight into some of the lifestyle differences coming over here. I feel lucky that I was welcomed in that way and the hospitality still continues until today.
Before arriving in Europe, there were many things I wish I had known about the lifestyle. It seemed most of my knowledge about it came from rumours of other CIS guys and their experiences and old teammates and their unfortunate struggles. The next bit of this post will include the stuff that I have learned so far about life on and off the court to try and help those who are hoping to extend their careers after the CIS or other university league.
- Every team is different
This may come off as obvious – the range of talent, money, and skill varies a lot throughout Europe and the world, but I learned quickly that even in our 10-team league in Austria each club is extremely different in styles and the aforementioned. Contracts, training, and fan support are very different depending on what part of the country you are in. For example, I live in a town of 13,000 people and we have some of the loudest and most dedicated fans. However, not to long ago we traveled to the capital of Vienna and played the team there where there were probably about 50 people in the stands. Not only do leagues vary, but teams within them do as well.
- Summer is crucial
I was lucky enough to be chosen to play for the Development Men’s National Team, which was full of CIS guys who played in the World University Games in South Korea in July. We had a training camp before in Kansas, where we played the Jayhawks who represented Team USA at the tournament. I think that this training and exposure to international play has played a key role in my success thus far. Without training and playing at the high level, I think my pre-season would have been a lot more difficult here in Austria. CIS play ends early so staying active and competitive through the off-season in crucial.
- You will become your own trainer
Buying a foam roller before I came here was probably the best decision I made packing wise. Treatment and physio is not as accessible in many places as it was in the CIS. We don’t have a full time trainer. We are able to schedule some physio sessions a few days in advance and we didn’t have an ice machine until last week – I sometimes use the lake as an ice bath. I got into the habit of excessively stretching and rolling before and after each session and I think it saved my body through pre season training. Learning to treat yourself before injuries is really important.
Practice has pretty much been non-stop since I have been here with maybe one day off a week after games with optional shoot around or weights. Every other day is 2-a-days or game days. Even with this busy schedule there is a lot of downtime in between, with no class to go to. Yesterday’s schedule was 9:30 am weights and shooting and then an 8:30 pm practice, with many hours in between. Now that the weather is getting pretty brutal, there is a lot of time to yourself. Netflix is key…Xbox live helps too!
- Anything can happen
We have just started playing teams for the second time around and it seems that every team has lost or gained a few import players. One thing I think every aspiring pro athlete knows is that once you show up you are basically making a first impression until you leave. Every game, every win, every loss comes back to the athletes that were brought over, in a good or really bad way.
- Team mates
I am happy to say that I have a really good group of guys on my team that I enjoy hanging out with outside the practice times. I think this plays a big part in quality of living while being away from home. I have heard many stories from people who have played in other countries where personalities clash leading to a pretty awful experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are still occasional fights/arguments but at the end of the day, in our case it is just healthy competition that makes us better.
- You will get homesick
It comes and goes, here and there, and it was expected before I even came. I think having a comfortable living area mixed with a group of teammates that you get along with makes everything a lot easier.
- Days are long, but time flies
Some weeks of practice just never end — the grind. The Eurocup season is currently being played where some of the teams in our league are competing internationally, so we went from 2 games a week down to 1 game a week…or so. We had 9 days between games this week and it seems like you have practiced a hundred times and the body feels it. However, even though the days and some weeks feel very slow, the months have seemed to fly by. We have already played about 14 games and we are heading into December already. Its weird to think that the CIS season is only 20(ish) games and feels so long. Here we have a 36 game season with the potential to play close to 50. Many countries and leagues will play even more than this in 7 months or so.
- Talk to current athletes
When I was deciding to pursue pro basketball and make the jump over here I felt it was really helpful to reach out to previous CIS players who went over. Jordan Baker who played last season in Germany and who is currently in Portugal was helpful over the summer while in Korea, answering many of my questions about life across the pond. It seems there are more CIS athletes playing over here than ever, and it is worth reaching out if you have questions. It has also been great being able to keep in contact with guys from the CIS over here. I have stayed in touch with Jordan in Portugal, Johnny Berhanemaskel in Estonia, and my old team mate Terrell Evans who ended up playing in the same league as me and is in a town about 4 hours away. It has definitely been helpful being able to talk to them through all of our experiences during the transition.
I am very happy with my decision to pursue basketball professionally and I feel like I was very lucky with the situation I have found myself in for my rookie year with this team. I was welcomed into the town, which made the transition a lot easier. I know this is not always the case. Not every day has been easy and it is all a part of the grind, but it has been a great experience so far. I am excited about the strides the team has taken in the last month, and I am looking forward to every game in the future.
Thanks for reading,