Wine and Gold International
When the 2013-14 NBA season tipped off on Tuesday, a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 different countries suited up for their squads. Twenty-seven of the league’s 30 teams feature at least one international player.
The San Antonio Spurs set a record for most international players on a team roster with 10, and the Cavaliers and Timberwolves were second with six international imports apiece.
France is the most represented country with nine players and Canada follows with eight – including two young Canucks in the Cavs frontcourt, alone. Australia and Spain each have five players on team rosters, with Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Russia and Turkey each having four.
With these numbers in mind, Cavs.com breaks down some of the international influences on the Wine and Gold – with the focus not just on Cleveland’s foreign players, but on any overseas experiences that our guys have gone through.
Today’s inaugural installment centers on high-flying Cavs forward Alonzo Gee, who traveled to Poland during the extended NBA Lockout of 2011.
After inking a free agent deal with Cleveland midway through the previous season, Gee looked to sharpen his game – specifically his three-point shot – during the Lockout. His agent suggested that he try the EuroLeague and Gee made the journey to Gdynia, Poland to suit up for Asseco Prokom Gdynia of the PBL.
Asseco Gdynia is the top Polish team in EuroLeague play and has featured more than their share of American players, including former Cavaliers, Gary Alexander, Dajuan Wagner, Mike Wilks and Devin Brown.
In today’s episode of Wine and Gold International, Gee talks about life in Poland, the pros and cons of international play vs. D-League and the importance of locating the Golden Arches when living abroad …
How long were you over in Poland during the Lockout?
Alonzo Gee: I think it was around four months. I left probably, like, a month or two after the season was over. I was there for a long time.
Of all the overseas places to play, why did you choose Poland?
Gee: It was a chance to play in the EuroLeague. So I played in the VTB (United Leauge), it’s an Eastern European league. And there’s EuroLeague, which is easily the top league over there.
So it was a great opportunity, and my agent, he said I should go play in the Euroleague. At first, I was like, ‘Man, that’s too far. I don’t want to go over there.’ But he said it’s a great opportunity. So I just took a chance.
Are you glad you did it?
Gee: (laughs) Well … when I was over there, I was struggling. But my experience over there, it was a great experience for me. I got to see the other side of the world and I got to play against different talent. And I learned a lot about my own game. So, really, it was great for me.
When you say “struggle,” do you mean on the floor or just with the life-change?
Gee: I didn’t struggle on the floor. It was more just being over there alone. I’m looking out at the water and it just keeps going. It was far away from home and I started getting homesick. Everything just builds up.
Was there a language barrier or did most people speak English?
Gee: A lot of people spoke English there. All my teammates spoke English. And everybody was pretty cool. My coaches were great.
Could an NBA player transplant in Europe and dominate the league?
Gee: The EuroLeague is tough, man! The paint is really crowded and you have to adjust to that. I think it’d take a few years for an NBA to go over there and dominate. I don’t think any NBA player can go over there and dominate unless you play the point or the shooting guard and have the ball in your hands the entire time.
Other than that, that paint is crowded. And if you’re not on a good team, the other teams are going to seem really good to you.
You’ve done both, but why would a player stay here in the D-League instead traveling to play overseas?
Gee: The advantage of the D-League is that the NBA teams see you every night. You’re playing NBA basketball. I mean, if it’s your dream to play in the NBA, you have coaches seeing you, you have the scouts seeing you. You’re learning how to play basketball coming out of college. (D-League) is just a great opportunity. It just takes time; it doesn’t come right when you want it to come.
And people play overseas because – I hate to say it – but because they’re in a rush to get that money.
Doesn’t that make it tempting – to get the money while you can?
Gee: If you’re coming out of college, you don’t miss something you’ve never had. So why not take a chance on fulfilling your dream? If it doesn’t work out, but you’re playing well in the D-League, you increase your value to go overseas with a better team.
The D-League has it’s positives and it has its negatives, too. The traveling is tough – the bus, the hotels. But other than that, I think it’s a great opportunity for players that want to play in the NBA.
How did the organization treat you?
Gee: They treated me real good. Prokom was a great team, the organization was good. They gave me a great place to live. The food, everything. They really took care of us over there.
How was life outside of basketball?
Gee: See, that’s when I struggled. After practice, I’d go home and everybody went their separate ways. And I’m home. The TV’s not in English. So I’m just home looking at the wall. I have a phone bill that’s crazy. I’m talking on my phone all night. It was tough, man.
And the weather?
Gee: The weather?! I’m in Cleveland! I’m from Florida, and Cleveland is one of the coldest places I’ve been. It was cold at times, but Poland doesn’t have nothin’ on Cleveland.
Some people struggle with the food overseas. How did you find it?
Gee: (laughs) They had McDonald’s over there. McDonald’s and KFC.
Some places (the food) was OK, other places it was just bad. It just tastes different. They have pancakes that are really, really thin. Like thin as this paper. And it tasted bad. But the McDonald’s was really good over there. Maybe it was because I was outside the United States and it was the only thing I knew. But it was really good!