By David Driver
The Blue Danube cuts through the heart of the Hungarian capital, a 140 year old marriage of two formerly separated cities – Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east. A country of nearly 10 million people and about the size of Indiana, Hungary was under Communist control just over a generation ago but is now part of the ever-changing European Union.
It is here, in central Europe – in a country where long-dead poets are revered like Western rock stars that former Siena basketball standout Ronald Moore ’10 is playing for pay.
Moore’s team provides him with a ninth-floor apartment, just minutes from the basketball arena in Szekesfehervar (which means “seat of the white castle”), a town of about 100,000 people approximately 40 miles southwest of Budapest. The area has been inhabited since the 5th century B.C. and became a Hungarian town in 972.
“I am looking for the right word … It’s pretty laid back,” Philadelphia native Moore, 24, said of his Hungarian home during a telephone interview. “Everyone has treated me nicely with no problems, which is always a plus. Budapest is definitely a modern, tourist city where a lot of people speak English. It is also a beautiful city.”
Moore’s team, Albacomp, is consistently among the best and most affluent Hungarian clubs. Most have at least two foreign imports, usually Americans, who are expected to handle most of the scoring. Moore, a 6-foot point guard who holds Siena’s all-time career assists record, averaged 12.5 points and 6.4 assists in his first 11 games through mid-December.
With limited roster spots in the NBA, several former Siena hoopsters have managed to make a career with pro teams overseas (see sidebar), including men’s players Marcus Faison ’00 (Georgia) and Kenny Hasbrouck ’09 (Italy), and women’s players Gunta Basko ’03 (France) and Liene Jansone ’04 (Turkey).
“At the moment I’m playing in Tarsus,” said Jansone, who led Siena to its first NCAA tournament in 2001. “It’s my first year playing in Turkey, so it’s a totally new experience for me even though I’ve been playing all over Europe. I thought I had seen it all, but coming to Turkey, I’m experiencing new things culturally and professionally.”
Like Moore, Jansone lives in “company housing” surrounded by her teammates. “We have our own chef and the team provides us with food, so that’s something new for me,” Jansone said. “Also, it’s the first time I don’t have a car, but we have a driver who picks us up for practice and brings us places we need to go.”
Jansone averaged about six points per game in her first 10 outings this season for Tarsus Belediyesi.
“The biggest adjustment playing overseas is that they look at you as a pro player from the minute you sign because it becomes your job and an obligation,” Jansone said. “It’s a job where you have to take care of yourself, prepare your body and stay healthy so you can give your best every time you step on to the court. There are no excuses for not performing well because you are representing your club and yourself at the same time.”
Jansone has remained close with Basko, a two-time MAAC Player of the Year who is playing professionally in France after stops in Russia, Latvia, Poland, Italy and Spain. Jansone and Basko represented their native Latvia in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Hasbrouck played on MAAC title teams with Siena in 2008 and 2009 and was named MAAC Player of the Year and MAAC tournament MVP as a senior. He has played in Spain and Germany after making the Miami Heat roster for the final 15 games of the 2009-10 season. Hasbrouck averaged 15.2 points per contest in his first nine games this season for SAIE3 Bologna in the top league in Italy, which is among the best in Europe.
Faison, a 6-foot 5-inch guard who turns 35 in February, has an impressive overseas resume after scoring 1,697 points for Siena in the late ’90s. His professional career has taken him to Belgium, Germany, Ukraine, Spain, Turkey, Greece, the Philippines and this year to Georgia. Faison played on the Belgian national team in 2010 and 2011 and took part in the European championships in Lithuania.
“My team provides the players with a fully furnished apartment and a car or a driver depending on the country. They also cover health and dental insurance and other benefits,” Faison wrote in early December from Tbilisi, a city of about two million where his team is sponsored by the Ministry of Defense.
“An average day for me here includes two practice sessions unless we have a game. The morning practice consists of lifting weights, shooting and going over specific details of the day ahead,” Faison noted. He averaged about seven points in his first five Euro Challenge games this season.
“The biggest adjustment on the court is the more controlled offense and the refereeing. In college, the game is more up and down, but for the most part here in Europe it is a slower pace. And some of the rules are different from the States. For example, the traveling rule is called a lot more here,” Faison added. “The biggest adjustment off the court would have to be the language barrier. If you don’t speak the language, it can be hard to communicate about the simplest things, even food.”
Most top Americans who play in Europe get free housing, use of a car, and a meal allowance, and thus have very few expenses. Top imports in countries like Hungary and Austria can make several thousand dollars per month for a season that lasts about 10 months.
Moore said he hopes to play pro basketball at least until he is 30. He had not been to Europe prior to his junior year at Siena, when the basketball team toured Italy and played local teams there.
Moore began his pro career in Slovakia and then played last season in Poland. His current tenure in Hungary presents him with another difficult language to master. “I feel like I have been to three of the hardest places to learn a language,” said Moore, who knows how to say “hello” and “How are you?” in Hungarian. “Most of the time there are English menus in the restaurants. Over the years I have learned how to use hand gestures to make myself understood.”
Jansone, a 6-foot 4-inch power forward/center, always knew she would return to Europe to pursue her hoop dreams. “After graduating from Siena, there was no doubt I would be playing professional basketball overseas. I’m so happy I got a chance to play in the USA and experience college basketball life. That really helped prepare me for my future basketball career and gave me a valuable education at the same time,” she said. “I have had the good fortune to see so many impressive sites and to experience so many different cultures. That’s the beauty of playing in Europe.”