Catching Up With: Kris Lang

Since graduating from North Carolina in 2002, Kris Lang, 27, is now in his fifth season of professional basketball. After stops in Poland, the D-League with Asheville, South Korea and Spain, the 6-11 center is midway through his second season with VidiVici Virtus Bologna in Italy's top league, Serie A.

He has also played for several teams in NBA summer-league and preseason action and was a member of the USA Basketball squad at the 2005 Tournament of the Americas that qualified the United States for the 2006 World Championship.

In the Italian League, Lang has played in 20 games and averages 23 minutes, 11.2 points (2nd-best on the team) and a team leading 5.4 rebounds. He has similar numbers in 10 games played on the FIBA EuroCup circuit -- 22 minutes, 10.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, with season-highs of 25 points and nine boards in both competitions.

Lang, a native of Gastonia, N.C., started 108 games during his Tar Heel career from 1999-2002, averaging 10.9 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Inside Carolina recently caught up with the former UNC standout via e-mail and asked him about his life after Chapel Hill as a pro basketball player on the international circuit.

Inside Carolina: How has your family adapted to living around the world?

Kris Lang: My wife Shaunte is a UNC grad, Class of '02, same as me. Our daughter Makayla will be three in May. They are doing just great. My wife has really adapted well to the European lifestyle. She really likes to travel in the city and country that we live in. For instance, she will take road trips to Venice or Rome when I am on a road trip with the team. Since we are going on two years in Italy, she has learned Italian very well.

My daughter has had a very interesting childhood. As soon as she turned four months old, she took her first plane ride over to Seoul, South Korea, where she lived for six months. Then we came back to the states for a month and then moved to Malaga, Spain. After staying there for three months we came back to the states for the summer (only two-month break). Then we have been in Italy ever since [the start of this season]. So Makayla has only been in America for eight months out of her almost three years. We all have learned to appreciate the lifestyle of other countries and even America.

IC: You are now in your second season playing in Italy's top league (Serie A) with VidiVici Virtus Bologna. What is it that you've liked about your situation there that led you to re-sign with them?

KL: Well, the city of Bologna is a huge basketball city with a lot of basketball tradition. The fans and people really treat us well and with respect. The city is not too big, but not too small. In my opinion, this city has everything me and my family could possibly ask for. We have international schools, great workout gyms (Virgin Active), many shopping areas, great cities close by to visit (Venice, Milan, Florence) and the thing I like most -- great restaurants.

IC: Your club is at 14-6, just three game out of first in the Italian Serie A with 14 games to play and also headed for the FIBA EuroCup (9-3) quarterfinal playoffs in March against a club from Turkey. The team you are on features Travis Best (Georgia Tech and NBA veteran) at point guard, Brett Blizzard from UNC Wilmington, NC State's Ilian Evtimov (Vasco's brother), and Christian Drejer (Florida). Can you give us some info on the style of play and what makes the team successful?

KL: Our playing style is a little different than most playing styles. What I mean by this is that we don't play in the low post. So I have not shot the hook shot in two years. We play a really fast-paced game of pick-and-roll and that is it. It is no secret when teams play us what we are going to do, they just can't stop it. The team is having great success because nobody cares who gets the credit for the win, just that we win.

IC: There are quite a few other Tar Heels in Italy this season. Joseph Forte is with first-place Siena, Dante Calabria is playing his third consecutive year in Milan (in third-place), Vasco Evtimov was with your crosstown rival, Climamio Bologna, until recently and Jason Capel played for Avellino before leaving the team due to a back injury. What has it been like going up against so many former Tar Heels? Do you get a chance to talk?

"I had to have 30 police officers in riot gear (helmets, shields, and billy sticks) surround me and escort me all the way to my car."
KL: It is great to get to play against former teammates and alumni. We always talk about what the Heels are doing now and also talk about memories from when we played together. I hang out a lot with Vasco [Evtimov] and his family. We go out to eat very often. Until yesterday that is -- Vasco left to go play for a team in Spain (Valladolid). My daughter and his daughter play together at every game they come to. Just last night, we went to dinner together after the game, but of course Vas didn't come because he went to Spain.

IC: Former Villanova star John Celestand notes in the current issue of "Dime" magazine, "Italians are very passionate about their basketball, especially in Bologna (called Basketball City), where [Virtus and Climamio] have an insane rivalry." How crazy is it there?

KL: Well, the rivalry is extremely crazy over here. I have a little story for you. A friend of mine that now plays for Prokom in Sopot, Poland, Jeff Nordgaard (from Wisc.-Green Bay and a former teammate in Wloclawek, Poland), gave me some tickets to come see him play in Bologna against Climamio (our rival team). So I arrived at the game and instantly all 10,000 fans started booing and whistling and had some choice words for me, which I can't repeat here. After the game was over hundreds of fans started to charge at me and tried to fight me. I had to have 30 police officers in riot gear (helmets, shields, and billy sticks) surround me and escort me all the way to my car.

It was wild. I saw one cop kick someone down the stadium seats. These fans were trying to jump over the police, but they would just throw them down to the ground. I was never even touched. I even had four police officers staying near me during the game.

IC: Celestand also mentions in the article that Italian basketball fans come up with theme songs for each player and then sing it when a basket is scored. What is your theme song?

KL: The theme song is long and in Italian so I will give you a quick summary of it. It basically repeats that the team colors -- the black and white -- are strong. There is more to it, but that's what they say the most. It is a very long song.

IC: After playing in over 30 games so far this season between the Italian League, Italian Cup and FIBA EuroCup, how are you holding up?

KL: My body is holding up just fine over here even though it is a very long season. My coach (Zare Markovski from Macedonia) is very understanding. When I am tired he will let me rest. Many coaches over here in Europe are not understanding like this and will practice you everyday, all day. But my coach is an exception.

IC: You are on the cover of the current issue of the Italian basketball and lifestyle magazine "Dream Team" along with Tyus Edney (UCLA) of Climamio Bologna. What's it like being a basketball star in Bologna, Italy?

KL: I don't consider myself a star over here, but if you want to put it that way, it is the same as being in Chapel Hill. Everywhere you go they want to take pictures with you or sign some autographs. It really helps that we now know the owners of the restaurants we go to and if it is crowded they will find us a place to sit without having to wait. But, all in all, it is just like when I played at Chapel Hill.

IC: How are you on handling the autograph requests?

KL: I don't mind signing autographs at all. I truly still find it exciting to still sign autographs.

IC: Your first year as a pro (2002-03) you went to Poland. You were a rookie from Gastonia, N.C., in Wloclawek, Poland. What do you recall about the coach there, Andrej Urlep, a Slovenian with a reputation for being a very tough guy?

KL: Ha! Andrej Urlep and I had a very interesting relationship to say the least. But I don't want to get too controversial about it. I'll say he has helped me out in many ways. I mean, every other team I have been with has seemed easy compared to what I went through with him. It is safe to say that I grew up a lot that season and learned how to stand up for myself. That is all I will say about that year.

IC: You helped Anwil Wloclawek win the Polish League championship that year. What do you recall about that team, that experience and the fans there?

KL: The team there was very close. Everyone got along together and we played hard for each other. That year we didn't have the most talented team, but we did have the hardest working team in the league and that is what won us the championship. The fans were great and they were extremely excited after we won the championship considering it was there first championship in history. I was just happy to be a part of that milestone.

IC: Donald Williams recently signed to play in Poland for Polpak Swiecie. What advice would you give him?

KL: The only advice I can give Donald Williams is to have a big, heavy coat because it is VERY cold there.

IC: You were named top import player and best defender among other honors in the Korean League during the 2004-05 season in South Korea with the Seoul SK Knights. What was it like playing in South Korea?

KL: I loved playing in South Korea. You would play three games a week and they would all basically be in Seoul. So the traveling was very easy. The only drawback was that we had to stay in dorm-like apartments (very small studios). That was a little rough on us. But everything else was great. They have Wal-Mart and all the American restaurants there. I also got like 20 custom suits made for a very cheap price. The Korean food was good. You really have to like white rice and if you do you will be fine with the spicy foods they eat. And when I say spicy, boy do I mean spicy. Kimchi [the Korean national dish], for example, all I've got to say is ...hot stuff!

IC: The word from South Korea was that you were very popular there, especially among the female fans. Reaction?

KL: As far as the girls, I didn't pay them no mind because I am married and have a little baby girl. Besides, I really think they were more intrigued with my daughter than me.

IC: What do you miss the most when you are overseas for a long period of time?

KL: This is a quick and easy one to answer. I miss my family ... mom, grandparents, etc.

IC: What would you say are the best and worst things about the countries you have been to?

KL: In Poland the food was very good. The weather was the worst thing about it -- very cold. The food was great in Spain [Kris was in Malaga] and the weather was great (sunny all day, everyday). I have nothing negative to say about Spain. South Korea is just like living in New York City. Nothing wrong with that if you like the big city, but with me coming from a small town I like the slow life better. The city we stay in now in Italy (Bologna) is just perfect for my family. If I had to say anything bad about it, I'd say maybe it's not as sunny as I would like it to be.

IC: Since leaving UNC, you've been to NBA preseason or summer camps with Washington, Memphis, Portland and Milwaukee so far. Do they give you any feedback on what they are looking for from you in order to make the jump to the NBA?

KL: I have had good experiences with all these summer league teams. As time has passed, I have learned a lot relies on being in the right place at the right time. It is all a matter of timing in many situations.

IC: Will you be taking part in any pick-up games at the Smith Center or any other activities in the Chapel Hill area during the summer?

KL: I am going to come up this summer to visit with my Carolina family and let them see my daughter, but I am not sure if I will be playing or not. I am doing my first basketball camp this summer in my hometown of Gastonia (N.C.). Those interested can visit the camp web site – krislangsbballcamp.com – for more details.

IC: Where do you reside in the offseason and what will you be doing during the offseason to relax and get away from basketball?

KL: I had a house built in Gastonia, North Carolina. It was just finished two years ago. As far as rest goes, that is exactly what I will be doing -- resting. Along with holding my first basketball camp, as well. It will be two different sessions. The first session will be June 27-29 and the second session July 11-13. I hope to see some Carolina fans there.

IC: What former Tar Heels do you still keep in touch with?

KL: I keep up with many of my teammates, but the most frequently talked to person would have to be Brendan Haywood. That is my little son (an inside joke).

IC: The current Tar Heels are having a good season. How much do you keep up with North Carolina basketball?

KL: I keep up with the Tar Heels almost daily. I get to watch almost every game they play -- live! And, yes, I know that we play NC State tonight [the interview was conducted on Feb. 21] because the last time we played them we were not very successful. And Ilian Evtimov would not stop talking about it and still is talking about it. I know that "The Boys" will put an end to that tonight. Go get 'em Heels!

IC: Do you keep track on how fellow former Tar Heels are doing overseas?

KL: My wife and I go to InsideCarolina.com and read the pro news and notes. I like to know where everyone is and how they are doing. This year is interesting considering many of them are over here in Italy.


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