Success Story

West Virginia's recent success on the basketball court has landed a number of alumni in professional leagues around the world. We got the chance recently to catch up with Jamie Smalligan, who like several former Mountaineers is playing in Europe.

Smalligan, one of the most forthcoming and affable of Mountaineers, provided us with some insight on his current season with Landstede, a team located in the city of Zwolle, about one hour from Amsterdam.

"We have 40 games in our season, so that means about one or two games per week over seven months. Before the Christmas break we would have two practices a day, and normally Sunday off. The practices are nothing like Huggs', though. Maybe an hour of shooting in the morning at 10 or 11 then a two-hour practices at night around 5 or 7. But I guess since practices run three hours a day for eight months, it would be a real drain to have Huggs-like practices every day.

"The schedule has left me some time to do some sightseeing. I've been to Belgium and Luxembourg, which are right next door, and when the playoffs end in April or early May I will probably stay around an extra week or two to have time to see more.

"As far as the culture goes it was a rough adjustment at first and really hard to explain. But it was definitely out of my comfort zone at first. The nice thing about Holland is that it's a beautiful country with lots of nice people. And because Dutch is not a very common language everyone here speaks English, among other languages. The main thing I don't like is the weather, its always cold and rainy or just plain rainy. In all, living here has shown me how much I love the U.S. I'm becoming so patriotic that by the time I get home I'll be the guy you see driving with two big American flags on the back of my F-150!"

Smalligan is both teammate and roommate to former Mountaineer Frank Young, who is playing in his second season in Europe.

"Frank and I live together, and hang out a good bit. We were good friends in college had a lot of classes together, but we didn't hang out every day because sometimes you get enough of other people just in practice. That's pretty much the same here. We have two other Americans on the team: Robby Bostain, a 6'4" combo guard and Gerad Punch a 6'6" wing like Frank. Both went to Furman University and are second year players on this team.

"I keep in touch with all my college teammates, especially the ones overseas. Those guys are my friends for life. It's nice having friends that are over here that are on your same time schedule and going through the same stuff you are. It's hard to keep in good touch with all my friends in the states because of the six-hour time difference. Other then Frank I talk to Darris Nichols and Rob Summers a lot, and also Joe Alexander and Ted Talkington. Also Joe and Ted. The guys still playing at WVU are pretty busy with their season now but I'll be sure to get back in touch with them when I get back."

Interest in basketball in Europe varies greatly from country to country, but while it's not on the top of the list in Holland, those fans that do come out are very enthusiastic.

"The fans here are great to Americans," Smalligan said "Typically they are very loud (blowing horns and noise makers) and sometimes drunk. Most of the gyms are small but I like that because while small, they are also full, which is better then a big empty arena. The games aren't on TV or radio, so I rarely get recognized by name. But people do know I'm an American basketball player."

Smalligan has had a good year to date, averaging around 10 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes of action. He was able to come back home for Christmas break, and is now back and playing the second half of the season. The regular season ends in April, with playoffs immediate following. After taking a bit of time for the aforementioned sightseeing, he plans to be back in the U.S. sometime in May.

As for his future playing career, Smalligan is uncertain. Opportunities can come up that provide good pay for short stints, but the long grind of a European season, despite the pay, also keeps players away from home for long periods.

"This year was a good life experience that has taught me a lot about living in a different place on my own and managing my own money and things like that," he related. "I will look back in the future with no regrets. I have a great situation with a great coach, good teammates and a fun environment, but the sponsors don't have enough money to make a guy want to jump on the first plane and come right back next year. I'm afraid if I find a contract for more money next year I could get there and hate the situation. But who knows? Rob Summers got a one-month deal in South Korea for a good deal of money, and I'd do that in a heartbeat. One month would be easy, but being away for eight months is tough. It's tough to say what's going to happen next year, because last March I felt done. But then this opportunity came up quickly. I know I can make more money here then I could in the States, but I miss my old lifestyle and friends back home. I'm realizing that money isn't everything!"

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