Your 10-Step Overseas Basketball Plan, Starting Today After writing several posts on pro basketball — from how to have a playing career to how overseas ball works to what LaVar Ball’s kids would expect playing in Lithuania — many players come my way asking about playing pro ball. From going overseas (which I did) to playing in the G-League or NBA (neither of which I did), there are a lot of players who want to “get on.”
I was at first perplexed at having so many players asking me for advice when I had written a post explicitly titled for how it’s done. But, I’ve come to realize that some parts of game have changed. As I played from 2005-2015, the game has changed in many ways, while many things have remained the same. Players — people — have changed as well. So I’ve decided to share with you what I myself would do if I was a new overseas basketball hopeful today.
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What’s Changed Since 2004
Since graduating from Penn State Altoona in 2004 (an NCAA division 3 school), 3 specific things are starkly different now from the pro basketball world I was trying to get into then.
- The information about how to try now exists. In the 15 months I spent out of school before my first contract, me and a teammate who’d also graduated talked or texted daily, perusing Eurobasket.com looking for leads and seeing who we knew of who’d got a deal that day. Eurobasket covered the “what” part of it: Who signed, where at, and how they were doing. No one was writing about the “how” part of playing pro or overseas basketball before I did. And to this day, the deepest and most comprehensive stuff is still on this very website. I share not only what I did, but what you should and need to do to replicate or even surpass my achievements.My writing about overseas basketball brings a lot of traffic to my website, which is good for me. All that traffic also means something for you, the professional basketball player hopeful: More and more people are getting educated on, and thus trying to get in, the overseas game equipped with first-hand knowledge of what to do and how to do it.
- More players are “trying” to play pro or overseas basketball than ever before. I use quotation marks with “trying” because, despite the plethora of information I’ve shared here, and the myriad players who swear that playing ball is their life’s destiny, a lot of players are not putting a real effort into making it happen.Sending a handful of emails to teams and/or random people who may or may not even have the power to help you does not constitute effort. Why: Everyone’s doing it now. It was a novel and new idea in 2004-2009ish, I’d say. Now, It’s the subway in Manhattan. A few of my college teammates now work as college basketball coaches, from D1 to D3 programs. I ask them how many emails, inquiries and pitches they get from wanna be walk-ons. The general consensus is about 50 emails per DAY. And there are about 3-5X more roster spots in the NCAA than there are overseas. Meaning, for pro teams, that 50 number is probably 150-200.Not knowing who you’re contacting and why does not constitute effort. I get player resumes emailed to me all the time, which would be great if I were a basketball agent or coach. But I’m neither, nor do i connect players with these folks.Asking someone to help “connect you” or “put [you] on” or “introduce [you] to their contacts” is easy to do, does not display any commitment on your side and is usually unsuccessful. When I speak to G-League teams, which I began doing in the 2017-18 season, I always pose this question: How many of your (unsigned) basketball-playing friends ask you to hook them up with your agent, a chance at a tryout they think you can finagle, or for some other way you can help them get into pro basketball? That question is always met with a collective sigh and affirmative, “EVERYBODY.”
- Everyone can and does market himself. My first YouTube videos in 2006 were the first of their kind, a basketball player practicing and sharing said practice, drills and tips with the public. Nowadays, I don’t remember the last time I met a college or pro pro ball player who didn’t have a channel, some drills to demonstrate, and a camp in the offseason. Again — not to say there’s anything wrong with any of the above — it’s just that it’s a very crowded space now. Everyone, literally, is doing it.We all know how to record video, edit it and put it out. Every player knows how to include the clips that make him/her look good and leave out the rest. Unless you have a real fan base, a real strategy (which I’ll share here) and some real sales skills, just marketing yourself — YouTube, Instagram, email etc — isn’t quite enough to ensure you get the “looks” I think you’ll need to heighten your chances and separate you from the pack.
What Has NOT Changed Since 2004 About Overseas Basketball
Conversely, 3 things have NOT changed since my college graduation in 2004.
- These are still some combines and camps that are not worth your money or time. Back then, some events (read: combines, exposure camps, tryouts) I considered attending just didn’t seem to be very well-run. I had no real facts to support the feeling; it was just my intuition. some of them, I never found out if I was accurate or not. Others, through second-hand accounts from other players, I learned I was right about.Luckily for me and my college teammates, we made solid decisions about which camps were really worth the investment. I couldn’t have explained back then how and why I chose what I chose. I can explain it now (keep reading).With so many people getting into the basketball world these days, as players, coaches, trainers, video-makers, and everything in between, more opportunities exist. Opportunities to play (more games and more leagues), see and be seen (social media), to train (more players = more players who need help + more youths who grow up seeing more basketball and thus want to learn the game). With so many hands grabbing at a somewhat-expanding basketball pie ( I’ll explain the “somewhat” in a moment), that also creates more opportunities for an opportunistic person to sell you a dream that isn’t close to real.People have been promising the attendance of scouts and coaches at their pay-to-play events — and not delivering — for years. This is not a new thing. I must note that it’s not ALL camps who do this, and some who do not deliver on their promise do not set out to deceive you. Some event organizers just don’t have the type of relationships in place where they can be sure some coach who says he’s coming, actually comes. Sometimes it’s not the coaches, it’s the weak crop of fellow plates that makes a camp underwhelming. That’s the game we’re in.I attended about 10 professional basketball tryouts / combines/ exposure camps. I’d estimate that half of them were not good for me, for one of the above reasons — lack of decision-makers in attendance; weak competition; bad combination of players (all guards and no big men, for example); me not playing my best.But keep this in mind: If you were on Wall Street investing in stocks, not every business in your portfolio is gonna turn out to be Google, Uber or Amazon. Sometimes you will lose money. But you don’t cry about it; you get up and get back in the game. Pro Basketball is the same way. This is the game you’re in.
- The number of professional basketball teams, with the exception of the G-League’s expansion, has not increased. The NBA is (hopefully) going all-in with the G-League, and will soon — maybe by the time you read this — have one minor league club for each individual NBA team. Being that the G-League, then known as the D-League, started with only 8 teams in 2001, this is a huge jump that should make any prospective pro player very happy. More teams equals more jobs!Unfortunately, no other league in the world has been nearly as ambitious in expanding as the NBA/G-League.In the early 2000s only the most serious of college-basketball-playing graduates (or dropouts) harbored overseas dreams, one reason being that the “how-to” of it was very hard to come by and often required much trial, error, time and money. Today, with the information so easily available and everyone having a complete business center literally in the palm of their hands (email, video camera, editing software, social media center), anyone can take a shot at it. So, more players are doing just that.But, the number of jobs has not increased.There are, roughly, 10,000 professional basketball player jobs on planet Earth. And probably 100 times that number of players who feel they deserve or can earn one of those jobs. Simple math shows that not everyone can get on.Oh yeah, one other thing: 10,000 jobs, for an American player, is not really 10,000 jobs.Every international league (if you’re an American) I’ve heard of has a limit on how many foreign players are allowed on a roster (let me know if an exception exists). In my experience, I would see 1 or 2 (if any) Americans on teams. The most I’ve seen was the German Bundesliga, where there would be as many as 7 Americans on a roster. So that 10,000 jobs number is really closer to 2,500, if that.And understand that the foreign-born players (or “imports”) rules are not the only roadblock for a professional team overseas to sign an American player. Americans are expensive!Let’s say I’m a general manager in, say, Poland. Signing an American player costs me money in salary (as American players, generally expected to be better players than the locals, command higher salaries), travel (we pay for you to come here) and housing (you need a place to live, since you’re a visitor) than were I to sign a Polish player who can take the train to our town, has lower salary demands, and can live with another Polish teammate in an apartment the team controls. Now of course, we want to sign Americans — you guys are good, and if everyone else has them, we will need some just to keep up on the court — but we also have to make the right choices. If we mess up and sign a player who cannot help us, we now have to find a replacement, which means another round trip flight, more paperwork and more money. I’ll be writing a full article on this specific topic very soon.Bottom line to this point: There are more people trying to get the same number of jobs.
- International overseas basketball clubs still judge you by your pedigree — who you were last playing with/against — more than what you actually accomplished while there. I played D3 college basketball. Upon graduation, I knew my college resume was going to do next to nothing for my pro prospects. No decision maker (coach, scout, agent, etc) ever even looked my way until I went to my first camp and crushed it. And when I subsequently talked to agents and team personnel, It was like my college career never even existed. No one ever asked about it.I thought maybe it was because I hadn’t put up crazy stats in college. Maybe if I’d averaged 20 ppg, my college career would hold weight with pro teams. Then I realized, one of my college teammates had averaged 20 ppg/10 rpg. He didn’t play professionally. A couple years after I’d graduated, a guard at PSU Altoona averaged 25 points per game as a senior. He went to a couple camps and tryouts, and never got a single deal.Pro teams judge you the same way we judge each other: by where you’ve been and who you’ve been with. If your background (not the stats, but the location and clientele, aka teammates and opponents) is as humble or even more humble than mine, you MUST show and prove on the pro level to even be considered. Still.
What I Would Do If I Were Staring Out in Overseas Basketball Today
Which brought me to the question: how would I, myself, get a professional basketball job if I were going after one today?
That’s a good question. What follows is my 10-step plan/answer. Bookmark this post so you never forget these.
1) Make a decision.
The first step is still the first step. I would make a full, all-in commitment to making it happen. What would that mean, exactly?
It means I would make irrational decisions — like taking an easy-in, easy-out job such as selling gym memberships — to be as flexible as possible for attending exposure camps or leaving the country for a newly-offered deal. It means everyone around me would need to know what the plan is (keep reading). It means my entire life would be based around getting myself (back) into professional basketball, one way or another. Everything else falls in line behind that chief aim.
Less than 1% of college players play pro. Everyone is trying to be in that 1%. Everybody can’t make it. With the odds being what they are, you have to be ALL IN, 1,000% on this to make it happen. When you’re less than all-the-way-in, you’ll hesitate on opportunities. You’ll miss opportunities because your eyes weren’t open; you didn’t see it right in front of you. You’ll give less than your best because you know you have Plan B to fall back on.
Plan B only exists when you’re not sure of Plan A. If you have a PLan B for making it to pro basketball, save yourself the time and effort: just do Plan B from the beginning.
2) Research where I’m going.
Too many players find themselves doing random stuff trying to get on; let’s make it more strategic. This is your first action step.
I would get online and start looking for exposure camps. I’d make a spreadsheet list of every single camp I could find and gather the following information:
- Entry Fee
- Estimated Travel / hotel / food costs
- Past player quality (1-5 scale)
- Past decision-maker quality (1-5)
- Personal Intuition about this event (1-5)
With this info in hand, I could start eliminating and elevating certain events based on the info I’d gathered. With so many camps/combines/tryouts (aka “events”) out there, you’ll have a healthy list. Being on the list doesn’t mean you’ll attend them all — this is just for you to know all your options.
3) Save my money.
If you’ve been around pro ball tryouts at all, you know as well as I do: Events ain’t free! Organizations and people run camps and combines for-profit; they make money off your attendance — which is not a bad thing, and does NOT mean they are scamming you. If their event offers an opportunity for you to get a contract, and for decision makers to find their next player, they deserve to be compensated for that. I want to make sure I am making this point clear.
If someone is offering or create a situation that helps you advance, you should be willing to pay for it. Exposure camps are no exception.
Back to my point — these events cost. I may have to pay for my travel, my hotel, and need money to spend while there (breakfast, lunch and dinner, anyone?). And this is my 9-5 paycheck money I’m spending, which may be a fixed amount. Which means, money needs to be planned for. I know for a fact that I would have attended twice as many exposure camps and combines as a player if I’d had the money to go to them all; the fact is I didn’t always have the resources. If I were getting into the game today, budgeting money would be a top priority.
Professional basketball isn’t a non-profit industry. So, in this particular case, for many players, it does take money to make money.
4) Get my family on-board with the plan.
In my playing / tryout / exposure camp days, I had the benefit of only needing to care for one person: Myself. I was not married and had no kids. But I met a lot of men who were playing for higher stakes: baby food, mortgage payments, diapers, child support — or they were spending the money that would’ve been for those things in order to come to the exposure camp. In this detailed video about the business side or basketball, I explained one such example of a guy who had his own business and a wife to consider when looking at his pro options. Many casual fans don’t understand that it’s bigger than just playing. Basketball players are people with real lives and real situations.
That being said, I would be sure my girlfriend / wife / mother of my children / children knew what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what it would entail. This journey would require my time, my energy, my money, my focus and my attention. And everyone has to understand it, accept it, and adjust accordingly. LeBron James made a statement alluding to this regarding his own wife and kids.
When you’re a family man/woman, you’re playing for more than just you; you can’t always be selfish (this is fully my assumption, as I have no kids and am in a relationship but not yet married). Getting my “Home Team” on-board would be required.
5) Try out for the NBA G-League (National Tryout).
This is not a paid or asked-for endorsement. No one at the G-League asked me to write about them (you’ll see some reasons why below, as the league is not perfect). I don’t personally endorse any exposure camps unless I’ve been to them myself. The one time I did cosign a camp that I’d be at (see the business of basketball video linked above), it was underwhelming on its delivery. I went to three G-League/then-D-League tryouts — one national, two local — and didn’t make the league. So, why would I recommend you go?
There are a few reasons.
- You can be sure that people with power — G-League coaches, general managers, scouts, reporters, maybe even international people — will be there watching. You have their full, undivided attention.
- The event is guaranteed to be professionally run and well-organized.
- The competition level will be high.
- A full-fledged, full-time professional basketball coach will be coaching you, evaluating you the whole time. This is great way to get a measure of your game.
The G-League is the closest thing to the NBA, in terms of your actual chances of playing in the NBA (via call-up), and in proximity to NBA scouts and coaches who will know exactly who you are and what you’re doing. You can’t get any closer to the NBA than the G-League.
I would go to the national tryout for all those reasons, to see where I really am with my game. This is an especially important point for those players who have zero or very little college experience, yet still have high confidence in your game. Go to the G-League tryout to both show and to measure yourself.
What about the local team tryouts? My experience with local tryouts is that it’s a crapshoot. I have seen local G-League tryouts that had too high of a player-to-observer ratio (for example, a tryout in Miami for the Sioux Falls G-League team had about 250 players… and the team had TWO people there, total); too many guards nd not enough bigs (happens EVERY TIME); too few players (a player told me he tried out in Reno and they didn’t have enough to even play 5-on-5); and who knows what else. Not to say that all of them have these problems, but that it could happen, and it’s a gamble.
Though I don’t know this to be a fact (but I’ll go 87% on it), G-League teams use the money made from attendees of local team tryouts to fund their teams. Therefore they want as many people as possible paying that entry fee. After attending the National D-League Tryout in 2009, I had a G-League coach calling my phone and selling me on coming to a local tryout for them to “get a second look” at me. I realized only after going that they gave the same pitch to every player whose number they could get ahold of. And that “second look” was not free.
DISCLAIMER: Very few players actually make the G-League from the open tryouts. Knowing this, I would still go if I were playing today.
6) Network, network, network.
At every pickup game where you meet players who look and play like they’ve played somewhere.
At every combine, exposure camp, and tryout.
With every coach or scout who saw you playing well and producing (don’t bother those who don’t know you/haven’t seen you do anything on the court yet).
With anyone and everyone who has any ties to professional basketball around the globe.
As for how to network, here’s what I did and what I’d do:
- Be good at basketball. No one wants to network with a basketball player who can’t, you know, play basketball.
- Ask questions. What other events have you been to / are you going to? Do you know anyone who…
- Swap stories. The more experience you have, the more valuable you become to other players seeking info.
- Get contact info. This one should be easy these days. Everyone has a phone, social media accounts and an email address. Get this of the agents, coaches, scouts etc, as well as fellow players.
People do business with those they know, like and trust — emphasis on “KNOW.” My networks got me contracts multiple times in my career (in addition to having game), where I didn’t have to cut through everyone out there to get myself seen. Knowing the right people can save you a ton of time. Make friends.
7) Go to a camp being held in Europe.
I made this same point in this article and it still stands. Here’s why:
- European decision makers are more likely to attend an event held in Europe — it’s closer and cheaper for them.
- Euro camps will have more Euro players. European players are less selfish than Americans, more team-oriented, and will pass you the ball when you’re open. If you’ve ever attended an exposure camp in the USA, you know that these are valuable attributes.
- An American at a European event will stand out, as there (usually) aren’t as many of you. The travel costs alone keep many Americans on American soil.
European-based camps would be at the top of my events list, despite the added costs (2-3x as much an investment). I’d get to see the world, give myself a much less crowded space to showcase my game, and get lots of great Instagram/YouTube content.
8) Attend large, annually-held camps in the USA and collect full game footage from each.
I created a guide for choosing (and not choosing) exposure camps that’s here. Here is how I would easily sift through the options today: Chose the events that have been happening consistently, year after year.
These events are usually the largest, have the most decision makers in the room, and have been creating the most player success (i.e., contracts). These events also, usually, are run by someone who has skin in the pro basketball game, such as a powerful agent, or an organization that knows everything and everyone.
Is it possible that a new event, run by a person who’s just getting established in the business, could be great for you? Absolutely. Are you willing to bet your money and your possible opportunity on that?
I wouldn’t. But it’s your money and your life.
9) Get a no-frills highlight tape made.
I think we are all far along enough that I shouldn’t have to say this, but I do have to say it: LEAVE THE RAP MUSIC AND EVERY OTHER “EXTRA” OUT OF YOUR HIGHLIGHT VIDEO.
- We know you can make free throws. Edit those out.
- If you share text, stick to the facts — age, height, location, verifiable stats etc
- Footage quality matters, a lot. If your video looks amateur, you’ll be judged as an amateur. Get a good camera, a steady hand doing the filming, and a good editor (if you’re not that person). Pro basketball people, just like you and me, judge books by covers.
I’d send my highlight tape, along with official stats and necessary personal info (name, age, experience, teams played for, measurements, current location, agent) to my contacts who I’ve met in person or may soon meet. Having met them assures that my message will get opened and considered (I hope). This applies to both team people and potential agents.
Re: Cold Calls: The days of mass-emailing are not quite dead, but the family is shopping for a nice casket and burial plot. Everyone is doing it, first of all. Many teams don’t even consider unsolicited offers, for another thing. They go through 1) who they know, 2) who they’ve seen in person, 3) who the agents they trust have available.
10) Look for career shortcuts.
Networking is the #1 career shortcut in any industry. Knowing the right people, along with hanging game to show and prove with, is THE thing you need to get yourself a shot, and not just in basketball. If no one knows you, do what I said in this Instagram post: Go to where they are and prove yourself until they pay you to stay. I’m speaking metaphorically, so apply this advice as it makes sense to an pertains to you.
Being in the right place at the right time is another shortcut, although it is harder to plan for. But here’s one sure thing: Being in your house doing nothing is NOT the right place. Get active, do stuff, PLAY, and get people to know your name (and your game).
The Bottom Line
Professional basketball is a cutthroat business, with too many sellers and relatively few buyers. With the knowledge of what it takes readily out there for anyone to use, you need to take things a level higher than the average hooper and ensure that you stand out. Hopefully, you’ve gained something here that helps. Leave a comment or email me [dre x dreallday.com] if and when it does.
Work On Your Game.