Jan. 29, 2013
By David Driver - Special to SienaSaints.com
The Blue Danube River cuts through the heart of the Hungarian capital, with the former cities of Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east, now united as one for the past 140 years.
In 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 - where former Siena basketball standout Ronald Moore '10 is playing for pay after stops in Slovakia and Poland.
Moore is provided a 9th-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 more modern, tourist city. A lot of people there speak English. It is a beautiful city."
Moore's team, Albacomp, annually is among the best and most affluent Hungarian clubs. Most have at least two foreign imports, normally Americans, who are expected to handle most of the scoring. Moore, a 6-foot point guard who holds Siena's all-time career assists mark, 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 nice 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).
A list of former Siena basketball players currently^ playing overseas (and where they are playing)
Marcus Faison '00 - Georgia
Alex Franklin '10 - Mexico*
Kenny Hasbrouck '09 - Italy
Clarence Jackson '11 - Estonia
Antoine Jordan - Finland
Ronald Moore '10 - Hungary
Gunta Basko '03 - France
Cristina Centeno `12 - Puerto Rico
Maja Gerlyng '12 - Denmark
Shimrit Gigi `04- Israel
Liene Jansone `04 - Turkey
*Franklin played for Puerto Rican national team in summer of 2012
Notes: Tay Fisher "Firefly" '08 plays for the Harlem Globetrotters. Ryan Rossiter '11 plays for Canton of the NBA D-League after playing in France in 2011-12. Edwin Ubiles plays for Santa Cruz in the NBA D-League.
^Former standouts Marc Brown '91 (France and Brazil), Doremus Bennerman (Italy, Greece and Sweden), Lee Matthews '93 (Turkey, Israel and Russia), Jim Cantamessa '00 (France, Portugal, Germany and Belgium), Prosper Karangwa '03 (Syria, Germany, Austria and France), Tommy Mitchell '04 (Finland, Canada) and Dwight Walton (Switzerland, Israel) all enjoyed long professional basketball careers overseas.
"At the moment I'm playing in Tarsus (Turkey)," 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 in coming to Turkey, I'm experiencing new things culturally and professionally."
Jansone is living in an apartment provided by her team in a house where most of the players live together.
"We have our own chef and the team provides us with food, so that's something new for me," Jansone wrote. "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 in Turkey.
"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 individually, prepare your body and stay healthy so you can perform and give your best every time you step on the court. There are no excuses to not be ready to perform well because you are representing a 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 had an impressive overseas resume after scoring 1,697 points in a Siena career that ended in 2000. His professional career has taken him to Belgium, Germany, Ukraine, Spain, Turkey, Greece, the Philippines, and this year Georgia. A Texas high school product, Faison played on the Belgian national team in 2010 and 2011 and took part in the European championships in Lithuania.
"The team provides the players with a fully furnished apartment and a car or a driver depending on the country. They also provide 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 practices a day, unless we have a game. The morning practice consists of lifting weights, shooting and going over specific details of the day,"
Faison 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 could be hard to communicate for the simplest things, even food."
Most top Americans who play in Europe are provided free housing, a car, and a meal allowance and thus have very few expenses. Top imports in countries such as 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 around 30. He had not been to Europe prior to his junior year at Siena, when the basketball team toured Italy and played local teams.
Moore began his pro career in Slovakia and then played last season in Poland. Now he is in Hungary, a land-locked country that has one of the most difficult languages for a foreigner to master.
"I feel like I have been to three of the hardest places to learn a language," said Moore, who has learned how to say "hello" and ask "How are you?" in Hungarian. "Most of the time they have (English) menus in restaurants. Over the years I have learned how to use hand gestures."
Jansone, a 6-foot 4-inch power forward/center who has made previous stops in France and Italy, always knew she would return to Europe to pursue her dreams of playing basketball professionally.
"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 valued education at the same time," she said. "I have had the fortune to see so many beautiful places and experience very different cultures. That's the beauty of playing in Europe."