Goree Island once housed 28 slave houses off the coast of Senegal. Former Wichita State basketball player Clevin Hannah toured the one remaining this summer and struggles to articulate the feeling of walking their path and exploring their cells.
“It was touching, overwhelming, crazy,” Hannah said. “There was like 15 guys stacked up in a room. They’ve got them shackled up side by side, all standing up, lined up in a room. Unexplainable.”
Hannah visited Senegal while playing for the country’s national team, a highlight of his travels since leaving WSU after the 2010 season. The Shockers who play overseas do it for the money, the experiences and the love of the game. For most, it remains an easy choice to play in Europe or Asia instead of chasing the dream in the NBA Development League.
Most will never come close to the NBA. Some will wrestle with decision to play overseas — where the money is good — or the D-League — where a lucky break or a relationship can land a player in the NBA. It’s not hard to get into the D-League. Giving up a good overseas contract is a difficult choice, even for players such as Joe Ragland, who may be in demand for a good look from an NBA team.
The choice is different for all of them.
Former Shocker Toure Murry played briefly overseas before devoting his career to the D-League. The result is a 56-game NBA career with New York, Washington and Utah and hopes for more. He spent last season with Sioux Falls in the D-League and will go to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Garrett Stutz played in South Korea, Belarus, Czech Republic and Dubai and visited 27 countries since leaving WSU after the 2012 season. He learned to love svickova, a Czech meal consisting of potato dumplings with beef tenderloin in creamy caramel sauce and topped with lemon, whipped cream and cranberries.
“It’s almost like Thanksgiving all on one plate,” he said.
For many Shockers the combination of travel, new experiences and good money is a life-changing opportunity overseas. Most teams provide a car and apartment.
“Dubai — that place was so incredible,” Stutz said. “Everything exceeds expectations. The buildings are big. The people are friendly. You meet people from all over the world.”
The salary — talented, experienced Americans usually make six figures overseas — keeps Stutz from choosing the D-League since the 2012-13 season with the Maine Red Claws.
“I know it’s not what a lot of people want to hear first,” Stutz said. “They want to hear you play for the love of the game. At this point, it is a job. Setting yourself and your family up for the future is a really big part of that.”
D-League salaries range from $13,000-$25,000, according to USA Today and other published reports. Like all minor leagues, it is also a place everyone is trying to leave for a better spot. Travel — for players often used to charter jets in college — is not glamorous.
Like Stutz, former Shocker Darius Carter sees security in overseas salaries. He wants to reward his parents for their investments in his basketball career.
“They spent thousands on me,” Carter said. “I want to be able to give back. I want to take care of my family.”
Murry, who last played in the NBA in 2014-15, won D-League titles in 2013 and 2016. He is a regular in the NBA Summer League and used his time in July to hook on with Minnesota and earned a longshot chance to make the 15-man roster. He is confident NBA people know enough about him that the D-League makes sense.
“I’m close,” he said. “My goal is to get back to the NBA.”
Former Shockers Fred VanVleet (Toronto) and Ron Baker (New York) are also headed to training camp in late September, neither on guaranteed contracts.
Both will likely play in the D-League this season, although a shoulder injury suffered by Toronto guard Delon Wright might aid VanVleet’s quest for a roster spot. Both are on partially guaranteed deals, a tactic NBA teams use to add to a salary and make the D-League more attractive. For example, VanVleet’s guarantee is $50,000 which, when paired with a D-League salary, is competitive with what he might make as a first-year player overseas.
Ragland is one of the most successful former Shockers playing in Europe. His time with Emporio Armani Milano, one of Italy’s top teams, gave his resume a boost and he spent last season with S.S. Felice Scandone in Italy. A player in his position is unlikely to risk a guaranteed deal for a 10-day NBA contract or the D-League.
“Just having a year of Milan on his record is going to make him a lot of money,” Stutz said. “Unless you are this close or a team promises you … the money overseas is so much better.”
Playing overseas does come with challenges.
Agents must investigate clubs to to determine their financial stability and available playing time. Living quarters are important, especially for players with a family. Hannah, who is entering his seventh season playing overseas, must consider his wife (Kailyn) and son (Carson). He will play in Turkey this year and is concerned about safety in the terror-ravaged country. Some coaches practice erratically and require little of Americans other than showing up at games. Others ride Americans hard, because of their salaries, and raise unreasonable expectations.
“It’s big for me to know how to live in the country, how the city is and is everything going to be OK,” he said.
He almost turned down the job in Turkey.
“The money was pretty good, so I’m going to try it out,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s normal, but they’re used to it in Turkey. I can’t do much but pray and try to stay as safe as possible, stay in the area I know.”
Last season, Hannah’s team in Spain went three months without paychecks. That situation tested his leadership skills in ways that don’t compare to most basketball challenges.
“Nobody got paid, the coaches, the trainers, the managers,” Hannah said. “Basically, you’ve got to say, ‘Yo, if you’re here, you’re here and try to focus on what we’re doing on the court.’ It’s difficult because everybody’s grown and they’ve got kids, they’ve got bills. That kind of messed our team up this year. You’ve got to hope you’ve got good guys who already have their money.”
Carter played briefly in the Republic of Georgia last season, his first as a professional. His agent got him away from that club when it didn’t pay salaries. He missed seven paychecks and estimates losing around $50,000 before finding a new team with reliable funding in Greece.
“They kept promising money and promising money, but in reality there was no money to give,” Carter said. “There wasn’t even money for the gym to get paid for so we could practice.”
The D-League’s affiliation with the NBA is improving. All 22 teams are connected to an NBA team and league officials expect to add more. Players and agents want salaries to improve. Hannah estimates a bump up to around $40,000-50,000 for the five-month season would make athletes consider the D-League more strongly.
“People would love to stay here and play in America,” he said.