Aggie Standouts Succeed Abroad

May 20, 2013

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DAVIS, Calif. – For UC Davis men’s basketball alums Mark Payne, Eddie Miller and Dominic Calegari, experiences gained throughout their time as an Aggie have helped each build successful basketball careers abroad.

All starters for their respective teams in Greece, Brazil, and Spain, each encountered a unique set of challenges and obstacles during their transition from Division I to top-tier professional competition. 

“The language barrier is difficult, it takes a month or two to adjust to life in a different language,” said Payne, a member of the Greek League club Panionios.

In addition to adjusting to life in a new country, Payne also noted that “the length of the season is a challenge. At Davis, we start in September and the season is over in five months. Over here, we start practicing in August and play straight through June. The grind and physical fatigue is much more difficult than it was in college.” 

As his team’s primary shooting guard, Payne averaged 4.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in his inaugural season in the Greek Basket League, considered one of the best domestic basketball leagues in Europe.

Payne also shot 52.5 percent from the floor and 52 percent from three.

Ending the regular season last weekend with a 24-point victory over neighboring Ikaros Kallitheas to secure a third-place finish, Payne’s schedule will continue this week in the opening round of the A1 League Playoffs.

Competing for Brazilian Super Copa do Brasil champion Fluminense as its point guard, Miller also understands firsthand the difficulties of competing in a foreign country, and can sympathize with his former teammate regarding the challenge of breaking language barriers.

“Off the court, you are adjusting to a completely different culture and, depending on the country, the language barrier can be a difficult obstacle. On the court, the style of play is different from the U.S.; defining one’s role amongst a group of professionals is not easy.”

Helping Calegari adjust to the rigors of professional basketball is the work ethic originally developed while playing at UC Davis.

"It took me a while to really learn what hard work was," he said. "That being said, I am very grateful that I learned it while I was at UC Davis and could bring that knowledge and work ethic to this level. I want to be the best I can possibly be and it takes hard, long hours to make that a reality." 

Calegari’s hard work this past season has helped Forca Lleida, a club in the LEB-Gold Division in Spain, finish in the top half of the league and earn a spot in the LEB-Gold Quarterfinals.

The team’s starting center and one of three Forca Lleida players to score 10 or more points per game this season, Calegari averaged 10.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 24.1 minutes throughout his 29 appearances, shot a team-high 60.8 percent from the floor and led all players with 3.9 defensive rebounds per game.

As challenging as it is at times to compete overseas, opportunities like these also provide a chance to compete against some of the most recognizable and respected teams in the world, and compete in a passionate environment that differs dramatically compared to those experienced in America.

“When my team snapped a 10-year losing streak this season against Panathanaikos, one of the best teams in Europe,” said Payne when asked to describe his favorite moment as a professional basketball player. “They are one of the teams with the biggest budgets; most of their players competed in the NBA before returning to Greece and we defeated them, at home, in front of our fans.”

Added Payne, “The fans in Europe are definitely much more enthusiastic and loyal than they are in the U.S. Many of these people have grown up living in the city and have been coming to watch their teams for 30-plus years. Some fans are so passionate, they even throw objects on the floor to protest bad calls from the referees - it gets pretty crazy. I love playing in front of the fans; they are so passionate, it makes each game feel like a championship event.”