Eph brings his skill abroad, goes pro in Germany

Blake Schultz ’10 has stepped onto many basketball courts since the early days of his career, but this fall the court he is playing on is a little different. Schultz is currently playing basketball professionally in Germany for the Herten Lions. The Lions are 2-5 thus far in the season. Schultz contributed 23 points in his debut on Sept. 25.

As basketball has been Schultz’s passion since childhood, playing professionally has been in many ways a dream come true for the recent graduate. “I knew I couldn’t play for the NBA, and I never got to study abroad at Williams because of basketball, so playing professional basketball in Germany has been a great experience for me,” Schultz said. “I’m getting paid to play basketball and do something I love – I really can’t complain.”

Schultz first began to seriously consider playing professional basketball in the spring of his senior year, when agents started approaching him to sign with them after the Eph’s final collegiate season had ended. “I got a lot of calls from different agents, and it actually took me a while to sort through all of it because I was getting recommendations from different people,” he said. “Once I signed, though, my agent was able to contact coaches and show me my options.”

From there, Schultz was able to pick and choose from a variety of teams in Europe, including teams in Denmark, the Netherlands and even Sweden. Though Schultz did primarily focus on the past records of the teams he was looking at, location was also an important factor in the decision-making process.

“I wanted to play for a good team and get a good contract, but for me the extra money here and there wasn’t especially important,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I would live in a place I’d enjoy and really get to experience the culture there. My team in located in West Germany, which is great for traveling – I’ve already been to Amsterdam and Frankfurt, and I have plans to go to Cologne soon too.”

Though Schultz is taking advantage of the opportunity to travel around Europe, he has also been taking time to adjust to his new life in Germany. Though the majority of the people living in his town do speak English, Schultz admits that at times the language and cultural barriers can be tough to overcome.

“A lot of the older generation doesn’t speak English, which makes a lot of things more difficult, like going out to eat at restaurants. In general, there is a lot of pointing and gesturing with me and not a lot of communicating when that happens,” Schultz said.

Fortunately, the language barrier is not as prominent on the court between Schultz and his coach and teammates. “Most of my teammates actually speak really good English – they’re pretty much fluent,” he said. “The only time there are problems is when the coach gets mad and he just goes crazy in German yelling at us. I know I’m supposed to be intimidated by him shouting at me, but I really just have no idea what’s going on, so I just space out when he’s talking.”

Schultz has enjoyed meeting and playing with other professional basketball players, though he admits that there are significant changes on and off the court from his playing days at the College.

“I think the thing I miss the most is playing with all my teammates at Williams,” Schultz said. “They were all my best friends and I think that really helped our team dynamic because we would always have so much fun together. There was a great team spirit because we knew that everyone was playing for the right reasons, because we loved it. Here, because we are all paid, my teammates kind of just look at it as a job, and there isn’t the same sense of camaraderie. That’s definitely something that has really helped me appreciate my time on the team at Williams.”

Getting paid to play basketball has not only shifted the dynamics of the team, but also, on a more fundamental level, Schultz says that it has even changed his mindset on the court. “It’s weird because I get bonuses based on how well I play, and that really changes the way you think about playing basketball,” he said. “For example, last week my shoulder was hurt and I was struggling a little bit, so people were telling me not to play because my stats would go down and it’d affect my pay. That’s something that would never have crossed my mind at Williams. It has changed my approach to playing basketball, and it’s something that I definitely do not like.”

It’s also not always been easy for Schultz as an American playing on a team of predominately German players. Not only is there occasionally a language barrier, but there is even a sense of divide between Schultz and the German players. “I think for some of the players on the team there is this mentality that all of a sudden all these Americans are coming in and playing basketball on their team,” he said. “In general everyone is great, but sometimes I can definitely sense a hostility from some of the players. It puts a lot of pressure on me and the other American on the team.”

Yet Schultz claims that overall his teammates have been inclusive, welcoming him into their professional and social lives. “I hang out with the other American on the team because we are roommates and work out together, but I have also been getting to know a few guys on the team,” Schultz said. “Some of them have American ESPN, so we’ll go over and watch some baseball games. They’re definitely really nice guys – it’s just a different type of relationship from the one I had with my other teammates at Williams because there I ate meals, went to class and hung out with my teammates constantly.”

One of the biggest adjustments Schultz had to make since arriving in Germany is dealing with vast quantities of free time. “I usually wake up and work out until noon every day and then I am completely free until 8 p.m. when I have to go to practice until 10 p.m.,” he said. “It’s so different from Williams where I constantly would have practice, meetings, homework and other things to do throughout the day. It’s good because now I get to watch TV on my computer and read books – do things that I never really had time to do.” Schultz is also being tutored in German.

Along with the benefits of having more time to himself, Schultz says that the enthusiasm of his team’s fans has been a big bonus for motivating him through his games. “Soccer is definitely the biggest sport here, but I’d say basketball is about the second, so we have a great fan base,” he said. “Going into the stadium, all the fans have noisemakers, they sing songs and chants and go crazy. It’s a lot of fun.”

In fact, having a fan base has even gotten Schultz recognized on the street. “Sometimes when I am just walking around town, someone will randomly come over to me and say my name. It’s really funny because it’s usually half in German and half in English, so I just have no idea what people are saying. I really can’t communicate with them – I can only say hello since I know a total of about 10 words,” Schultz said.

The former Eph will continue to contribute to Herten’s success throughout the team’s season, which continues through early February.