Final Four Star Makes a Go of Pro Basketball Abroad

Posted: January 4, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Nearly a year ago, Lamar Butler was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as George Mason advanced to the Final Four in men’s college basketball.

Now, the 2006 Mason graduate, who has a BA in Communication, is experiencing basketball in a much different way–far from the bright lights of a national television audience.

Last fall, Butler headed to the Czech Republic in central Europe, where he played pro hoops in the top league in that country. Nearly every country in Europe has a men’s pro basketball league, and many of them allow at least two non-Europeans (usually Americans) per team.

Soccer, not basketball, is the most popular sport in the Czech Republic. Pro basketball games attract a crowd of a few thousand fans at most venues.

Butler lived in a small town, Prostejov, in the eastern part of the country. Prostejov was founded in 1141, and today is home to about 50,000 people. It hosts an annual poetry festival and the world championships in the Disco Dance Formation. The town is located a few hours east of Prague, one of the top tourist destinations in Europe.

“It was real different. It is slower-paced and an older community,” said Butler, who came home to Maryland for a few days during the holidays. “No one really spoke English.”

His team practiced twice a day most of the time and played once a week in the Czech league. Butler had more free time than during his days at Mason, and he says he was able to catch up on sleep, watch television, call home to his family and do a lot of reading, including the Bible.

Butler was able to visit Prague, and he has also been to Greece and Cyprus. His travels continued after the holidays, as Butler was slated to join the top pro league in Israel.

“I am excited. The league in Israel is way better than the Czech Republic,” he said. “I am looking forward to it.”

Another benefit is that Butler will be in the same league in Israel (but on a different team) as former Mason teammate Jai Lewis, another key senior for Mason last season. Tony Skinn, the third senior starter last season for Mason, played in Croatia earlier in the 2006-07 season and is now looking for other opportunities to play professionally.

Most Americans who play pro basketball overseas are provided a free apartment and transportation and have very few living expenses. In many cases, their salary is not taxed by local jurisdictions.

It is not uncommon for American basketball players to move around from one country to another while playing abroad. The best leagues are mostly in France, Spain and Italy, as well as Greece, Turkey and Israel. Young players may start their careers in northern or central Europe, and try to advance to better-paying and more competitive leagues in western Europe.

“You have to find a situation that fits you,” said Butler, who added that he can see himself making a career overseas.

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