Hoop dreams find players with Utah ties globetrotting

By David Driver

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Trent Plaisted, since ending his BYU basketball career in 2008, has played pro ball in Italy, Croatia, Lithuania, Ukraine and now Turkey. On top of that, he has played in about 15 other countries, including some such as Serbia and Slovenia, where it is rare, but not unheard of, for Americans to play following the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.

But when he got to Turkey earlier this year, there was a familiar face to help Plaisted with what has been a challenging transition. One of his new teammates is guard Ryan Toolson, who played at Utah Valley and is in Turkey with his wife and son.

"They have been great at making me feel welcome and they care for me and are always inviting over for meals and we are able to hang out quite a bit outside of basketball and go to church together and stuff," Plaisted, a member of the LDS Church, wrote in early April.

Feeling welcome is an appropriate mantra for many American basketball players who are not good enough for the NBA but want to continue their pro careers. While the Final Four has come and gone, many former Division I NCAA players from BYU, Utah State, Utah, Weber State and Utah Valley are winding down their pro seasons all around the globe.

Trent Whiting, since his last season at BYU in 2001, has played for several years in Italy. On April 1 of this season he had 13 points for Aget Imola in an 81-77 loss to Morpho Basket. Former BYU player Lee Cummard is playing in Japan and is teammates with former Weber State players Lance Allred and Jermaine Boyette. Gary Wilkinson, a Salt Lake native and Bingham High graduate, ended his Utah State career in 2009 and is now in his second season in New Zealand.

Toolson began his pro career in Turkey, played last season in Italy and is now back in Turkey. "Since I have a little 11-month-old, I try to go to sleep as early as possible," he wrote in early April. "Here in Turkey we are just an hour away from Ephesus and we've been to Istanbul many times to see the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, which is the biggest market in Turkey."

Plaisted, after averaging nearly 16 points and eight rebounds per game as a BYU senior and being drafted in the second round by Seattle of the NBA, headed to Italy for his first pro season. Now he is playing in Turkey, where NBA All-Star Allen Iverson played for part of the 2010-11 season.

"This has been my first time in Turkey and the living situation here has been pretty nice. I only came a few months ago partway through the season and the transition has been hard at times but that is always a risk you take when you come to a team partway through the year," wrote the 6-foot-11 Plaisted, who began the 2011-12 season in Ukraine and has averaged about 15 minutes and five points per game since moving to the team Aliaga in January.

"We have a very small branch of about eight (church) members so we are able to give lots of talks," added the left-hander. "Turkey actually has a few more American conveniences as compared to other countries. They have KFC, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars and Subway."

Some former NBA players or All-American-caliber players can make at least $1 million per year in western European leagues such as France, Italy and Spain and in Russia. But some Americans with Division I on their resume may have to start out between $50,000 to $80,000 per year in countries such as Austria or Hungary, where the clubs are either not as wealthy or the level of play not as strong. The pay difference depends on many factors, including the country and financial backing of the local club, which sometimes also sponsors a local soccer team.

"All (basketball) clubs in Europe are very similar in what they provide you with. You sign your contract and you have a 'guaranteed salary' and then the club will pay for your apartment and pay for your car, so basically you are responsible to figure out how you are going to eat and pay for gas and that is about it," Plaisted added.

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