Communication is game plan when playing ball overseas

July 22, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Imagine playing a game in which the people in the stands adore you, but no one on your team understands a word you say.

That notion isn't so far-fetched to 11 of the 12 players on the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, who make their living in Europe or Japan as strangers in a strange land, cut off from American customs, trends and endorsement opportunities.

"The language barrier is tough, especially if you're by yourself," said Vicky Bullett, a former star at Maryland, who just finished her first season with Sita Bari, an Italian team.

"The only thing that's going to hinder a lot of players is communicating with your team. Being on the court, you sort of speak your language and they speak their language. You can't help it. After a few months, you sort of catch on. And once you learn the language, it's really easy."

Still, Bullett, Maryland's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, said it took her nearly the full season with Sita Bari before she believed she was a part of the team, "that I could communicate with them."

All in all, the life of the women's player overseas isn't bad. Some earn up to $100,000 a season in the top European or Japanese leagues and receive the use of cars, along with maid service at their apartments.

And the crowds are appreciative and warm.

"In overseas basketball, the people pack the gym every night. They respect you as women athletes, professionals. That's something we really appreciate," said Teresa Weatherspoon, a two-time Olympian and All-American at Louisiana Tech, who has played three years in Italy.

But all of the good food and adoration come miles and miles away from the players' friends and families.

They would much prefer to be in the United States, but every attempt at a women's professional basketball league in this country has failed.

"It's annoying, but if we dwell on what's going on here, we can't further progress in women's basketball," Weatherspoon said. "What we have to do is continue to prove ourselves, continue to play hard and hopefully, there's improvement later on."

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