This man's got quite a slam dunk Atholton grad's happy cager in Europe

August 19, 1992|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Staff Writer

Steve Key has the world in a slam dunk right now. And he couldn't be happier.

To the surprise of many people, he's now earning fame and fortune playing in the European professional basketball leagues.

In 1986 Key led Atholton High to its only county basketball title in the past 16 years.

"He was only about 6-foot-1 when he played for me, so I didn't envision him as playing professional ball, although he had great potential and had a great senior season," said Jim Albert, his coach at Atholton. "Then he had a late growth spurt in college, and that added height helped him."

Key not only grew three inches but had a fine basketball career on a full scholarship at Boston University, where the 6-foot-4 point guard was Northeast Conference Player of the Year his senior season.

Now he's in Stuttgart, Germany, getting ready for the upcoming German Professional League season, and hoping he can duplicate his impressive stats from last season when he played in Austria.

The 24-year-old Key averaged 25 points and 14 assists as point guard for Vienna in the Austrian League. That was good enough to catch the eye of the German Professional League, which is considered a higher level of competition than the Austrian League.

Key nearly made the National Basketball Association right after college, but was the last player cut by the Los Angeles Clippers.

"Mike Schuler, the Clippers coach, thought I was about a year and a half away from the NBA," Key said. "So next summer I plan to give it one more hard push to make the NBA, and if I don't, I'm totally happy playing in Europe."

And why shouldn't he be happy? He said he'd earn better than $45,000 tax-free playing this year in Germany. He also has been given an apartment and a car while he's there.

"I'm debt-free, so I'm one step ahead of the game," he said. "I could have made a little bit more money this year if I had stayed in Austria, but this was a good career move."

If the NBA doesn't work out, he has his eye set on day playing in the Italian League, the highest-paying European league. Players there average $150,000 per year.

When he was at Boston University, Key said he never even thought about playing in Europe. "I didn't realize the possibility," he said.

But after being cut by the Clippers, and after a 3 1/2 -month unsatisfactory fling with San Jose in the Continental Basketball Association, Key's agent lined him up with an Austrian team.

"The money just isn't there in the CBA, and I didn't want to hang around hoping for a 10-day NBA contract," Key said. "I wanted something more stable and sure."

Key possesses tremendous natural ability. He showed off a 360-degree dunk shot during a summer league game at Howard Community College the first week of August -- two days before he left for Germany.

He showed a quick first step and wasn't afraid to dive for a loose ball during that game, which his team lost, 78-75.

Key spent most of his summer working out at George Washington University, where his former BU coach Mike Jarvis is now the head coach.

"I work out much harder now than in college," Key said.

His work habits haven't always been the best. He started only six games his junior year at BU because his coach didn't think he was working hard enough.

But he rebounded his senior season to start all 30 games, and earn Northeast Conference Player of the Year honors, averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 assists.

Key led his team in scoring in 17 of 30 games and had a career high of 30 against New Hampshire. He scored 17 points in a 76-52 NCAA playoff loss to Connecticut

He shot 84 percent at the foul line and 45 percent from the floor that senior season, and in most statistical categories surpassed in one season his cumulative numbers for three previous seasons.

BU compiled an 18-12 record that year, but played a tough schedule that included a victory over Maryland and a 73-65 loss to Michigan, the defending national champ.

Youth is a plus for Key in the European pro leagues, where the players' average age is 30 and many play until they are 40.

Key has a strong background for playing successfully on the European circuit. His father, Sam, played professionally in Belgium for eight years in the 1960s.

Steve's brother, Mike, was also an excellent player at Atholton, and still plays competitively in recreation leagues like the one at Howard Community College this summer.

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