MILTON — In sweltering 85-degree heat on the last day of July, Liz O’Connor was outside, on a basketball court, at Milton High, swishing shots as her older sister, Carolyn Brandi, fed her the ball from under the rim.
As men played a pickup game on an adjoining court, O’Connor took a firm stance at the free-throw line. In one five-minute span, she mechanically sank 95 percent of her attempts.
A former captain at both Milton High and Simmons College in Boston, the 22-year-old O’Connor has been training to play pro basketball in Germany this fall. The 5-foot-6 guard has been offered a contract by BSG Ludwigsburg, a Division III club that will tap off a 22-game season in late September.
“They’re looking for a lot of leadership there,” O’Connor said. “Overseas, you can have players on your team that range from 17 to age 40. They definitely want the leadership from an American.”
Ludwigsburg finished third in the 12-team league last season in the Regionalliga. The top team in its division moves up to Division II, while the worst team in the second division is demoted at the end of the season. The club is only allowed one “foreigner,” defined as anyone who does not carry a European Union passport.
O’Connor, who led Simmons in scoring (9.6 points per game), rebounding (8.9 per game), and field goal percentage (38.1) last season as a senior, has been working out with the Brockton Lady Thunder, a new franchise in the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League. She also has been scrimmaging against men twice a week, all in preparation to take a shot abroad.
It is an opportunity that she felt would not be available for the product of a Division 3 college program. Simmons coach Kristen Rasmussen Tarr, who played professionally stateside (WNBA) and abroad (Switzerland, France, Greece, Romania, Spain, and Australia), felt otherwise.
‘They definitely want the leadership from an American.’
“From my experience and knowing the game overseas, I knew if she wanted to, she could play for a couple of years overseas, no problem,” said Rasmussen Tarr.
“She can play multiple positions; she’s a great teammate. She just has to realize how good she is at what she does on the basketball court.”
O’Connor passed on attending an international scouting camp in New Hampshire as a senior; instead, she pursued a talent agency, a common stepping stone to playing abroad.
And relying on Google, she e-mailed 25 agencies before reaching Iska Waterloh, a 15-year veteran of German agency Slammers Basketball.
Brandi was skeptical of the process and wanted to make sure that her younger sister was not walking into a scam.
“I think some of my advice she didn’t really love,” Brandi said. “I’m kind of the level-headed, you need to talk to this person and find out if it’s a real thing. Are you going to be making money, and all the older sister questions.”
Waterloh admitted that the agency business is shady, with people and teams who are just interested in taking a player’s money with empty promises.
“That’s where the work of an agent starts,” Waterloh said. “It’s a nightmare; they promise you a Ferrari and you get a bike, they promise you a big house and you get a little tiny room that you have to share with another player. They promise you a lot of money and you don’t see a cent.”
Two of O’Connor’s teammates with the Thunder, former Bay State Conference standouts Denise Beliveau (Framingham High) and Colleen Hart (Needham High) worked landed deals overseas through MK Sports and Entertainment Group in New York.
Hart, a 5-3 guard, suited up for SC Uni Basel Basket (Division I) in Switzerland after graduating from Tufts in 2011 as the career leader in points and 3-pointers. She resided in an area of Switzerland in which German was the common language.
“My German is not so good,” said Hart with a chuckle. “It was zero when I went there. Pretty much all the girls that I played with were fluent in German, French, and English.” A teammate from America aided her transition. She will not return this season; she has been hired as an assistant on Carla Berube’s staff at Tufts.
Beliveau, a 6-foot forward from the University of New Hampshire, played for the Rhein Main Baskets of the Damen-Basketball-Bundesliga (DBBL), Germany’s premiere league. In her first season, she led the team in scoring (16.4), rebounding (8.8), and steals (2.3). She enjoyed the experience so much that she also served as a coach of the Main Baskets’ U-17 junior squad while she was an active player.
“They liked it because I was able to bring new drills that they hadn’t seen,” said Beliveau, who has not yet decided if she will return overseas.
“There was definitely a language barrier, but it was great to be able to continue playing basketball and experience another culture.”
Waterloh said that success on the floor comes from off-court decisions. Regarding Americans, she has seen cases in which players do not leave their homes unless it is to travel to an away game. They refuse to eat local food and stay up until 5 a.m. for Skype calls home, causing them to oversleep and get into bad habits.
She predicts a smooth transition for O’Connor, due to her demeanor and academic qualifications. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and minored in business and communication.
“I sit down with my players and I speak about what is possible because not everybody has the basketball quality to be one of the top players,” Waterloh said. “The team won’t have problems with her. She will be doing very well, [eventually] on the second-division Regionalliga level.”Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.