Overseas hoop dreams: Former local college basketball standouts find playing options to NBA

Former Citadel standout Demetrius Nelson (left) of Johns Island averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season for Kapfenberg in Austria.

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Playing in the NBA is the dream of almost every player who steps onto a college basketball court. But most come to terms with the reality that the NBA is just that, a dream.

For the more than 5,000 players on NCAA Division I rosters each year, there are only 450 potential NBA roster spots. Only 60 players are selected each year in the NBA draft, and not all of them are from the college ranks. Being drafted is also no guarantee of making a team.

That doesn't mean the dream of playing professional basketball is unattainable. In college locker rooms it's often referred to as "going to Europe," although a player could just as easily land a spot on a professional team in Asia, Africa, North America, South America or Australia.

"Not many people can say they are professional athletes. I was just thinking about how truly blessed I am," former College of Charleston forward Jeremy Simmons posted on his Facebook page recently after making the roster for the Polpharma professional team in Poland.

Salaries run a wide range, from six-figures or higher for the very best players to playing for little more than meal money. Former Citadel stars Demetrius Nelson and Cameron Wells are happy with the money they are being paid and the opportunity to continue playing basketball.

"The money is decent. It is a good base salary, and I look to build on it as my career continues," said Wells, who graduated from The Citadel earlier this year and now plays for Zwolle, a team in Holland.

"The money is decent and I'm doing fine," echoed Nelson, who plays for Kapfenberg in Austria.

Simmons, who graduated from the College of Charleston in May, said he is pleased with his contract considering it's his first year of pro basketball and he missed half of his final season at C of C because of a blood clot in his right shoulder.

"It will only increase the better I do," Simmons said.

The quality of basketball is comparable to playing against top college teams. The season officially begins in early October and continues through the middle of April, with teams playing approximately 40 games. They usually don't play more than one game a week.

"That's a challenging thing, playing once a week," said Nelson, a former St. John's High School star who graduated from The Citadel in 2008. "That means you really have to maintain your focus throughout the season."

"The players are a lot bigger and stronger than in college, but I expected that," Simmons said.

But adjusting to the culture can be a challenge.

"In the city I am in, not too many people speak English. But I am fortunate that most of the people I need to converse with speak and understand English," Nelson said. "I am picking up on a few words here and there. I wouldn't say that I am fluent, but I manage. Food hasn't been too bad. I just hit up the grocery store and get to the cooking."

Simmons said Polish is a tough language to learn, but he has mastered a few words.

"The biggest adjustment for me is being away from all my family and friends. It gets lonely over here at times," he said. "The food is better than I thought it would be. It's not that much different from American food."

"Coming to a new country and city, you're not really sure where things are and how things work at first, but my teammates and coaches have done a good job helping me get acclimated," said Wells, one of four Americans on the team. The eight Dutch players on the roster all speak English, he added.

"Being here makes you miss the little convenient things you had at home, like Walmart, a home-cooked meal prepared for you, and even a dryer. The food hasn't been that hard to adjust to. I find most of my meals being pasta, chili and other easy-make meals."

PLAYING PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL

The following players from The Citadel, Charleston Southern, College of Charleston, Clemson and South Carolina were listed on professional rosters this year, according to USBASKET.com.

THE CITADEL

Mike Dejworek, 6-11/C, Bakken, Demark; Dino Dogan, 7-0/C, B.Bystrica, Slovakia; Demetrius Nelson, 6-8/F-C, Kapfenberg, Austria; Cameron Wells, 6-1/G, Zwolle, Holland; Joe Wolfinger, 7-0/C, Vechta, Germany; Neven Zeravica, 6-9/C, Jolly JBS, Croatia.

CHARLESTON SOUTHERN

Billy Blackmon, 6-11/C, Horsholm, Denmark; Dwayne Jackson, 6-4/G, Heartland P., United States; Isaac Jones, 6-8/C, Marietta S., United States; Giedrius Knysas, 6-10/C, La Pontoise, France.

COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON

Casaan Breeden, 6-8/F, Vermont FH, United States; Dontaye Draper, 5-11/G, Cedevita, Croatia; Carl Edwards , 6-5/F, Soles, Mexico; David Lawrence, 6-7/F, U.Mobitel.CN, Romania; Thomas Mobley, 6-5/F; Fileni BPA, Italy; Donavan Monroe, 6-3/G, Wollagong, Australia; Tyrone Nelson, 5-11/G, Moresca, Italy; Dustin Scott, 6-8/F-C, Etzella, Luxembourg; Jeremy Simmons, 6-8/F, Polpharma, Poland; Tauras Skripkauskas, 6-5/G, Sodertalje, Sweden; Carl Thomas, 6-8/F, Volcanes, Mexico; Tony White Jr., 6-0/G, Wulfen, Germany.

CLEMSON

Akinlolu Akingbala, 6-10/F, Nancy, France; Olu Babalola, 6-6/F, Sheffield S., Great Britain; Jonah Baize, 6-6/F, Belgrade, Serbia; Trevor Booker, 6-7/F, Bnei Hasharon, Israel; Sharrod Ford, 6-9/F-C, B.Muenchen, Germany; Jerai Grant, 6-8/F-C, Sydney Kings, Australia; Vernon Hamilton, 6-0/G, Tian Jin, China; Clifford Hammonds, 6-3/G, Banvit, Turkey; Harold Jamison, 6-9/C, Halychyna, Ukraine; James Mays, 6-9/F, Mersin, Turkey; Terrell McIntyre, 5-9/G, CS Bologna, Italy; Tomas Nagys, 6-10/F-C, Al Quadsia, Kuwait; Terrence Oglesby, 6-2/G, CB Tarragona, Spain; Karolis Petrukonis, 7-0/C, Juventus, Lithuania; David Potter, 6-6/F, Naglish Palangos, Lithuania; K.C. Rivers, 6-5/G-F, Lokomotiv, Russia; Willie Solomon, 6-2/G, Hapoel J-M, Israel; Demontez Stitt, 6-2/G, Hapoel T-A, Israel; Raymond Sykes, 6-9/F-C, Goettingen, Germany.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Dominique Archie, 6-7/F, Timisoara, Romania; Evaidas Baniulis, 6-7/F, Sakali, Lithuania; Mitchell Carter, 6-10/C, Madrid, Spain; John Chappell, 6-10/C, ABA Strumica, Macedonia; Devan Downey, 5-9/G, Verviers-Pep., Belgium; Chuck Eidson, 6-8/F-G, Regal Barca, Spain; Zam Fredrick, 6-0/G, Pieno Zvaigzdes, Lithuania; Josh Gonner, 6-2/G, Kouvot, Finland; Antonio Grant, 6-6/F, Poitiers, France; Chad Gray, 6-7/F, Bakken, Denmark; Rolando Howell, 6-9/C-F, Oita H. Devils, Japan; Tre Kelley, 6-0/G, Biancoblu BO, Italy; Tarence Kinsey, 6-7/G, Anadolu Efes, Turkey; Sam Muldrow, 6-9/F, Aris, Greece; Keving Palacios, 6-8/F-C, Graneros, Venezuela; Marijonas Petravicus, 6-10/F-C, Armani MI, Italy; Carlos Powell, 6-7/F, Maccabia Haifa, Israel; Brandis Raley-Ross, 6-2/G, Svit, Slovakia; Antoine Tisby, 6-3/G, Raseiniai, Lithuania; Roderick Trice, 6-3/F, Ratiopharm, Germany; Chris Warren, 6-5/F, Cedevita, Croatia.