Oct. 2, 2009
WELS, Austria - University of Washington alumna Heidi McNeill has signed a contract to play professionally in Wels, Austria, for WBC Raiffeisen. McNeill, who signed back in mid-September, is listed among the team's top players and will suit up for the first time tomorrow, Oct. 3.
At the end of her senior season, McNeill expressed to Washington head coach Tia Jackson that she still wanted to play basketball, perhaps overseas. Jackson send McNeill to assistant coach Judy Spoelstra, who has a lot of contacts overseas and who herself had played in Japan for three years.
Spoelstra worked closely with McNeill to find a player agent in Europe to help market McNeill overseas. McNeill eventually connected with Lauren Stagg, a former standout guard at Arizona State who now works in sports agency in Germany.
"Lauren had some great contacts in and around Germany," said Spoelstra. "I think both Heidi and I felt very comfortable with Lauren and her reputation."
With the current economic status of many European countries, getting McNeill signed was far from a sure thing.
"A lot of teams over there simply aren't bringing in foreign players right now because of the money," explained Spoelstra. "If they can get local talent over a foreigner, they're going to do it."
But Stagg and her contacts were able to generate interest in McNeill with WBC Raiffeisen. Head coach John Dieckelman called Spoelstra over Labor Day weekend to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of McNeill's game. Dieckelman mentioned that they had a big center from Russia and a shooting guard from Saint Louis University and were looking for a complementary power forward to compete his roster.
"He needed someone who could hit the trail shot, make effective lob passes to their Russian post player and put the ball on the deck for a power drive," said Spoelstra. "This really fit Heidi's game and as we talked about all the intangibles Heidi can being - her character, attitude and work ethic - he was sold."
McNeill was bound for Austria. She signed a contract, which included a trial period for Sept. 15-Oct. 15, but heading into her first game tomorrow, she feels confident that everything will work out. Her mother, Hermina McNeill said her daughter is adjusting well to life in Austria and is excited to have the opportunity to play.
"She's listed as one of their top players," said Mrs. McNeill. "Her return ticket is dated May 15, so I think she feels pretty confident about getting through her trial contract."
Spoelstra said the contract McNeill signed is a pretty typical European contract and includes lodging, transportation - either access to a team car or a rail pass - and a small weekly stipend. McNeill is also currently working out the details of a day job, likely working with young kids or doing coaching clinics.
For now, it seems McNeill is enjoying the benefits of living abroad in Europe, something she had wanted to do for a long time.
"Some players want to find a team for success or the amount of money they can get," said Spoelstra. Heidi was looking for a great fit and really wanted to experience life in another country. This opportunity to travel and play overseas is a once in a lifetime gig and it was more important for her to have the fit than [to have] money."
Added Spoelstra, "She's got at least a few more really good playing years ahead of her and I think she's going to do great over there."