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Two Hoyas Head to Europe, Working Hard on Their Shot

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jeff Green knows that his life will change at some point on Thursday night in New York City, when he hears his name called during the NBA draft. The Georgetown forward and Big East Conference player of the year knows that he will be playing professional basketball and making a lot of money to do so.

Sead Dizdarevic will go to Dulles International Airport this afternoon and board a plane for a trip that he hopes will change his life. The 6-foot-9 forward, a teammate of Green's for three seasons at Georgetown, is going to Italy in pursuit of a professional basketball career.

He intends to participate in an invitation-only tryout camp for European teams in Treviso later this week -- as of yesterday, he was still waiting to hear that he definitely had a spot -- and he does not have a return ticket yet, because he does not know when he will come back.

"It all depends on how well or how bad I play," Dizdarevic said. "Hopefully on how well I play."

His is a different kind of hoop dream, one that does not involve the NBA. There are plenty of opportunities to play basketball abroad -- the Web site Eurobasket.com covers 466 leagues in 192 countries -- but it is a difficult process for players who were not collegiate stars, players such as Dizdarevic and Kenny Izzo.

Dizdarevic and Izzo, the only two seniors on last season's Final Four team, rarely played for the Hoyas. Izzo, a 6-8 walk-on forward, played a total of 32 minutes and scored four points in four years. Dizdarevic, who was on scholarship, scored 46 points in 209 career minutes.

"It would be a great opportunity for me to explore something I've never been a part of and learn a new culture," said Dizdarevic, who came to the United States as an exchange student from Montenegro when he was 17. "To fulfill my dream to play basketball basically, because I didn't have a chance to play as much as I wanted to the last four years."

Dizdarevic, a government major who speaks Serbian, English and Russian, spent last summer as an intern in the office of Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) and hopes for a career in politics or international business. He sees basketball as an opportunity to help better himself; he would like to learn another language and possibly attend graduate school in Europe.

Izzo would like to see the world. He double-majored in finance and management, and had he chosen to follow that path, he would likely have a job in investment banking or a spot in business school. Instead, he has spent the past month at home in Chicago, working at his mother's insurance firm and also at a local cruise line to earn money to help fund his search.

He has been spending a couple of hours a day on this quest. Since Izzo has not signed with an agent -- usually the first step for a player who hopes to play professionally -- he is doing all of the legwork, pursuing leads and making calls. He has sought advice from former teammates such as RaMell Ross, who played last year in Ireland, and even former Georgetown coach Craig Esherick. He asked several people from Georgetown -- assistant coach Robert Burke, strength and conditioning coach Augie Maurelli and former teammates Green and Roy Hibbert -- to write recommendations on his behalf.

"It is chaotic," Izzo said. "It's been a ton of work, like another job, basically. You can't really afford to make too many mistakes; you definitely have to do your research."

Izzo's plans change constantly; he considered attending some exposure camps on the East Coast, but decided they weren't worth the money. Now he plans to fly to Europe on July 20 to meet up with Dizdarevic in either Montenegro or Italy -- or wherever Dizdarevic ends up. Together, they plan to travel and hopefully try out for a couple of teams.

"As much as you try and help them in terms of getting some kind of job over there, I've tried to tell them that at some point -- and I don't mean this in a bad sense -- you have to grow up and get a job and start a career," Esherick said. "The great thing about this transition is you can have fun playing basketball. This is the time to try and do it."

Esherick, who now works for CSTV, understands the pull. He averaged 3.8 points over four years as a 6-3 guard for the Hoyas, and wanted to continue playing basketball after he graduated from Georgetown in 1978. He even deferred his acceptance to law school for a year, because he was hoping -- expecting -- to receive an offer to play in Europe.

"But no one wanted me," said Esherick, who wound up working for a finance company for that year. "I wasn't marketable."

That is the challenge facing Izzo and Dizdarevic. They have no videotape and no stats that they can send to teams. What they can sell is the idea of potential: Both players are tall, they spent the past three years battling two future NBA lottery picks every day in practice, and if they had gone to a smaller school they might have put up impressive statistics. The Georgetown name carries considerable weight, but it is an uphill battle.

"If you're a coach or GM in Europe, would you rather have a guy who played at a mid-major school somewhere, was an all-conference player and has experience, the whole nine? Or would you rather take on a player who has potential, but no video to show?" said agent Justin Haynes, who represents former Georgetown guard Ashanti Cook and 32 other players. "In my experience, the easier person to represent is person A -- the one with awards and achievements in a smaller program."

Ross knows how difficult the process can be. He was a star at Lake Braddock High, but injuries derailed his Georgetown career and he played in just 47 games. His career highlight was a nine-point performance in 24 minutes against top-ranked Illinois in December 2004, but that wasn't enough to garner serious interest from potential agents or teams.

So Ross had to do the work himself. He searched for playing opportunities on the Internet, typing "pro team New Zealand" and "pro team Fiji" -- "Basically any random country I could think of," he said -- into search engines, and then he e-mailed representatives from the teams that popped up. He emphasized two things: First, he is 6-6 and can play point guard, and second, he played for Georgetown.

Ross said he got a couple of replies, including one from a team in Iceland that offered him a preliminary six-month contract. But he ultimately decided to go to Northern Ireland, taking a job in Belfast -- which he knew was home to a professional team -- with Peace Players International.

That professional team, Star of the Seas, cut one of its American players last November, and signed Ross, who had been practicing with them, to fill the spot. He wound up averaging 29.6 points, the third-highest scoring average in the SuperLeague. In 16 games, Ross attempted 386 field goals -- nearly five times as many as he took in his entire Georgetown career.

It wasn't a glamorous life. Ross made less than $1,000 a month (his job with Peace Players helped cover his living expenses), and when the team traveled to away games, the players often would pile into five cars and caravan together. If they traveled by bus, the coach would drive it. But it was professional basketball, and it gave Ross a chance to play.

"Now that I have stats and scored a lot of points, I'm a lot more credible," said Ross, who is exploring his options for next season. "Also, Georgetown did so great this year. Anytime your team does well, that helps."

For the past 2 1/2 weeks, Dizdarevic has been in Washington, working out under former Hoya John Duren. He spends a couple of hours every day at Yates Field House, lifting weights, running with Duren and playing with former Georgetown standouts Mike Sweetney and Kevin Braswell; he has dropped 15 pounds since the end of the season. The goal of the training is to get Dizdarevic accustomed to playing again and to build his confidence.

"He sat for four years, and that's a long time. He's got to get refocused and retrain his mind," Duren said of Dizdarevic, who was a scorer in high school (22 points per game). "He was more like a cheerleader for Roy and Jeff. He was support staff, and it takes a certain kind of leadership to do that. But now he needs to focus on himself and be selfish."

Dizdarevic has been working with David Bauman of Fame, a well-connected agent who has a partner based in Europe. All he wants is a chance.

"Hopefully, it will go my way," Dizdarevic said. "I'm not going to lie -- I'm really excited about this. I'm looking forward to this challenge. I've been working my behind off. This is what I was hoping for and pulling for. I'm going to go over there and do the best I can, and see what can happen."

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