At age 22, Greg Leggett is an ocean away, in an unfamiliar city, with the fortunes of a professional basketball team resting on his broad shoulders.
Leggett, a Marshall High and Bucknell University graduate, has gone to Austria to continue his playing career. Unlike the wealthy Italian League, which lured away Danny Ferry from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brian Shaw from the Boston Celtics for one season, the Austrian League has little money and even less prestige.
But it does have pressure. The league is divided into three nine-team divisions, and each team is permitted only one foreign player, usually an American. Since most Austrians don't start playing until at least age 14, and most don't have much experienced coaching, the only facet of the game they have mastered is the jump shot. Most organized plays are run for the foreigner, around whom the offense usually centers. If the team loses, the first place the players, management and city look to blame is the foreigner.
Leggett lives in Gmunden, a city one hour west of Salzburg with a population of about 40,000. "They call it a city, I call it a village," said Leggett, who was home in Vienna, Va., for Christmas.
He plays for Union Gmunden, tied for first place in the second division with a 10-2 record.
"When you win, everyone is congratulating you and patting you on the back," said Leggett, who averages 31.5 points a game. "But we lost two games in a row and I thought the world was going to come down. They're not shy about pointing the finger. . . .
"You have to try and make sure you win and do everything you can to win. But if you don't, you have to remember it's a five-man team. . . . They're just going to have to understand that you're not on every night."
Leggett went to Gmunden via Charlie Woollun, his coach at Bucknell. Woollun got a letter from the team, which was looking for an all-around player.
Leggett fit the description. He's 6 feet 6, can handle the ball and has a good jump shot. Most important, he can play in the low post. "There's not one thing on the basketball court that I'm outstanding at," he said, "but there's nothing I can't do."
After making the team, which is based not only on ability to play but also ability to successfully blend personalities with teammates, he was given a one-year contract with a $1,000-a-month base salary, an apartment and a car. The rest of his salary is based on incentive clauses.
The toughest thing for Leggett after the pressures to win has been filling the enormous amount of free time he now has. The games are once a week on Sundays and his teammates either work or attend college, so the team practices only four times a week.
He can't work because he doesn't speak German, so Leggett fills his day by going through his own shooting practice each morning; traveling into town to get a "wonderful cake or pastry"; going home to study German or read for a few hours and going to practice or calling up a teammate to go into town.
Leggett was only 6 feet as a sophomore in high school, so his ascent to the professional level is somewhat surprising, even to him. His future in this, or any, league is uncertain; Union Gmunden wants him to come back for another season, but he doesn't think the money is worth putting off a career he could be starting with an economics degree he earned at Bucknell.
"I'm trying to explain to them that either they pay me more money or I can't come back," he said. "It's not like basketball is the only thing I can do."
Although he is uncertain of his chances, he ultimately wants his Austrian experience to catapult him to the intense competition and extravagant riches of higher-level European basketball, and possibly even the NBA.
"I've improved every year since the 10th grade," he said. "Nobody said I was good enough to go to college. In college, nobody said I was good enough to go to Europe. I just want to find out what level is too good for me."