Occidental Alumni in the Pros

Alumni in the Pros

For most collegians, the likelihood of continuing their basketball careers after graduation is remote.  Every summer, scores of former college stars hang up their sneakers to enroll in graduate school or begin the job-hunting process in hopes of establishing themselves professionally. Yet, for several globetrotting Occidental College basketball stars, the opportunity to play internationally is too great to pass up after graduation.  For the past decade, several Tiger greats have seized the chance to play in a foreign country such as Germany, France and Denmark, and receive a valuable cross-cultural education.

Occidental head coach Brian Newhall, who played and coached two years professionally in France, encourages graduating Tigers to capitalize on the opportunity to play abroad.  "It's a real educational experience," says Newhall.  "For me it was a once in a lifetime chance.  I coached and played on a basketball club, traveled throughout Europe and learned about the French people and their culture."  Occidental has had several players distinguish themselves overseas.  Men like Reiner Kolodinski [Germany], John Keister [France and Germany], Chris Anderson [Denmark and Germany], Ryan Cartnal [France], Rob Leinbach [France], Blair Slattery [Germany], and Ryan Kombrink [Denmark] have all enjoyed great success abroad."

Most recently four players from Oxy's 25-3 Elite 8 team have gone overseas. Finn Rebasso, 6'4" swing man signed with the Bakken Bears in Denmark's Elite Division. 6'4" forward Gavin Keohane and 6'0" guard Chase Young spent a season playing and coaching for the Lemvig Basketball Club in Denmark and 5'8" point guard Song Cun following graduation in the summer of 2003 was chosen from a pool of several talented Asian basketball players from the U.S to play a lead role in a Nike basketball commercial which aired all throughout Asia. As an added bonus, in the latter part of July 2003, Song was invited by Nike Taiwan & Nike Japan to tour different cities in Taiwan & Japan to participate in the 2003 NIKE BATTLEGROUND ASIA events which included numerous dribbling & street ball clinics.

The following year, he took part in an overseas trip to Asia, this time it was to Hong Kong with a USA team comprised of players with several different ethnic backgrounds, where they participated in the 13th Annual Hong Kong International Invitational Queens Cup. Song posted a game high 19 pts and 9 assists against the Fed-Ex pro team from the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association), who were one of the favorites to win it all in the tournament. He also added 22 pts and 7 assists in the semi-final game against the Malaysia National Team. Song’s team eventually lost in the finals to the host of the tournament, the Hong Kong National Team.

After a solid outing in this tournament, the team was invited back this past summer (05’) for another shot at the title. Anticipated to be a much stronger tournament this year, the team added a few current & ex-college players which made them a favorite again to compete for first place. In game 2, Song posted a game high 29pts and 7 assists against a club team from China which included the 7’3 inch center from China who was drafted in the 2nd round NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks a few years ago. The following night, Song posted 25pts, 7assists and 4stls against the Fed-Ex pro team from the PBA. After defeating the Malaysia National Team (Song – 16pts, 11assist) in the semifinals, the team eventually fell short once again in the championship game to the Hong Kong National Team in front of a huge crowd in the Hong Kong Coliseum.

Current assistant Coach Avi Meyerson '99 also played overseas after graduation.

Reiner Kolodinski, a 5'10", 170 pound point guard who was Newhall's teammate in 1980 and a Tiger assistant coach for four seasons, feels that the opportunity to play abroad should not be wasted.  "For me, it was too good to pass up," says the former All-SCIAC and All-District III player. "I was fortunate to receive an offer to continue playing, experience another culture and meet relatives for the first time."

Kolodinski played from 1981 to 1983 with ASC 46 Goettingen team, which competed at the Division I level.  The squad was coached by ex-UCLA guard Terry Schoefield and featured former Bruin Wilbert Olinde.  Reiner's highlight came in 1982-83, when his team won the Division I championship, easily sweeping past a powerful squad from Cologne in the finals.

John Keister, a 6'5", 210 pound wing for Newhall in 1988-89, is an example of how successful the experience can be.  After playing in France for the Villeparisis Club in 1989-90, Keister jumped over to Germany and starred for a Division 2 club in Paderborn, where he averaged 24 points per game and became a celebrity in a city of 120,000 people. "John is probably the best shooter I have coached at Occidental," says Newhall.  "His ability to bury the long-range three-point shot is what enabled him to earn a contract with Paderborn.  He had an excellent try-out and beat out several very talented Americans from Division I schools."

Following his years in France and Germany, Keister landed a job in New York with an export management company.  "Being fluent in both French and German helped me get my foot in the door," says Keister.  "The company needed someone to travel to Europe frequently, and my language skills were extremely valuable."  In 1996, Keister established a Seattle based internet company which now has over 50 employees.

Another Occidental export is 6'10", 235 center Chris Anderson, who starred for the Division 2 Hobaek (Denmark) Basketball Club in 1990-91.  The following season saw the former Tiger move to Germany where he competed for the ASC 74 Goettingen Club.  "I enjoyed my stay in Goettingen," says Anderson.  "It was a great college town and the up-tempo style of play suited my game."

Anderson's team finished 22-4, with Chris averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds during that streak.  "Learning to speak German was much easier than Danish.  However, it was important for me to become fluent in order to fully appreciate the German culture.  Living in Germany during the reunification process helped to broaden my outlook of the entire world."

Occidental's association with the L'Entente-du-Vallispir Basket Club in Amelie Les-Bains, France, included tenures by three aspiring Tiger greats.  Starting with Coach Newhall's presence in 1984-86, the Tigers subsequently shipped 1990-91 team MVP Ryan Cartnal, and, in 1992-93, Tiger point-guard Rob Leinbach to the French Club.

Newhall enjoyed tremendous success as a player-coach, leading his team to a 54-4 record over two seasons.  "It was a perfect situation for me," says Newhall. "Their point-guard and coach retired the same year and I was more than willing to step in and assume both responsibilities.  Needless to say, the coach gave me the green light!!!"

Cartnal, a high flying offensive player, led Vallespir through an undefeated 36-0 season, providing the local partisans with plenty of exciting aerial highlights. Says Newhall:  "In Ryan's debut, he threw down five dunks, broke a rim and signed autographs for and hour after the game......they absolutely loved him."

Leinbach, who starred in both football and basketball at Oxy, replaced Cartnal on the Vallispir roster and propelled the club to a 28-6 season mark.  Club President Rene-Pierre Fabre was impressed with Leinbach's performance:  "I was very pleased with Rob's overall basketball ability.  I thought it would be difficult to replace Ryan's offensive impact, but Rob's leadership as a point-guard had a positive impact on our younger players."

Taking a different route to a successful European basketball career is former Tiger Ryan Kombrink, who has carved out his niche as an outstanding coach.  Recently featured in the Seattle Times as "the youngest professional basketball coach in Europe", Kombrink is currently the head men's and women's coach in Hjortshojoj Ega, Denmark, where he is finishing his second year.  Because of his meteoric rise in the Danish coaching world, Ryan was recently named head coach of the Junior Select Team.

Kombrink is reflective of his newfound success overseas:  "The real thrill for me has been the ability to appreciate, understand, respect and survive in the Danish culture and community.  The lessons I learned while studying in the Oxy-Abroad Program and from the school's Multi-Cultural emphasis taught me how to excel in foreign surroundings."

Occidental great Blair Slattery is the latest in a long line of Tigers who have tested their talents overseas.  Blair, Occidental's 6'7", 225 pound all-time career scoring and rebounding leader, signed on with the Munster Basketball Club in Germany in 1993.  Spotted by Munster coach, Kai Limburg, during the FILA L.A. Summer Pro League at Long Beach State's "Pyramid", Blair impressed the German coach with his Rodman-like rebounding prowess and his ability to run the floor.  Says Newhall:  "Blair's athleticism and intensity allowed him to successfully compete against CBA level American players.  They took a chance on a Division III player and it paid off." Following his time in Germany, Slattery joined the Svenborg Basketball Club in Denmark and was instrumental in winning the Division I championship
and the move to the Elite Division.

Making the most of his opportunity overseas, Blair averaging 22 points and led all divisions with 17 rebounds per game.  He led Munster to a 34-2 season record and helped propel them to a higher division the following year.

Coach Newhall continues to cultivate relations with several basketball clubs overseas, and is always quick to help college graduates extend their careers in Europe.  "We've enjoyed a great deal of success not only with former Occidental Tigers, but with area players as well.  Our vision is to strengthen our ties with European clubs, to invite their coaches and players to participate in our camps and clinics, and to continue sending deserving young men over for the experience of a lifetime."