Jon Scheyer hones his skills in Spain but still aspires to play in NBA
BY JORDAN WINNETT Special to Sun-Times Media January 12, 2013 5:36PM
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:41AM
GRAN CANARIA, Spain — Former Duke standout Jon Scheyer isn’t playing in the NBA at the moment. But as he said after a recent game in Gran Canaria, ‘‘It could be a whole lot worse.’’
Most people travel to the Canary Islands for the year-round sun, perfect beaches, tapas and relaxation.
Situated beside Morocco but a part of Spain, the Canary Islands are like the Hawaiian islands of Europe.
The Gran Canaria basketball team plays in the Asociacion de Clubes de Baloncesto (ACB), arguably the second-best league in the world to the NBA.
The team definitely has an island feel.
With a total budget of only 5 million Euros ($6.6 million), it is one of the lower-level teams in the league. By comparison, Barcelona has an operating budget of more than 15 million Euros ($19.8 million), with guard Juan Carlos Navarro making 3 million Euros annually ($4 million). The combined salaries of all the Gran Canaria players equal Navarro’s.
Unlike traditional professional teams in North America and Europe, Gran Canaria is mostly funded and operated by the public. The islanders’ taxes account for 60 percent of the team’s budget, so it is really the people’s team.
The investment made by the local citizens is felt in the relentless support during home games, as the drums, horns, whistles and cheering are carried on for all 40 minutes.
‘‘We have by far the best crowd in the ACB,’’ Scheyer said after a recent home game against Joventut.
Gran Canaria plays in a 5,000-seat gym that calls to mind a college basketball atmosphere. The reminder of the island is obvious: The top of the stadium is surrounded with open windows, allowing fresh air and natural sunlight to fill the arena.
Ever since his days at Glenbrook North, Scheyer has been a key player — and scorer — on his team. His role for Gran Canaria, though, is different. Against Joventut, Scheyer came off the bench as the backup point guard. He scored only two points on three shots but had five assists in 18 minutes in an 80-50 victory.
‘‘It’s definitely been different,’’ Scheyer said. ‘‘In Europe, you don’t see guys averaging 20 points. So sometimes there are games like this where I only have two, but some games I can have 10 or 15.’’
Through 16 games, Scheyer is averaging 7.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 21 minutes.
Coming over to Europe and living on an isolated island as one of the lower-paid players on the team would deter a lot of NBA hopefuls, let alone being forced to come off the bench and play limited minutes at times. But Scheyer allows himself only to see the positive in his situation.
‘‘I’ve learned to take advantage of whatever my minutes will be, whether it’s 10 or 20,’’ he said. ‘‘I think it’s prepared me, especially going forward in my career. Whatever situation I may be in, I have to be ready to play.’’
Scheyer always has been known for his intelligence on the court, but he is also realistic off it. He understands that if he wants to achieve his ultimate goal of playing in the NBA, he has to be able to play in all situations.
‘‘Sometimes you might only play five minutes, whether it be in the NBA or Europe, but you have to come in and make the most of that five minutes,’’ he said. ‘‘I think I’ve learned to do that a bit more, and it will only help me going forward.”
A lot of NBA hopefuls who leave college and come over to Europe think they need to score as much as possible to get noticed and get a shot back in North America. But Scheyer has a different approach.
‘‘I think it’s more important to win, and that’s something I’ve always been able to figure out,’’ he said. ‘‘When the team wins, I think it reflects well on me.’’
Gran Canaria sits in fourth place in the 18-team league, three victories better than powerhouse Barcelona.
Living with his teammates in a college-dorm setting, trying to learn Spanish and attempting to adapt to the new culture around him (like eating dinner at 11 p.m)., Scheyer uses current NBA players Gary Neal of the San Antonio Spurs and Alan Anderson of the Toronto Raptors as inspiration.
Both played in multiple countries all over the world before landing a roster spot in the NBA closer to their 30s.
‘‘It’s a journey,’’ Scheyer said. ‘‘Professional basketball has so much to do with timing and staying at it. Sometimes you just have to find your way, and that’s what I’m doing right now.
‘‘I’m playing basketball with great guys, great weather, a winning team. . . . It could be a whole lot worse.’’