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January, 2006 Vol. 31 No. 1
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Published January 2006

Basketball with a European accent

Trevor Ruffin
An MVP in Europe, former Rainbow Warrior Trevor Ruffin returned to his hometown this year to play for the Buffalo Rapids
Troy Ostler
Troy Ostler
Predrag Savovic
Predrag Savovic
Luc Arthur Vebobe
Luc Arthur Vebobe
by David Driver

Peter Kecskes, 26, spent just one academic year at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, but it was memorable. Sitting in an outdoor coffee shop in Szeged, Hungary, in June 2005, prior to the wedding of an American basketball teammate, the Hungarian reminisced.

"My family came out for Christmas. It was really a fun experience to not have snow on Christmas," he said. "To go on the beach on the 25th was pretty neat."

Just one of many non-Americans who haves been part of the Rainbow Warrior basketball program during the past several years, Kecskes is also among the former Hawaiʻi basketball players who keep playing post-college by turning pro in Europe. He played last season for MAFC in his native Budapest and is spending the 2005–06 season with Nyíregyháza, in northeast Hungary.

Other former Rainbows who played overseas in 2004–2005 include Mindaugas Burneika (Russia), Paul Jesinskis (Finland), Troy Ostler (Belgium), Fabio Ribeiro (Brazil), Predrag Savovic (Spain), Haim Shimonovich (Israel), Luc Arthur Vebobe (France) and Ales Zivanovic (Lithuania). Former Rainbow Warrior Trevor Ruffin, an MVP in Europe, returned to his hometown this year to play for the Buffalo Rapids.

"Sometimes it gets discouraging because you don’t think you’re getting anywhere, but you have to keep your head up and keep playing hard and something will turn up," Ostler told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2003.

It did. Ostler, who averaged 16 points per game for the Rainbows in 2000–01, scored about 10 points per game in Belgian league play last season. He parlayed his success in Belgium to a spot with Navigo in the A league in Italy, which has one of the top circuits in Europe.

Vebobe’s team, Paris Basket Racing, played at home in southeast Paris last January. His team won 72-66 over Reims before a crowd of about 2,000 fans on a cold Saturday night. Basketball is very popular in France—at least five French men played in the NBA this past season, and a book about French pro basketball filled with color action photos can be found at a bookstore on one of the major tourist streets in Paris.

Burneika, who ended his college career in 2002, averaged 12.8 points per game last season for Spartak in Russia. After completing his Hawaiʻi career in 2004, Jesinskis averaged nearly 6 points and 5 rebounds as a first-year pro.

Savovic, who averaged 20 points per game for the Rainbows in 2001–02, signed a two-year contract extension in June 2005 to remain in Spain. He was born in Pula, Croatia, a town of about 60,000 people located on the Adriatic Sea in the northwest part of the country. Pula was once part of Yugoslavia, a region familiar to UH hoops fans who’ve cheered for Milos Zivanovic of Belgrade (Serbia and Montenegro) the past four seasons.

Kecskes had planned to attend Wright State in Ohio, but the head coach there was fired, and the Hungarian big man ended up at Hawaiʻi. He remembers his first visit.

"On the recruiting visit, they gave me all of the traditional meals—pork and chicken. They gave me all of that stuff," he says. He was a redshirt during the 1997–98 season at Hawaiʻi and eventually earned a degree in computer science from a university in Budapest.

So how does Kecskes, who has played several pro seasons in Europe, compare NCAA Division I college hoops to the European pro circuit?

"It was tough. It is really more physical" in the United States, he says.

David Driver, a Virginia native and freelance writer, covered pro basketball the past three seasons from his home in Szeged, Hungary.


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