Former Bowdoin basketball standout Jordan Fliegel '08 signed a contract with Hapoel Jerusalem, an Israeli Premier Division professional basketball team, on September 24.
Last spring, Fliegel found himself in the same boat as many of his classmates: figuring out what to do once he received his diploma.
Before graduating with a double major in government and philosophy and a minor in history, he had preliminary plans of either going to law school or finding a job in finance or consulting.
However, Fliegel quickly moved those plans aside when sports agent Marc Simon of Astor Sports Management in Philadelphia contacted him with an offer to play professional basketball in Israel.
Fliegel, who wrote in an e-mail to the Orient that he "was kind of in senior panic mode" when Simon contacted him, knew that a part of him wanted to "take some time off to travel the world" after graduation.
"I figured all the other stuff could wait," wrote Fliegel, "so I jumped at the opportunity to go [play basketball] overseas."
Fliegel mentioned that, being half-Jewish, he "was able to acquire Israeli citizenship under Israel's Law of Return," making him an especially attractive prospect. European professional basketball clubs, including Israel's, must abide by the "Russian Rule," which requires two national players on the floor at all times.
After spending the summer training and running his own basketball program for high school players in Boston, Fliegel traveled to Israel on August 31, "with a one-way ticket [and] a few tryouts," he said.
Fliegel wrote that he tried out with seven different professional teams.
"[The process was] the most physically and mentally challenging experience of my life," he said.
"Trying to make professional teams is not like playing in college," Fliegel said. "The guys that I went up against were fighting to keep their jobs and were certainly not out to make friends with me."
Nevertheless, the 6'6" Fliegel, who averaged 13.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game as a center his senior year, caught the eye of Jerusalem, the club Fliegel described as "one of the best teams in Israel...one of the top teams in the world outside the NBA."
Fliegal's performance during try outs prompted Jerusalem to bring him along on a weeklong preseason exhibition tour through Belgium. When the team returned to Israel, the club offered Fliegel a contract.
A press release from the Eurocup Web site, a transnational basketball league that Jerusalem competes in, said the team "hopes to have found a diamond in the rough with the signing of Jordan Fliegel."
While three other teams also offered him contracts, including another premier team and two teams in the second division, Fliegel decided on Jerusalem because of its prestigious reputation as well as the opportunities being part of the club would afford him, including travel throughout Europe to compete.
"Although I am the 10th man on the team and only play a few minutes a game, I knew that it would be an incredible opportunity to go up against great players every day in practice and learn from the best coaches," Fliegel wrote.
Fliegel is the first D-III American college basketball player to whom Jerusalem has offered a contract. Professional basketball in Europe is very different from the NESCAC style of play he knew as a Polar Bear.
"I'm still trying to make the adjustment to the game over here because the players are bigger, faster, and stronger and the rules and officiating are very different," Fliegel said. "It's professional basketball so the approach is very different. The guys on the team are in their later 20s or early 30s and know how to play the game at a high level. So the emphasis is not so much on going 100 miles per hour all the time like in college but on executing in different situations, understanding the different reads in our sets, and on not beating each other up too much in practice because it is a nine-month season."
"The coaches sometimes explain things in Hebrew, which makes things a little harder," he added.
This Saturday marks the first game for Jerusalem in the Israeli Basketball Super League season (the country's equivalent to the NBA), but Fliegel has already put in some court time with the team in the league's preseason tournament, the Winner's Cup, which they won.
According to the team's Web site, Fliegel scored five points during the semi-finals and was on the court for the last few minutes of the finals.
While not training with the team, Fliegel is finding time to adjust to life in Israel. Though he spent some time in the country on a birthright trip two summers ago, he wrote that the experience of actually living in a country is much different from just visiting it.
"The rich history and culture and current political climate makes Israel a really interesting country to live in," Fliegel wrote. "My Hebrew is improving and I'm starting to get a feel for what true Israeli culture is like. Living in Jerusalem is not as scary as most Americans would think. There are some dangerous neighborhoods and you do have to be careful about where you go, but overall I get caught up in my daily routine here and don't think about the dangers of the conflict."
Though Fliegel is finding some similarities between his experience as a rookie with Jerusalem and his first year at Bowdoin, including "carry[ing] the bags in the airport and on the bus," he's quick to find the silver lining.
"Coming from four years at Bowdoin," Fliegel wrote, "it...doesn't hurt that Israel is warm and packed with beautiful beaches and an exciting nightlife."