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Hoop dreams in Europe

Former Lady Blackhawk makes German pro basketball team

July 31, 2013 - Savannah Stedman isn't a Harlem Globetrotter, but she is playing basketball around the globe.

The 2007 Brandon High School graduate harbors no illusions about making a living as a professional basketball player, but for the next eight months, she will play pro ball— in Germany.

"Basketball isnt going to be a long-term career," said Stedman. "I saw this as another great opportunity...I'm really excited and feel really blessed."

The 6'2" hoopster will celebrate her 24th birthday on Aug. 9, not long before she leaves for Europe— again. Stedman has only just returned to the U.S. this summer, after playing semi-pro basketball for Durham University in England from September to June.

Her journey to world travels began when she was in second grade and played basketball in the BGO (Brandon Groveland Ortonville) recreation league. At that time, she played point guard. After hitting her growth spurt around sixth grade, she became a forward. Basketball was not her only sport at BHS— she also played volleyball and was on the track team, but for college she needed to choose between volleyball or basketball. She ultimately accepted a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Northwestern University.

After two years at Northwestern, Stedman transferred for various reasons to Northwood University to play on another athletic scholarship.

"Hard work and heart were the reasons I played basketball," she said. "I found myself losing passion at Northwestern and the coach at Northwood was great and I found all the reasons I started playing basketball again."

She majored in economics and business management and earned her bachelor's degree from Northwood in 2012. Stedman's coach then told her about a league in England that would pay for a portion of her master's degree.

"I love basketball, it's my passion, but I wanted to keep my career and academics my focus," said Stedman. "I wanted to see if basketball is a means to get me where I wanted to go."

After being recruited to play for Durham University in England, Stedman had her doubts on the flight across the Atlantic.

"On the plane flying over, I questioned myself— 'What am I doing?'" she recalled. "Basketball culture (in Europe) is very different, soccer is the main sport. But I landed, and my confidence returned and I was really happy."

Stedman adjusted well to a different style of play. She notes basketball rules and courts are different in Europe— with different traveling and back court violations and a changed free throw line, for example. She notes the refereeing is of poorer quality compared to the United States and in England, basketball is not as popular as here.

The Durham Wildcats was predominantly comprised of Americans. Stedman notes that six of her teammates were from the States, including her three roommates. Only two were English, and one was Irish. This causes some controversy, but is still legal because it's a semi-pro university team. The team finished second overall in the league among eight teams.

Besides playing basketball and pursuing and ultimately obtaining her master's degree in business, Stedman also coached a 16 and under national boys basketball team, which she called one of the best experiences of her life.

Before she began coaching, she was told the team was consistently at the bottom of the league. By the end of the season, they still had a losing record, but went from los-ing by 100 points to losing by maybe 20, Stedman said.

"They didn't understand the rules or anything about the game (at the beginning)," she said. "In America, basketball is on the tv all the time, in England they don't have that. They don't even have basic knowledge of the game. I had to teach a player the fundamentals."

Still, she believes basketball is starting to take off there now.

"They are trying to create passion there for the game, it's inspiring and motivating," Stedman said. "I always tried to relate everything back to life experience. Basketball has the opportunity to teach self-discipline, hard work, never giving up and managing passion between everything else going on in life."

In her free time, Stedman visited castles and cathedrals, including Westminster Abbey, and noted that in England, "you can't throw a stone without hitting something historic. Old by our standards has nothing on them. It's amazing being around so much history."

While overseas, she also visited the Canary Islands, but in a spontaneous move near the end of her stay in England, she determined the path that would lead her to Germany by going to a pro-exposure camp. During half-time of a game, a scout told her a German team was interested. After the game, they made an offer. She asked for some time to think about it, and in the meantime, two more German teams contacted her through her agent, the camp director.

Still concerned about her career path and not wanting to put on her resume that she was "having fun playing basketball," Stedman was told by officials for the Wolfenbüttel Wolfpack that the team's owner also owns one of the largest information technology consulting teams in Germany. She will have a business internship opportunity in addition to playing professional basketball for the Wolfpack.

Stedman's contract is for one season. She will be one of only two Americans on the team. Her fellow American is not only a Durham teammate, but a native of St. Clair, Mich. Another teammate is from the Netherlands, while the remainder of the players are German. She will stay in Brunswick, Gy., near Hanover.

Basketball is a bigger sport in Germany than in England and she is excited to get started, although the language barrier may be a challenge as she learns the calls by referees, she laughs.

"It's all so exciting," said Stedman. "I like to experience different things while I'm young. I get to see a new part of the world and get to play basketball and gain some business experience in the process... I'm living in the moment for the time being."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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