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Marcus Landry anticipates returning to Madison this summer to complete the one course he needs to get a degree in life science communications from the University of Wisconsin.
Landry, 25, a standout with the Badger men's basketball team from 2005 to 2009, now is making an impact with the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League.
During his time at the UW, Landry relied heavily on the guidance of Toni Landis, a learning specialist at the Fetzer Center, the student-athlete academic arm of the UW athletic department.
"Without the help of Toni Landis, I wouldn't be where I'm at today," says Landry. "She was a really big part of my staying eligible and getting to the point where I'm at of coming along and having one class to take this summer to graduate."
In fact, Landry calls Landis "probably the most underrated and underpaid person that has anything to do with the basketball team."
Former UW basketball players Greg Stiemsma and Jolene Anderson echo these sentiments about Landis, who has worked at the Fetzer Center since 2005. She travels to road games with the men's basketball team and coordinates study tables for players.
The Fetzer Center, with locations at the Kohl Center and McClain Center, offers tutors, study groups, one-on-one instructional sessions, quiet study areas and a computer lab for student-athletes. And, in Landis, it offers players an advocate, someone who understands the balancing act that athletes endure.
The fans, she notes, "criticize their play, and they didn't do this and didn't do that. They're regular people, but they're students and athletes. They have a lot to juggle. When you hear 45- or 50-year-old men yelling at them, it's frustrating."
Stiemsma has a few courses left, and hopes to return to the UW at some point in time to finish a degree in agricultural journalism. Meanwhile, Anderson earned her sociology degree in summer 2009, and won't soon forget Landis' help.
"You could go to her with any problems, whether it was personal or with the team," she says. "Besides my coaches and teammates, she was a mother away from home."
Landry, Stiemsma, Anderson and ex-Badgers women's basketball player Shawna Nicols - Wisconsin natives all - are among the former UW basketball players now enjoying basketball careers in places other than the NBA, in some cases far from home. As March Madness focuses attention on college basketball (and provides a welcome respite from some other news stories of the day), we decided to check up on them.
UW guard, 2005-2008
Now with Botasspor, Turkish Basketball League
In her four years as a Badger, Jolene Anderson never got the chance to compete in an NCAA tournament at the UW. But her accomplishments speak volumes about her basketball talent.
Anderson's 2,312 points were the most scored by any player - at both women's and men's levels - in UW basketball history. She was named Big Ten Conference player of the year during her senior season in 2008, and the Badgers earned a runner-up trophy in the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
She was selected by the Connecticut Suns with the 23rd pick in the 2009 WNBA draft, and played 24 games before being cut. That's when Anderson aimed for a career overseas, where she continues to prosper.
Anderson, 24, now plays for Botasspor in the top-tier Turkish Basketball League. Botas finished sixth in its 12-team division and is practicing for competition in the Turkish Cup. She led the league in scoring during the regular season, with 23 points per game.
"I still love playing the game of basketball," says Anderson, who lives in Adana, a city with a population of 1.7 million people. "It's a great experience getting the chance to travel the world, so I can't complain."
Anderson spent two seasons playing in France for Villeneuve d'Ascq in the Ligue Feminine de Basketball prior to moving to Turkey. Her French agent has been networking with WNBA and European teams, sending out DVDs in hopes of sparking interest.
While she has picked up "bits and pieces" of languages during stints in France and Turkey, Anderson has no language issues with her Turkish team: "People start speaking Turkish, but when they hear English, they start speaking English." In her experience, the French have a different attitude.
"If you attempt to speak French and they realize you don't know it, then they'll smile and try to help you out," she says. "But if you're not attempting to speak their language, then they really don't want to have anything to do with you."
Anderson says the style of play in Europe is more up-tempo and physical compared to the women's game in the United States: "Pretty much even if you've got blood, there are no fouls called."
She's adapted well to myriad cultures, considering that she grew up in Port Wing, a tiny town of 480 people in northern Wisconsin. But Anderson will never forget time spent in Madison.
"The Nitty Gritty on game day, that sticks out to me as one of my favorite places in Madison," she recalls. "Or Ian's Pizza. I have great memories of college life."
UW center and power forward, 2005-2009
Now a post with the Reno Bighorns, NBA Development League
While patiently awaiting another shot at an NBA slot, Marcus Landry is making his mark with in Reno.
Landry, 25, a Milwaukee native, played 18 games with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, and earned a league minimum salary of $473,604 from the Knicks in 2009. After the 6'7" post was waived by the Sacramento Kings last October, he took his wife, Efueko, and three children, Marcus Jr., Moriah and Makaylah, to Nevada.
Landry, who made the West roster for the D League's All-Star team earlier this month, averages nearly 17 points per game and is a prolific three-point shooter for the Bighorns.
"I'm getting close to a call-up to the NBA," Landry says. "I continue to work hard. It keeps you humble, and it keeps your mind in the right place."
For Landry, like other players, that's not always easy.
"A lot of times on the [college] level, you think too much instead of playing basketball, and I am out of that process," he says. "I am just playing basketball now. And I understand that it's more than just me. I'm supporting my family with this, too. It's a job, versus when I was in college."
At the UW, Landry often was called upon to play power forward and center. He scored 1,114 points and had 99 blocks during a career in which the Badgers won Big Ten Conference and Tournament championships and made four NCAA tournament appearances.
Now Landry is flourishing in his natural position at small forward. He's made adjustments to his game - particularly with ball handling and improving his left-hand skills - by working out in the off-season at a gym in Indiana.
His salary in the D League, somewhere between $13,000 and $20,000 a season, is considerably less than what players make in the NBA. But he works hard to improve his skills and waits for another chance at the NBA.
A player can receive a midseason call-up for a variety of reasons, including injuries, trades or personal problems. More often than not, coaches will look to fill a roster spot with a player who displays a certain set of skills.
Meantime, Landry manages a real estate business with his brother, coordinates several youth basketball camps and operates a nonprofit organization with a goal of helping inner-city children.
UW center, 2004-2008
Now with Türk Telekom, Turkish League
Greg Stiemsma's post-college basketball exploits have taken him to Turkey, South Korea, South Dakota and back to Turkey. The 6'11" center currently plays for Türk Telekom, a team based out of Ankara, the capital of Turkey and the country's second-largest city, with 3.7 million people.
After being named the NBA Development League's defensive player of the year with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Stiemsma participated in NBA training camp last summer with the Minnesota Timberwolves. When he was not included on the team's roster at the start of the season, he signed a two-year contract with Türk Telekom.
Last season, Stiemsma, 25, averaged 5.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game for the squad, which finished 10th in the 16-team Turkish League. A new season began earlier this month.
The biggest transition for Stiemsma has been residing with a large Muslim population. Raised in a Christian home, he has developed great respect for his teammates' religious beliefs.
"Some of the cities are pretty old, the mosques are extremely old, and there is a strong sense of history in the whole culture," he says. "[Most] of my teammates are Muslim, and they have different practices with prayers multiple times a day and their strict religious beliefs. It's been a neat learning experience for me to witness that."
Stiemsma's career began in his hometown of Randolph, Wis., which has a population of 3,100. After helping lead the Rockets to three consecutive WIAA Division 4 boys state tournament titles, he came to the UW and carved out a niche as a defensive force and role player.
Stiemsma capped his senior season with a Big Ten Conference championship and Big Ten tournament title. Wisconsin won two NCAA tournament games before losing to Davidson in the Sweet 16 in March 2008.
With Türk Telekom, Stiemsma prospers at grabbing offensive rebounds, feeding assists to teammates and even providing a scoring punch when needed.
Stiemsma anticipates he'll make another attempt to pursue an NBA career, but for now does not mind being where he is.
"There is some pretty good money to be made overseas," Stiemsma says. "The NBA thing only happens for a small percentage of people. I got close, still have a taste in my mouth, so I'm not ready to completely give up on it."
UW guard, 2001-2003
Now with Celeritas-Donar, Dutch Basketball League
Shawna Nicols put her basketball dream on the backburner during her sophomore year at Wisconsin in 2003 due to post-concussion syndrome.
But that did not deter Nicols from chasing the dream. She was cleared to play by doctors and gained two seasons of NCAA eligibility with Division II teams Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) University and Bellarmine (Ky.) University.
Nicols, 28, recently concluded her first season in Holland with Celeritas-Donar, a team based out of Groningen. The province, in northern Netherlands, has a population of 186,000, including 50,000 college students.
The Milwaukee native thrives on preparing for and playing basketball. She isn't sure if she has the talent to make a WNBA roster, but contends that competing at any professional level requires networking and being in the right place at the right time.
"Playing professionally has always been a dream of mine," says Nicols, who has coached at the high school level, was a student assistant coach at the UW and would like to someday be a full-time coach. "I get to live it."
With Celeritas-Donar, Nicols has averaged 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game in a starting slot, and anticipates ironing out a contract for next season. She plans on playing in a summer league in Australia and prepares for it constantly. "I am extremely passionate about working out."
Living in a city with a large college population, Nicols says there are relatively minor issues with language. Her basketball coach speaks to his squad in both Dutch and English.
Meanwhile, the time spent on the UW campus left a lasting impression on Nicols, who earned an LGBT certificate from the UW's department of gender and women's studies.
"Any time I go back there [to Madison], I just breathe differently," Nicols says. "It might sound silly, but Madison is so comfortable to me. I learned a lot about who I am as a basketball player, a female athlete. I grew up comfortable with my sexuality in Madison, and I attribute a lot of that to Madison."