Former Illini basketball players experience success overseas

Remember Mike Bruesewitz? He played basketball at Wisconsin, and Cosmopolitan Magazine named him one of the “Hottest Guys of March Madness” in 2013.

Well, I almost met him in Israel two weeks ago, as he now plays for Hapoel Jerusalem in the Israeli Winners League.

Most fans write off college athletes that aren’t immediately drafted, which is the majority of them. But what happens when the NBA says no thank you?

Kids that — just a few short months ago — were the darlings of the NCAA are forced to make a big decision. They can stick around, go through training camp or play in the D-League in hopes of getting a contract, or they can go abroad, learn about a new culture and get paid to do what they love.

Sign me up for the latter.

Maybe Illini fans don’t really care about a Badgers has-been, but there are plenty of former Illinois big shots just like him.

Brandon Paul now plays for Russian team Nizhny Novgorod, which competes predominantly against other eastern European teams in the VTB United League.

After participating in the Las Vegas Summer League, Paul was offered a place in training camp by Minnesota, Brooklyn, Portland and Miami, where he would have been able to compete for a place on a 2013-14 roster.

He declined and opted to go overseas.

Paul will have the chance to go through the summer league-training camp decision again after he completes his first season with BC Nizhny Novgorod. Perhaps the financial independence gained from playing professionally for a year will allow him the opportunity to take a chance in the NBA.

Illinois graduate Demetri McCamey has been through the ringer. The 6-foot-3 guard went undrafted in 2011 and, instead of waiting for the NBA lockout to end, signed a one-year deal with a professional team in Turkey.

By early 2012 he was playing for Hapoel Jerusalem — Bruesewitz’ future team — but was released almost immediately.

In August 2013, after almost a year of NBA D-League roulette, McCamey signed with Cairns Taipans, a professional team in Australia. 

After finishing out his Illinois career in 2013, Tyler Griffey almost gave up on basketball.

The 6-foot-9 forward went undrafted and was spurned by the NBA Summer League. Griffey could have taken a chance and tried to impress in the D-League but instead signed a contract with Allianz Swans Gmunden in Austria.

Paul, McCamey and Griffey all left a legacy. It wasn’t a championship, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.

Paul scored 43 on the way to taking down No. 5 Ohio State in 2012.

McCamey came up big in Illinois’ 2010 win over North Carolina, dishing out some revenge after losing to the Tar Heels in the NCAA Championship game in 2005.

And Illini fans remember Griffey as the guy made the winning shot to beat No. 1 Indiana last year. Maybe he wasn’t the most consistent player, but he gave Illinois that moment.

These three guys are only a small percentage of former Illini playing overseas that shouldn’t be forgotten just because we don’t see their names in headlines every week.

So thanks, Mike Bruesewitz, for reminding me that professional basketball exists outside of the NBA.

Aryn is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Aryn_Braun.