Pruitt follows wave across Atlantic



By Jeremy Werner

Shaun Pruitt’s senior season at Illinois didn’t go exactly as planned. The former Illini led the team with 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, but his struggles at the free throw line continued. League coaches did not name him to an All-Big Ten team, and the center was even benched for a game after a verbal altercation with the coaching staff following the Illini’s 74-67 loss at Purdue Jan. 19.

But the biggest letdown for Pruitt was the Illini’s 16-19 record. Setting a school-record for most losses in a season haunts Pruitt after winning 86 games in his first three years at Illinois.

Now, the 6-foot-10 center is on a mission to regain his winning ways after signing a one-year contract with the Czech Republic club, BK Prostejov.

“I want to have a good team,” Pruitt said. “I mean, I’ve never lost like I did last year, and I don’t think that had anything to do with me as a person, even though I was the go-to player. I don’t think it should all fall on my shoulders. I love winning as a team and I think some people misunderstand me after seeing last year. I’ve been a winner and a team-oriented guy, so I want to be able to get back to that.”

Signing the dotted line with BK Prostejov was the end of a long summer for Pruitt. After going undrafted, Pruitt began to receive offers from several European clubs. Pruitt, his family and agent Mike Naiditch of Naiditch Entertainment sifted through offers searching for four key components: a good paycheck, a good coach, playing time and a chance to compete against good competition.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    Offers came in from several European teams, Naiditch said, including an “aggressive offer” from a Spanish team and an offer from Hapoel Gilboa Galil Elyon in the Israeli Basketball Super League, the same team that signed former Illini teammate Brian Randle. But according to Naiditch, BK Prostejov offered “the most money by far” and gave Pruitt the opportunity to play in the European Cup against some of the best European competition.

    Lately, European contracts have been luxurious enough to sway NBA veterans across the Atlantic. Pruitt’s contract is “pretty standard” for European contracts, Naiditch said, including salary, living expenses, a car and an apartment. One “nice perk” of Pruitt’s contract is a private chef who will cook three meals a day for the former Illini.

    Pruitt said he has no qualms about following in the footsteps of other former Illini who have carved out long-term careers in Europe. Kiwane Garris, Frank Williams, Robert Archibald, Cory Bradford, Jack Ingram, Warren Carter, Marcus Arnold, Roger Powell Jr. and James Augustine will all play in Europe this year.

    “The basketball is a lot better than people think it is,” Pruitt said about the international competition. “The money’s tax-free. It’s definitely something I can get adjusted to, and I’m not going to sweat the NBA too much if there’s more offers from overseas.”

    Pruitt struggled to earn playing time over contracted veterans during his summer league stint in Las Vegas with the New Orleans Hornets. Pruitt had hoped to use the summer league as an opportunity to make an NBA team but had little chance to impress. He played 30 minutes in four games, tallying a total of seven points, five rebounds and nine personal fouls.

    “It was a big disappointment,” Pruitt said about his summer performance. “I definitely wish I had more playing time and more of a chance, maybe got more exposure from other teams to get a chance to see me.”

    But Naiditch said every player is disappointed when their NBA dreams do not manifest immediately. He added that Pruitt should look at the NBA as “just another job that pays money.”

    “I don’t look at (the summer league) as a failure at all,” Naiditch said. “It’s just another thing to add to his bank of experience. And it did set him up for success in Europe. Nobody should think that Europe is settling. It’s not settling. It’s really a strategy of developing a player.”

    Pruitt, who has been in the Czech Republic for more than a week, has put the hectic summer of job searching and negotiating behind him. He’s now poised to put it all back on the court and hopefully win some games while he’s at it.

    If anything, Pruitt – who’s only foreign experience includes a 2007 summer Canadian basketball tour with the Illini – hopes to collect more stamps in his passport.

    “It’s definitely a new experience,” Pruitt said. “I think it’s going to be a great thing, probably not as much now but down the road when I’m looking back at my career, I can say I had a chance to go to Europe, go to Prague and the Czech Republic … and hopefully other places if I don’t go to NBA, if it’s Spain or whatever. But it’ll be good to say I experienced the world besides the States.”