How one athlete is living his dream by playing professional basketball overseas in London.

What’s your name?

Jack Isenbarger

What brought you to the United Kingdom?

The opportunity to play professional basketball and pursue a master’s degree at the University of East London.

What school did you go to and at what point did you realize that you might be able to play at the next level?

Zionsville Community High School (high school) Elon University (undergrad).

I realized after my freshman season at Elon that I had the ability to play at the next level. I was able to put in good individual performances against teams like Duke, Maryland, and South Carolina. Those experiences helped build my confidence and proved to myself that I could compete with some of the best in college basketball.

It’s very difficult to earn a living as a professional in any sport. Can you describe the process of becoming a pro basketball player overseas?

It’s challenging to earn a living playing professional basketball, but there are opportunities available for players who have both the talent and the exposure to play in front of Club GM’s, professional coaches, scouts, or agents. It requires a lot of grit. For me, I am passionate about the game of basketball and I love what I do, even though it’s definitely not as glamorous as it may seem when the lights are on. It requires developing a specialty so that coaches can piece you into their system in a specific role. For me, my strength is being a shooter and high IQ player. For the team to be successful, I need to be a consistent 3-point threat to help stretch the floor for our playmakers.

Personally, I didn’t play professionally my first season after college in 2014-2015. Instead, I toured North Carolina and South Carolina with Athletes In Action in the fall of 2014. That year I was working as a volunteer coach at the high school level. Additionally, I worked with Manzer Basketball Academy on the skill development side organizing basketball camps and clinics.

In the summer of 2015, I was offered a spot to play and tour Israel with a group of American players in June. The purpose of the tour was to both play basketball in front of pro coach’s and agents, and to tour the sites of Israel that are found in the Bible. From this tour, I received a call from an Israeli agent who was able to place me into a Spanish team in Liga EBA (4th division). I played 5 months in Spain before dislocating my shoulder, which required surgery. I returned to American where I had shoulder arthroscopy, and a full recovery just in time for the following basketball season. Again, my agent found a job for me. This time, I would be playing with Leeds Force of the BBL during the 2016-2017 season. In Leeds, our team struggled with a lack of depth, however I was able to play well and lead the British Basketball League in 3 point percentage while scoring 16 points per game. Following the season, I reached out to the London Lions, and they were interested in recruiting a shooter. They ended up offering me a contract for the 2017-2018 season. In addition, the club has a partnership with University of East London where I am able to enroll as master’s student in the sport psychology program.

Is it necessary to find a basketball agent in order to join a team as an American?

From my experience, it has been helpful to have an agent for the purpose of obtaining the initial playing contract. Agents are versed in negotiating and are supposed to be FIBA licensed and lawyers in good standing, although not all agents are. The primary pro to having an agent is the relationships they have previously established with clubs (general managers and coaches throughout European leagues).

From the player’s perspective, the primary con to having an agent is the risk of losing out on salary that is kicked away to the agent instead of the player. Traditionally, the player-agent agreement involves an agreement whereby the agent receives 10% of the player’s salary.

Therefore, if a player can negotiate the terms of the contract wisely, he or she may be able to get a better deal when the middleman is cut out.

How would you describe playing in the league you’re in compared to playing in other countries?

The British Basketball League is fairly small league with only 12 teams, and the league is working hard to grow whilst competing for fans in a nation that is dominated by soccer (‘football’), rugby, and cricket.

Compared to some of the better European leagues such as Spain’s ACB or Germany’s Bundesliga, the standard of play is considerably lower. However, the league I’m currently playing in is good for young professionals getting a feel for what it means to be professional while developing a basketball identity for them.

Off the court, is the lifestyle similar to that experienced by NBA players? For example, the money, the media recognition and yes …even the groupies.

I wish! The money is nowhere close to the NBA, at least not at the level of the British Basketball League. However, some teams in the Euroleague (Europe’s top league) have budgets that are paying players over $1,000,000 per year.

There is media involved, which plays a huge part in terms of growing the game and how much attention the league receives.

I’m sure there are others who go to extremes to be associated or seen with pro athletes, but the teams I’ve played for have generally had guys who aren’t interested in that stuff.

The NBA has been trying to promote the game globally, even scheduling a regular season matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics in London next year (the game is set for Jan. 11, 2018). How is basketball received there in England?

Football dominates the attention of the fans and media. Being from Indiana, I would compare the Hoosiers love for basketball to the Brits love for football.

The NBA is gaining traction and it’s refreshing to hear that more NBA is on TV and becoming more mainstream here in England, ditto with the NFL. The NBA and NFL games have been selling incredibly well here in London and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

What are some of the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make living there?

Culturally, the adjustment between the US and UK has been smooth. For me, the most difficult adjustment is being away from family and friends for several months at a time.

The use of public transportation is a major difference from what I’m accustomed to in the states (driving or flying), however the London tube and bus system makes it easy to get from point A to point B. In London, a reloadable Oyster card gets me train and bus access all across the city. My daily commute consists of a 30-minute journey from Docklands (University of East London Campus) to Stratford (Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park). One luxury of playing with the London Lions is our stadium, the Copper Box. The 7,500-seat venue was built for the 2012 London Olympics. It shares a campus with London Stadium, which is now home to the West Ham Premier League football team.

If a few of your friends were in the U.K. for just 24 hours, what would you suggest that they see or do?

I would suggest they come see the London Lions and West Ham play! But first, there’s so much to see in central London, that I would suggest a tube ride to central London to see some of London’s most famous sites such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and the British Museum of History. It would be great to do something active such as a bike ride along the river Thames or walking through Hyde Park and finishing it off with a signature afternoon tea.

 

Playing Basketball Overseas in London
 

Thanks for spending some time with us Jack. Good luck for the rest of the season!