Playing basketball in Germany is, in many ways, like playing in the United States. The game is similar, and so is the lifestyle and the travel.
But the language? Let’s just say it’s easier to shoot jump shots and play trapping defense than it is to sprechen sie Deutsch.
“Let me tell you, German is a hard language to learn,” said Eryn Jones, a 2008 graduate of Lynnwood’s Meadowdale High School who is playing this season with the Chemnitz Chemcats, a professional team in Chemnitz, Germany. “I’ve lived here 21/2 months and I’ve picked up random words, but the grammar is so hard to learn. It’s like backwards (from English). Even the German girls say that English is much easier to learn.
“Everyone here can speak English, but obviously they speak German first. So I have to pay attention when the coach is speaking English because he’s either talking to me or the other two Americans on the team.”
In public, added Jones, speaking by telephone, “my teammates are usually with me and they can help translate if I get stuck.”
Life is a little easier on the court, where Jones is one of the team’s starting guards and a top scorer and playmaker. They are similar roles to what she had at Meadowdale, where she was a four-year starter, and at Portland State University, where she earned four varsity letters and was the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 2010-11.
Jones wrapped up her college career last spring, and it was strange to think she might be done playing basketball.
“When you’re going through college, it doesn’t really hit you until you’re a senior that you’ll be done playing (at the end of the season),” she said. “And then it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, all these games are my last games.’
“I didn’t realize how weird it’d be to be done playing basketball until the spring. I’ve been playing basketball since the first grade, and it was so weird that all my friends were at practice and I didn’t have a team. So I wanted to keep playing.”
Jones accepted the chance to play for Chemnitz, an east German city of about 250,000 that is about 30 miles from the Czech Republic border. She traveled to Chemnitz in mid-summer, and in late September began a season that will continue to late March. The Chemcats play 22 regular-season games, usually once a week, but have additional tournament games during the season and the possibility of postseason play.
“I’d talked to a lot of people about playing overseas and how negative things sometimes happened to them, so I was kind of nervous,” Jones said. “But I’m just in a real good situation. I have a real good team, good teammates, and my coach is awesome. So I’m kind of lucky that everything fell into place.”
She shares a downtown apartment with German teammate Nadja Protzig and has enjoyed sampling the German culture and cuisine.
“You kind of have to adjust and take it all in, but that’s kind of what I wanted to do anyway,” she said. “I didn’t want to bring everything over here that I was used to. I’m kind of embracing the different foods and trying all this new stuff.”
If she wants the company of fellow Americans, she can spend time with teammates Candace Williams, who played at New Hampshire, and Heidi Heintz, who played at California-Davis. And modern technology makes it easy to stay in touch with family and friends via telephone, texting or, her personal favorite, Skype.
“Skype is so great,” she said.
There is even a McDonald’s just around the corner from her apartment, and a nearby grocery store that has an American food section with items like macaroni and cheese, syrup “and all the things they think most Americans eat,” she said.
The best part of her European basketball experience “is just being able to play this game I love, and to get paid for it,” Jones said. She also enjoys interacting with fans and helping to coach younger players, which the players are required by contract to do.
Around town, “we have our moments (of celebrity),” she said with a laugh, “but I’m no WNBA star, that’s for sure.”
Jones will wait until after the season to decide if she returns to Germany next year, but for now she is relishing “the chance to travel, to have a new experience, and to grow as a person. I don’t have my family and friends here, and all the other things that I’m comfortable with, so I’m kind of stepping out of my comfort zone and putting myself in a whole new situation.
“I’m so thankful that I’m getting this opportunity to play,” she said. “It kind of came up last spring, and I just knew I wasn’t ready to be done playing basketball so I couldn’t turn it down. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful I get to do it.”