From the Eastern Bloc to Oz

By Austin Monteith | Sports Editor

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ARI KASLE | STAFF REPORTER

In just a few weeks, the Butler men’s basketball team will begin its 2013 season.

On the other side of the world, former Bulldog stars Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith have started their new lives as professional basketball players.

After graduating from Butler last year, both players received interest from several National Basketball Association teams.

Clarke had multiple tryouts with NBA teams, including the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. Smith played in the NBA summer league with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In the end, both players got cut, but had the opportunity to play in the NBA Development League.

“Unfortunately, there was nothing certain, and even if I was brought in (by an NBA team), it was unlikely that I would have gotten a roster spot,” Smith said, “and (I) would have probably ended up in the D-League, which I really did not want.”

Smith is playing with Neptunas, a team that plays in the top league in Lithuania, while Rotnei Clarke is playing with the Wollongong Hawks in Australia.

It was originally expected that Clarke would play in Europe, where he could have made more money. But he opted instead to play in the National Basketball League, Australia’s equivalent of the NBA.

It was considered a “stunning coup” for the league, according to The Illawarra Mercury, an Australian newspaper.

“This is a really good league,” Clarke said of the NBL. “There are a lot of good players. It’s really physical and they shoot a lot of 3-pointers, which I like.”

After averaging 16.9 points per game in his one season at Butler, Clarke has continued to put up big numbers for the Hawks, averaging 20.9 points per contest in the preseason. He also hit a buzzer beater in a recent victory.

Smith has also performed well thus far in his professional career, averaging 7.3 points per game.

Neptunas in Lithuania was not the only foreign team that was interested in Smith, the 6-11 center said.

“There were many teams that had interest, but several of them either were in places that were not very safe, and my wife is with me,” Smith said. “Or the team historically doesn’t pay the players on time, or it wasn’t (in) a very good league.

“The main reason I picked Neptunas was because they are in the first division in Lithuania and in the Eurocup, and not a ton of rookies get the chance to play in the Eurocup.”

The Eurocup is a tournament in which teams from all across Europe compete for the title of best in the continent.

The distance between Indianapolis and Lithuania is nearly 5,000 miles, but Smith said the transition was easy.

“The move to the new country actually went fairly well,” Smith said. Lithuania is nice because the majority of people are below the age of 30, and every person on the team actually speaks English.”

Smith also said every movie at the local theater is shown English, ice skating and bowling are available at a mall near his apartment, and many of the country’s restaurants have options similar to American food.

Clarke, who had never left the country before going to Australia, has said he has also made a seamless transition.

“It’s nice because everyone speaks English,” Clarke says. “It’s been a really good situation for me. The outpouring from the fans has been great and I’m excited about being here.”

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