Not all Emory athletes’ sports careers end after senior year. Emory’s men’s basketball program has seen several players go abroad to pursue professional athletic careers in the past four years. Players like Alex Greven (13C, 21M), James “Will” Trawick (16B) and Alex Foster (15B) have gone on to professional leagues in Great Britain and Germany, while Jim Gordon (17C) chose a path of sporting development in Ireland.
“We have guys who take great pride in playing basketball,” Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said. “For a lot of people, it’s a dream to play professionally.”
Greven, Trawick, Foster and Gordon all played under Zimmerman, for whom the players had only praise.
“He’s a great coach, a great person and a great motivator,” said Trawick, who played for Dragons Rhoendorf of the German ProB division for the 2016-2017 season.
“Emory basketball has been the most important thing for my life success,” Trawick said.
Trawick watched Greven venture abroad to play professionally, first for the Tees Valley Mohawks of the English Basketball League Division 1 from 2013 to 2015 and then for Forca Lleida of Spain for the 2015-2016 season. Trawick was inspired.
“Greven went over and played and that got the bug in my head, that’s when I really started thinking, ‘Oh this is something I can do,’” Trawick said.
Emory provided an opportunity for Trawick to play overseas in summer 2014 when the Eagles traveled to Germany.
“We … played a couple professional teams, and I realized I could play with these guys,” Trawick said.
Foster also travelled to Germany after graduation and played for the Cologne RheinStars of the ProA 2 Division. Foster still plays for the RheinStars as a power forward.
Levels of coaching and basketball knowledge are the primary differences between basketball at Emory and in Germany, where the sport competes for attention with golf and soccer. Germany’s national basketball team failed to qualify for the last two Olympic Games.
“Basketball-wise it’s totally different,” said Trawick. “At Emory, we had in incredible coach. We don’t get that anywhere else in the world. Coach [Zimmerman] has incredible eye for detail. He can make all these minor adjustments that add up. Overall I’d say the competition level was way better than in college, but the intensity of practices was better at Emory.”
Trawick returned to Atlanta after only year abroad.
“I got over there, and [basketball] just wasn’t everything to me anymore,” Trawick said. “I had fun and learned a lot about myself, but for me I was ready to use my college education and use my mind rather than my body.”
Meanwhile, Gordon went abroad to further his education. He won a scholarship through the Victory Scholars Program to coach while he earns a degree in international business at the Institute of Technology Carlow in Carlow, Ireland. The Victory Scholars Program aims to increase the long term sustainability of youth basketball in Ireland and create sporting ambassadors between Ireland and the United States.
“In Ireland, basketball isn’t as popular or as big,” Gordon said. “It’s a relaxed culture, which was a shock because I came from a strenuous program, a great program at Emory.”
American youth basketball programs might have something to learn from Ireland, Gordon said.
“Instead of specializing in skills, we come out here and kind of just spread the word about how fun basketball can be,” Gordon said. “Honestly, it’s more of a community outreach. I ran a camp today [and] some of these kids saw a basketball for the first time. We have to bring the energy because the kids really thrive off it.”
The opportunity has enabled Gordon to take a step back from the competitive drive of basketball and focus on the simple joy of the game.
“What I would want to bring back to America is the love of the game,” Gordon said. “More inclusion for people who have never played before to come out and play without any intimidation. I’d have more inclusion, less specialization. Some people in America specialize too early.”
Zimmerman echoed Gordon’s thoughts about the importance of community and relationships.
“I’m big on relationships,” Zimmerman said. “They’re not easy all the time, but the amount of alums who come back shows that it’s worth it. I take as much pride in that as in winning games. … Those relationships last forever. I have an open-door, open-cell phone, open-everything policy.”
The support of former players counts toward the Eagles’ current strength, as players like Trawick said they will make every effort to come to games this season.
“Without a doubt, without Emory there is no professional career,” Trawick said.