The latest trend in professional basketball seems to be a foreign affair, so to speak - disgruntled players looking for more bargaining power and more purchasing power, newcomers looking for a break and a buck, and aging veterans looking for a prolonged career and a prolonged contract.
Alan Andrus, a year out of college basketball and a year into postgraduate studies at BYU, is headed overseas himself for a shot at professional basketball, international style.The former University of Hawaii player is not leaving for increased leverage to play in the NBA - the NBA is essentially out of the question. Nor is he going to Italy, Greece, Spain or any of the other high-profile, high-paying European hotbeds of pro hoops.
Instead, Andrus is bound this week for Asia - more specifically, Japan - where he becomes the newest member of the Marubeni pro team and the newest employee of the Marubeni corporate family. Andrus is taking advantage of an opportunity in Japanese pro basketball - to become a player-employee.
Andrus, who knows no Japanese, admits he's headed to the Far East and into his new careers somewhat inexperienced. What he does know is that Marubeni is the world's fourth-largest corporation, a trading company with subsidiaries in areas ranging from apparel to agriculture.
The only other qualification of which the 6-foot-7, 26-year-old Andrus can boast is having served two years in Hong Kong as an LDS missionary. "I have experience living with Asian people who are two feet shorter than I am," said Andrus, who benefited from a mission-period growth spurt that allowed him to star later at Utah Technical College (now Utah Valley Community College) after not even being able to make his high school squad at Provo's Timpview High.
Japan features several pro leagues, which play by international rules and allow the customary two U.S. players per team. Most Japanese pro teams are formed and owned by corporations, with the corporate-ownership element taken one step further than many of the European corporate teams. Professional players in Japan can - and often do - become employees of their respective corporations, working during the regular-season days or during the off-season.
"They recruited me as much for my academics as basketball," said Andrus, who maintained a 3.6 undergrated GPA while earning his liberal arts degree.
The Marubeni team is coached by Packy Ryan, a former University of Hawaii player who himself starred professionally in Japan. Ryan saw Andrus as a junior at Hawaii, when he averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
Marubeni was interested from then on - no matter that Andrus' senior season on the Islands was first hindered by preseason knee surgery and then totally eliminated when prescription pain pills ate away at his stomach lining.
Andrus' starting salary of $60,000 pales in comparison to an NBA minimum of $110,000, especially when you consider that the Japanese teams practice year-round for their November-to-March season.
But consider the perks: Marubeni will pick up the tab for an apartment in the heart of Tokyo, travel passes for transportation, two meals daily, a round-trip flight home to Provo for the holidays, and the costs of his second and final year of post-graduate work so Andrus can earn his master's degree in organizational behavior.