Local players have found pro basketball careers abroad

John Vaudreuil heard horror stories of American athletes playing professional sports overseas. Cramped apartments. Flickering lights. Shoddy plumbing. Getting paid late, or not at all. But Vaudreuil, 24, hasn't experienced those problems through ...

Playing abroad
UMD's John Vaudreuil

John Vaudreuil heard horror stories of American athletes playing professional sports overseas.

Cramped apartments. Flickering lights. Shoddy plumbing. Getting paid late, or not at all.

But Vaudreuil, 24, hasn't experienced those problems through his first month of playing professional basketball in Australia. The former Minnesota Duluth forward is soaking up life in the land Down Under while being treated to first-class hospitality.

After 23 hours of flight time and 18 hours in layovers, Vaudreuil (pronounced Vo-DRAY) finally arrived in Kalgoorlie, Australia, on Feb. 21 to play for the Goldfields Giants of Australia's State Basketball League.

"Thus far the people in Kal, as they refer to it, have been so wonderful," Vaudreuil said. "They are making sure that I am set up with whatever I need. It is a very easy culture to adjust to. Everyone is very laid back and likes to joke around. I have had invitations for every meal."


The burly, 6-foot-8 Vaudreuil is the latest in a long line of Bulldogs to play professionally, with UMD men's basketball coach Gary Holquist recalling nine such instances in his 24 years at UMD. Almost all of those have been in Europe, including Bryan Foss (2007), Jason Schneeweis (2003) and David Thompson (1988).

"John is the type of player foreign teams want: big, strong and mobile in the post," Holquist said. "He has a lane presence both offensively and defensively, and I wouldn't be surprised if he moves up the leagues quickly. He is also the type of person to take advantage of being in a foreign country by integrating himself into the society and culture."

Vaudreuil, of Bloomington, Minn., played at UMD from 2004-07, and after sitting out a season with a knee injury, came back to earn Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference honors in 2008-09. He finished his five-year career at UMD 12th all-time in scoring with 1,424 points and last May the business major became the first Bulldog to complete a master's degree while still playing.

After graduating, Vaudreuil's first experience with international basketball was a stint with Athletes in Action, a traveling team that promotes Christianity. Vaudreuil is averaging 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game for the Giants (2-2).

"I think the year I sat out with my knee injury really helped prepare me for this," Vaudreuil said. "Without that, maybe I'd be a little burned out right now and not realize how much I enjoy the game."

A key reason Vaudreuil chose to play in Australia was there isn't a language barrier, but he quickly found out Aussie English isn't exactly the same as American English.

Kalgoorlie locals use the word "mobile" instead of cell phone, "training" instead of practice, "petro" instead of gas and "hotels" instead of bars (in Kal, all the bars are also hotels). It took Vaudreuil awhile to get adjusted to the time differential and driving on the other side of the road, from the opposite side of the car, but for the most part, it's been a smooth transition.

Dusty Rychart can relate. The former Grand Rapids and University of Minnesota standout has played professionally in Australia since 2002 and is a naturalized Australian citizen, which helps get around roster limits on foreign players. Rychart, 31, plays for the Cairns Taipans of Australia's top division, the National Basketball League. Former Minnesota Timberwolves center Luc Longley has been active in the league, which includes other former NCAA Division I players such as Wisconsin guard Kirk Penney and Arizona State forward Shawn Redhage.


Rychart said players in the top division can make salaries in the six-figure range. Vaudreuil is playing in the second division, where players make as much as $40,000, plus housing and transportation.

Both players see professional basketball as an opportunity to make money while learning another culture. Vaudreuil was on athletic scholarship at UMD, so he left school debt-free. His goal is to get to Australia's top level.

-- To follow Vaudreuil's adventures, go to his blog at


Other athletes with Northland ties are playing basketball professionally, including former Duluth East star Rick Rickert (New Zealand), Grand Rapids point guard Eric Webb (Bulgaria) and Port Wing prodigy and WNBA draft pick Jolene Anderson (France).

Like her older brother Josh, Duluth native Erika Quigley played professionally in Europe after finishing a stellar career at St. Cloud State, where she was named NCAA Division II player of the year in 2007. Erika Quigley had stints in Greece, Poland and Slovakia in 2007 and 2008 before returning home.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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