Dreams really do come true. And for 2007 Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears guard Talisa Rhea no dream was bigger than playing professional basketball.
“I am leaving in a couple weeks for Poland,” Rhea said from Seattle. “It is pretty cool. I wake up with a big smile on my face. My parents are excited too, my dad wants to be at every game.”
Last March Rhea, who just completed her senior year at Seattle University, attended the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association clinic at the NCAA Women’s Final Four and a combine workout camp. While there she was contacted by the Polish team Lotos Gdynia, also known as Lotos VBW Clima Gdynia, from the PLKK league and the European League. The Euro League is the biggest league in Europe, with 15 countries represented.
Rhea, a 5-foot-11 point guard, found an agent and the two entities worked together to form a contract. In June she received the actual eight-month offer to wear the blue and yellow of Lotos.
“Once when everybody agreed on the contract I signed it,” Rhea said. “That is kind of how it happened. It was kind of a slow process. Today I just received my flight information.”
Rhea hasn’t met, or talked to, her coach or any of her teammates yet. Most are from Poland. Teams in the European League can have two Americans on their roster. Rhea’s American teammate is former Bradley University player Leah Kassing, a 6-foot-3 center.
Current Polish players on Lotos Gdynia include: Natalia Malaszewska (5-10 guard), Kinga Bandyk (6-1 forward), Magdalena Zietara (5-7 guard), Malgorzata Misiuk (6-1 forward), and Agnieszka Sniezek (5-9 guard).
“I definitely do not speak any Polish,” Rhea said. “I am hoping they speak some English. We will be traveling to play teams in Spain and Russia and all over. Which is pretty cool. I will get to play all the teams in Poland but I will also get to see some of Europe. Last year they played in a bunch of different countries.”
And it is all paid for. Rhea’s contract features a rent free fully furnished apartment (with internet, cable, and phone) in Gdynia on the Baltic Sea across from Sweden and Norway, a paid car, the flight to Poland and a return flight to the United States for Christmas.
While Rhea chose not to divulge what her monetary payment is, she stated her agent said it was above what most first year players receive.
“They pretty much cover everything except food and gas and entertainment,” Rhea said. “The goal is to prove myself the first year and work my way up. It is definitely nice that they cover everything, I don’t have to pay bills or rent. I just get to play ball. It isn’t about money, it is about the experience.”
The team’s first game is September 29 and Euro League playoffs end in April.
“That is as much as I know,” Rhea said. “I think most of it I will just figure out once I get there. It is exciting to head over there but a little nerve wracking at the same time.”
The Euro League rules follow International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rules.
Rhea has competed under this system while traveling with the United States Basketball Academy team through China last year after her senior season at Seattle University.
“The ball texture is a little different,” Rhea said. “It is the same size though, and the lane goes out into a trapezoid, and the three-point line is a little bit further back than our college line. That was the biggest thing I noticed in China, so that will take some adjustment.”
Rhea scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in her first game for Seattle University last November. She helped the Red Hawks to their first 20-win season as a Division I program and advance into the Women’s Basketball Invitational semifinal. Rhea was selected to the 2012 Division I All-Independent Women’s Basketball Team as well.
Rhea transferred from Oregon State, where for three seasons she disrupted Pac-10 Conference defenses and was selected player-of-the-week multiple times and as a freshman set a school record for 3-pointers in a game.
Although not selected in the April Women’s National Basketball Association, a number of players she competed with were chosen, meaning that Rhea has that ability.
Rhea has been working out on her own, finding gyms when not at Seattle University’s, playing pick up games, lifting and running.
“I feel pretty good,” Rhea said. “I think when I leave in a couple weeks I will be ready. I really have no idea what practices will be like so I am trying to prepare as best I can. I think the European style of play will be a little different.”
Continued Rhea, “This is something I have always wanted to do. I think it is pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to another country, live there and play basketball. It is becoming popular for players to go aboard and it is pretty cool at the opportunities over there now.”
When asked what the first thing she wanted to do when arriving in Poland, Rhea stated, “I don’t know, hopefully find my apartment close to a gym.”
(Rhea is the second Crimson Bears player to sign a high-tier professional basketball contract; 1998 JDHS grad Carlos Boozer currently plays for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls).