Ex-'Bow Lojeski best in Belgium
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Matt Lojeski was the best basketball player in the country this past season, and so what if that country happened to be Belgium.
"I'm happy where I am," said Lojeski, a former standout for the University of Hawai'i. "It's a good situation. I'm having fun playing basketball and getting paid."
He has a lucrative new contract and a league MVP trophy to prove it.
Lojeski was named the most valuable player of Belgium's top professional league for the 2008-09 season. He led the league in scoring with 18.3 points per game, and also averaged 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game with a .656 field-goal percentage.
His team, Generali Okapi Aalstar, finished third in the nine-team league.
"I guess I had the numbers," said Lojeski, a 6-foot-6 guard/forward. "But it was still a surprise to get it. I think the style of play fit in well with my game. The coach gave me a lot of freedom and I got on a roll and kept it going."
As a result of his success, Lojeski became a coveted free agent after the season.
Base Oostende, a rival team in the Belgium league, recently won a bidding war by doubling the price of his 2008-09 salary.
Considering that the team will pay for his housing and transportation, Lojeski's contract will be worth more than $300,000 during the 2009-10 season.
"Budget-wise, (Base Oostende) is historically one of the better teams in the league," Lojeski said. "There's going to be a little more pressure signing a new contract with a new team, but that's what it's all about."
Lojeski played two seasons at UH, and then had a tryout with the NBA's Utah Jazz in 2007. He eventually signed to play in Belgium, and has been there the past two seasons.
Lojeski, who is from Racine, Wisc., has also had workouts with the Milwaukee Bucks. He has been invited to train with the Bucks again this summer, although he is still contemplating his options.
"I'm realistic," he said. "I know (Belgium) is my best option right now and I don't want to do anything where I could get hurt."
Lojeski's path from UH to professional basketball is not uncommon.
Although Anthony Carter is the only former Hawai'i player currently in the NBA, several other former 'Bows are making money while making shots around the world.
Among the other 'Bows in the pros:
He played a key role in the Denver Nuggets' run to the Western Conference finals.
As the first point guard off the bench, Carter averaged 5.3 points per game and was second on the team with 4.7 assists per game. He also tied for the team lead with 96 steals during the regular season.
Denver head coach George Karl praised Carter throughout the season for his toughness and leadership skills.
However, Carter's one-year, $1.1 million contract expired at the end of the season, so he is now a free agent.
This past season was Carter's 10th in the NBA. Tom Henderson, who played 11 NBA seasons in the 1970s and '80s, is the only former UH player with a longer tenure.
He averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a rookie for Talk N Text in the Philippines.
He played in the league's two all-star games, and was named most valuable player of one those games.
Dillinger, a 6-5 guard/forward, also participated in the slam-dunk contest, and drew a rousing ovation when he came out dressed as Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.
"It was too funny," he said. "The fans go crazy for basketball here."
Dillinger, who has Filipino heritage through his mother, was also selected to play for the Philippines national team.
He has emerged as one of the top players in what is considered one of the top leagues outside of the NBA.
English, a 6-5 guard, averaged a team-high 15.7 points to go along with 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for Kalise Gran Canaria in Spain's top professional league.
He was injured late in the season, but still managed to finish eighth in the league in scoring.
English has been invited to play in an NBA summer league with the Toronto Raptors, but said he is not sure if he will accept it because he is close to signing a new contract to remain in Spain.
English did not want to comment on the details of the contract, but it is rumored to be worth more than $4 million over four years.
"Little Matt" averaged 16.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a rookie for Univ Mobitelco in Romania.
He was named to the all-league second team.
Gibson, a 6-5 guard, also played part of the year in Venezuela.
He is expected to play in Belgium next season for Lojeski's old team.
He averaged 11.9 points and 2.2 rebounds per game, and made a team-high 47 3-pointers (in just 27 games) for Bank BPS Basket Kwidzyn in Poland.
Kuebler, a 6-4 guard, was one of the top scorers in the league early in the season — including a 36-point game — but battled injuries late in the year.
He averaged 7.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for Banco de Sardegna Sassari in Italy's Division II pro league.
Martin, a 6-8 forward, was a starter during the team's surprising playoff run. Despite finishing fifth in the regular season, his team made it to the championship series (eventually finishing second).
Martin averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and had a .597 field-goal percentage during the playoffs.
The son of Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash averaged 16.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a rookie for the Shiga Lakestars in Japan.
"The fans there are unbelievable," Nash said. "They come in their Shiga Lakestars apparel, and they wave towels and do their chants in the megaphones. It makes it really fun to play there."
Nash, a 6-6 guard, became a popular player on the team, and a loco moco dish was named after him at the team's concession stands during home games.
In what has become one of the most successful European runs by a former Hawai'i player, Ostler just completed his eighth season of professional basketball.
The 6-10 forward averaged 12.2 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds per game for Basket Livorno in Italy's Division II pro league. He also ranked fourth in the league with 48 blocked shots.
Ostler's previous European experience came in Belgium, France, and Latvia.
He gained European citizenship in Latvia several years ago, and was named to the league's 2008-09 All-Bosmans team (for non-Italian players who are European citizens).
Ostler and Phil Martin — starters on UH's 2001 NCAA Tournament team — were in the same league in the 2008-09 season.
He was not a starter during his three seasons at Hawai'i, but Peciukas started most of the season for Olympique Antibes — a team in France's Division II pro league.
The 6-7 forward averaged 11.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, and led the team with a .659 field-goal percentage.
It was Peciukas' first season in France after three seasons in his home country, Lithuania.
Hawai'i's all-time leader in 3-pointers has launched his last shot.
Savovic said the 2008-09 season was his last as a professional basketball player. The 6-6 guard averaged 3.9 points per game in limited action with Bilbao Iurbentia in Spain's top league.
Savovic said he spent much of the season learning a new position — in the team's front office. He retired as a player so that he could accept a full-time role in the team's marketing department.
"I am responsible for sponsorships, marketing and P.R. of the team," he said. "In a year or two, they want me to hold the position of president."
Savovic played one full season in the NBA, and has been playing in Europe for the past six seasons.
If anything, basketball has allowed Sensley to travel the world.
During the 2008-09 season, he played for three teams.
He started the season in Belgium — he scored 17 in his team's victory over Lojeski's team (Lojeski scored 26). After 11 games, Sensley returned to America to chase a potential NBA opportunity.
He joined the Colorado 14ers of the NBA Development League, but lasted just seven games. He was then picked up by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, also of the NBADL.
The 6-9 forward averaged 10.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in 17 total games in the D-League.
"It was a rough year," Sensley said. "I came into the middle of the season for two different teams, and so I had to sit behind other guys who were already there. I was just hoping to get noticed. If you want to get to the (NBA), the D-League is the best place to get noticed. But if you're not playing, it's hard."
In previous years, Sensley had stints with pro teams in Spain and Italy, and with Germany's national team.
He said he has been offered a tryout with the Indiana Pacers, and is also in negotiations with a team from Spain's top league.
"I'm done with the D-League, but I'm definitely going to play somewhere," Sensley said.