BY MICHAEL HAMMOND | USD Sports Information
Sept. 9, 2016 | Men’s Basketball
South Dakota men’s basketball graduates Casey Kasperbauer and Tre Burnette have each signed to play their first year of professional basketball overseas in Georgia.
Tyler Larson with Egis Kormend in Hungary and Tyler Cain with Chalons-Reims CB in France are the other former Coyotes playing overseas this coming season. Trevor Gruis is back on the farm, for now, as he awaits the right offer to go back to Europe.
A career 42 percent three-point shooter at USD, Kasperbauer will join BC Rustavi of the Georgian Superleague, the country’s top league. Burnette is set to join BC Olimpi of the same league. The pair were the top scorers for USD a year ago with Burnette averaging 13.2 points and Kasperbauer averaging 12.1.
Kasperbauer signed with BC Rustavi back in August and has been spending time learning some of the language and learning about the foreign league before he travels to Georgia on Sept. 19.
“I know a few players that have been there in the past and I am learning new things about the league everyday,” Kasperbauer said. “I’m excited about all of it.”
Rustavi, Georgia, is the fourth-most populous city in the country and is located less than an hour’s drive away from the capital city of Tbilisi, where four of the league’s teams play, including BC Olimpi, where Burnette will be this season.
It will be a new way of life, culture, and brand of basketball for Kasperbauer and Burnette.
“The management seems to care about me and is excited to get me over there,” Kasperbauer said. “I don’t know much about the team, but know the coach’s system, which is up and down, and if you’ve got the open shot take it.”
The easiest part of the transition for Kasperbauer should be on the basketball court. The BC Rustavi up-tempo system should suit him just fine as he built a reputation as a shooter at USD.
As for the non-basketball side of playing overseas, Kasperbauer will look to other former Coyotes who have played in Europe for guidance, such as Larson and Gruis.
“Tyler is a really good basketball player, but a better leader and has answered any questions I’ve had,” Kasperbauer said. “Trevor has been there two years and knows what it’s like.
“I’ve talked to my former coaches too and picked up as many bits of information as I can because you can never have too much information.”
While Kasperbauer and Burnette prepare for their rookie seasons in Georgia, Larson is making the move from BK Jekabpils in Latvia to Egis Kormend of the Hungarian NBIA. The team will compete in the FIBA Europe Cup, the fourth tier of professional basketball in Europe, this season.
Larson has been in Hungary since mid-August for training camp and a few preseason games. Egis Kormend will start its regular season at the end of this month.
“They are committed to basketball over here and it is a competitive league,” Larson said. “It is a step up from last year, which is what I wanted to accomplish after my rookie year.”
It his rookie season at BK Jekabpils, Larson played in 51 games, earned 13 starts, and averaged 14.7 point, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.9 assists as his team finished eighth in the Latvian LBL.
“Latvia was a great experience,” Larson said. “I had some ups and downs, but that is what your rookie year is about. I have more confidence now and this year should run more smoothly.”
Last year Larson faced all of the challenges that Kasperbauer and Burnette will face this year, like being away from friends and family and being in a distant time zone, complicating communication with friends and family.
“The biggest challenge has been getting accustomed to being on my own,” Larson said. “I would try to talk to someone back home and they would be sleeping, or I would be sleeping and having my phone blow up.”
Larson was the only American player on his Latvian team, but will be joined by four other American players at Egis Kormend. This will help him adjust more to playing basketball in Europe as he tries to further his career.
“What I want to accomplish this year is just win as many games as possible, and a championship would do a lot for the club, the players, and my career,” Larson said. “I want to enjoy my time here, build relationships, and be a guy that people want to play with.”
For Gruis, who played in Sweden before playing in the UK a year ago, it’s life on the farm in Minnesota as he awaits the right offer to play his third year of professional basketball.
“A lot of guys have started to move over, but I’m still waiting for the right offer,” Gruis said. “I would like to go back over, so I’m kind of sticking around home and staying in shape.
With Jamtland Basket in the Swedish Premier League, Gruis averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds. He won multiple trophies with the Leicester Riders of the British Basketball League a year ago and averaged 9 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Gruis still talks to his European teammates from each team and if he signs, he will bring the group of former Coyotes overseas to five players. Like Gruis, Charlie Westbrook has yet to sign with a team for the upcoming season after playing in Argentina last year.
“I think it’s cool that we’ve got a few other Coyotes playing overseas,” Gruis said. “Charlie Westbrook and Tyler Cain were some of the first ones to do it. I got the scoop from them, and I try and help the others out.”