Hoop Dreams Come True for Willamette Alum
When Rosie Contri graduated from Willamette last May with a degree in sociology, she wasn't really sure what she wanted to do. She knew she didn't want to give up the love of her life - women's basketball. Contri has found that dreams can come true. She is currently living and playing with a professional women's basketball team halfway around the world in Leverkusen, Germany.
"I can't believe that I'm in Germany," she says. "Who'd have thought that this summer when I was unsure where my life would lead that I would be in Germany playing ball?"
Contri has always been an athlete. In her hometown of Minden, Nev., a small town just south of Reno, she was a starting player in both softball and golf at Douglas High School. But it's basketball that really makes her smile. At Willamette, she played played guard for four years, often leading the Bearcat team in scoring.
"I love the intensity, the hard work and the physical and mental aspects of the game," she says. "When I step onto the court, no matter what's going on in my life, it all just fades away. For the two or three hours that I play, problems, conflicts and frustrations disappear."
When commencement came last May, she couldn't face the thought of giving up the fun and the mental escape of playing basketball.
"I didn't want my basketball career to be over," she explains. "So I went out and got myself an agent and I trained hard all summer."
She says the waiting was "nerve wracking." At her parents' home in Nevada, she "did absolutely nothing, but work out." But the phone didn't ring and the days passed. She says there were times she was sure her dream was a lost cause. Finally, at the end of the summer, the call came. A team in Germany wanted her to play for them.
The next few weeks were a blur of activity. The day following the offer from the German team, Contri was on a flight to Portland to gather her belongings. Then, she boarded a plane for the 20-hour flight to Duesseldorf. When she finally landed in Germany, she was exhausted and a little more than anxious. Spoke no German. She didn't know anyone. She had no idea who was scheduled to meet her. And, to top it off, her luggage got lost. What had she gotten herself into, she wondered? She was on the verge of tears when suddenly a tall man emerged from the throng and called her name. "I was so excited to see him, I almost grabbed him for a hug," she says.
Since her rocky arrival in September, Contri's life in Germany has settled into a relatively comfortable routine. Like professional women's basketball in the states, German women's basketball is struggling and player pay isn't high. Contri makes ends meet by working 6 to 7 hours a day as an au pair caring for children. In the mornings, she runs and lifts weights. Three days a week, she practices for three hours with the team. Every Saturday, the team travels by bus or by train to communities all across Germany. As a point guard and shooting guard, Contri plays before crowds of several dozen to as many as several hundred.
Professional basketball is a bit a faster paced than Contri's used to, but "basketball is basketball whether you play it in Germany or the U.S." Another thing that's different, she says, is the fans. "The fans are allowed to bring drums and foghorns like you'd find on a boat. Most of them are drunk. Imagine trying to shoot a free throw with 50 drunken Germans making all kinds of noise. It's really hard."
At 5'6", Contri is the shortest player on the team. Many of the women average six feet or taller. "I'm a smurf playing among the jolly green giants," she jokes. The difference in size forces her to maneuver more to make plays happen. "I've learned to shoot the ball quicker and to be more aggressive."
She's also had to adjust to cultural differences in Germany. In place of supermarkets or malls, Leverkusen features a sprawling, two-square-mile outdoor market with dozens of tiny vendor stalls. Local social life revolves around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes for hours at outdoor café tables. First-run American movies, which are dubbed into German, are months or even years behind those shown in the states.
One of Contri's biggest hurdles has been the language barrier. "I never studied German, so it was very hard at first." She says she can now speak basic words and sentences and understand much of the conversation around her. Being exposed to the language with her host family, with teammates, on the street and on television has forced her to learn quickly. "It's not hard to pick it up when I'm surrounded by it 24-7."
Contri, who is unsure how long her pro basketball career will last, says that her experiences at Willamette and now in Germany have opened up a whole new world of possibilities for her. "Willamette gave me knowledge about the world," she says. "All the people I've met and the things I've done have helped me realize that there are endless possibilities. Opportunities present themselves every day. It's a matter of choosing which ones to take. For now, I've chosen the right one."