Few players have the experience of 35 year-old Fred House
, a player whose career has taken him from Southern Utah University, to the minor leagues in the US and then across the globe. Internationally, he has played with top teams in Serbia, Spain, Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine. More interestingly, House was a member of the original eight team D-League in 2001-2002 as a member of the North Charleston Lowgators, and has recently rejoined the league this season (Texas Legends) after spending a decade overseas. He recently sat down with us to talk about the differences between the league then and other various experiences from his impressive international career. Mike Schmidt:
What are the biggest differences between the original D-League back in 2001-2002 and the D-League you play in today?Fred House:
There's a big difference because now NBA teams have control over several [D-League] teams and they can send down players any time they want. It's basically like a farm system now, like baseball or hockey. It gives a guy a much better chance of making it to the NBA. Before you had to be an outstanding player to get called up to the NBA. Now it's open for anyone in this league. MS:
Interesting that you mention the difficulty of getting called up, because even though there were only eight teams back then, none of your teammates ever went on to play in the NBA. FH:
I still keep in touch with my teammates from that team and none of them ever were called up, but some of the still continue to play, and a few of the guys are coaches or agents now. Out of that bunch I guess you could say I'm the last Mohican standing. I'm very thankful to be a part of that era. Going to the first [D-League] tryout there was like 5,000 guys in the gym with 3 courts and they could come up to you and touch you and say thank you for coming'. There would be 300 people getting cut and another 300 people coming in and it was very cut-throat.
There were a couple guys there like Moses Malone
Jr, Calvin Murphy
Jr, George Gervin
Jr, a lot of top name guys who were getting cut. I was thankful and blessed to make a roster and on top of making a roster I was part of a reality TV show. That was big as well because my family at home had the opportunity to see me play and know what was going on in my life.MS:
I noticed that the Charleston Lowgators were the fastest paced team back then, but only scored 82 ppg. That would be by far the lowest in the D-League you play in today.FH:
Nowadays there's not as much defense in this league and it's more run and gun. I think the game of basketball has changed a whole lot. I've sat down and asked a couple guys like Chris Carr
awell and Trajan Langdon
who came out during my time when did basketball change to the run and gun game of who can score the most. One day it might get back to original basketball where it's half-court, hold your opponent under 80, but until then I have to get used to run and gun. MS:
Considering everywhere you've played do you prefer the half-court or run and gun style of basketball?FH:
I prefer the run and gun because it lets you know who's in shape, and who's practicing and taking care of their body. The slow tempo is ok; it's a lot more thinking and you have to be smart and pay attention to details. Personally I think I did a good job of adjusting to both types of basketball. I remember when I was released by the Atlanta Hawks I went overseas and played for Partizan in Serbia. It was very half court oriented, the rules over there are very different and it took about two to three weeks for me to catch on.
I'm glad I had a coach who took the time to work with me and show me the rules and the X's, Y's and Z's to the game of basketball over there. I had a great time over there and wouldn't mind going back over, but I'm having a great time playing at home right now. I plan on playing this game until the man upstairs tells me I can't play anymore, but I'm thankful to be part of the D-League this year because I see a lot of young guys that aren't seeing the big picture or need to improve their work ethic. They're relying on their talent and not getting into the gym to do extra stuff like shooting, working on muscle memory, repetition, the little things that make a basketball player. MS:
It's fascinating that you've never been cut or changed teams mid-season in Europe, considering the instability and constant roster changes overseas. How have you managed such stability in your career?FH:
I just tried to keep a good relationship with everyone and do what the team asked of me. When I signed a new contract the first thing I always asked the coach is what do you want me to do; score, rebound, defend and they said hey, just do what you do. I think I had a successful career because I was more of a team player and followed the rules and did what I was told.
A lot of guys go overseas and forget where they came from and get released. I still try to keep a good relationship with the presidents and coaches of teams because you never know, you might end up coming back or even working for them one day. I see a lot of guys at the Showcase now that I played against like Mike Wilks
--he's a scout for the Thunder--Anthony Parker
who played for Maccabi now scouts for the Magic--Ira Newble
who I played with in Atlanta- he was my big brother and took care of me, told me how to play the game, play good defense and to be more aggressive. All these guys I see come up to me and pat me on the side and say keep up the good work. You're still from our era so keep it going. I'm trying to, but now I'm just a role player and happy to be here. MS:
Is it harder to stick with a team now than it was 10 years ago?FH:
I think so, because now they've seen you in summer league or they've seen video of you so they have expectations of what you can do, and if you don't do it you get cut. Back then it was if he can play and follow my directions they're not going to cut you and the coach is going to like you. I remember when I was in Serbia the coach left after the season and went to Lithuania and he personally called me and said I have a job in Lithuania and I want you to come. MS:
What's your favorite place your career has brought you so far?FH:
That's a hard question to answer. If you're asking about basketball environment I'd have to say Partizan, Serbia because [the fans] never sit down, they're singing and chanting songs and they get so involved into the game. If you asked me the best place to play in terms of traveling and lifestyle I'd have to say Spain. If you asked which place I'd like to live, and wouldn't mind spending the rest of my life I'd have to say Spain as well. Lithuania is a nice place to take a trip, and Russia is nice as well. Ukraine is OK if you're going to Kiev, but it's cold there. Every country I've played in has pros and cons, but more pros than cons. MS:
Can you talk a bit about the D-League Draft back then? You were a sixth round pick in the D-League as rookie.FH:
There was eight rounds and a total of 64 players drafted. I was pick 48 overall and I said I was going to wear that number, but when I got to camp I didn't think I did the best I could to be drafted higher. I think I could have went higher, but going to a mid-major school [Southern Utah] I felt like they overlooked me. I also have to thank DeAndre Hewitt who was my roommate, because I blew out of my shoes and was sticking paper in them, and he went to the mall and bought me a pair of shoes, and told me when you make it big just buy someone else who needs it a pair of shoes.
Back then everybody was paid the same salary and now you have A level, B level and C level [salaries]. Back then you didn't have that, but you had bonuses which you don't have now. You also have guys being assigned now making NBA salaries. I've seen some guys assigned and also heard from other teams that it can mess up the flow of things when a guy is assigned. MS:
How much was your rookie of the year bonus?FH:
The rookie of the year bonus was $5,000, and I got another $3,000 for making it to the Finals. If we would have won it would have been another $8,000. MS:
Do you think it's a better system to be rewarded for performance on bonuses rather than the contract levels?FH:
I think the bonuses were better because it put everyone on the same page and benefited team play. Now there's a very big difference. I remember when I first got my check and I was thinking wow this is like five Euros (laughs). I'm playing the game of basketball for the love of it and I have to realize that the money is more than I had yesterday, and be thankful for what I have because there are a lot of guys in the world who would love to be in my position. MS:
Do you think if you were coming out of Southern Utah today the added technology of youtube and some of the video scouting services available today such as Synergy would have helped you gain exposure as a guy coming from a small college?FH:
Yeah, I would have been drafted probably in the second round or maybe late first round. When I came out of college I thought I was going to the Utah Jazz but there was an agent I was with....you know, it is what it is. I thought I was going to get drafted, I was following the Jazz and I was listening to the wrong people. If they would have had all this technology back then I can say I would have had better success. MS:
Can you talk about the similarities and differences between your original D-League Coach Alex English
and your current coach Edjuardo Najera?. FH:
They're very different; way different. Alex English
, he was more of a laid back coach. He was more about defense, deflections, contesting shots. Eddie is more of a motivator and speaker. He doesn't really mind if you mess up, he doesn't yank you out of the game for one mistake. Alex was more of a guy you had to impress to earn your time on the court. With Alex, he would show old basketball clips of him playing with the little shorts and stuff, and he would say I want you guys to play like this. Najera doesn't really do that. He has a great staff behind him. He breaks up everything on video and we'll watch the good parts and the bad parts, and see the things we need to work on. The thing that I like about is even though he's a coach, he's still a player. He lets us talk and if we don't like something we can talk back to him. It's done in a respectful way because he doesn't disrespect us. He really likes guys who put in extra work, show up early and stay late. MS:
What was the difference in per diem and travel back then versus today?FH:
Back then the D-League per diem was like 10, 11 dollars a day, now it's 30 I think. Traveling back then you mostly did bussing. You bussed all night, it felt like you were on the Greyhound. We maybe flew a couple times, but you lived on that bus that said NBDL. We stopped in little towns to eat. Now, you fly and are in nicer busses with electrical sockets so you can plug in your iPod or iPad or phone if it dies. It's better now. MS:
Talk about your experience in the USBL where you had to make a tough choice about leaving the team to play for Memphis in the summer league.FH:
That was a hurtful decision. [GM] Mike Sweet is a very great guy and so is Mike Sanders
, the head coach of my team. Devin Brown
, who played for the Spurs and has a ring, people were saying he was the best player in the league. I said no, I'm the best player in the USBL.
Devin's [Kansas City] team was going to be in the finals so I said that my team was going to be in the finals too. After we won the semi-finals we had to play Devin's Kansas City team in the finals who were coached by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
After the Semi-Final game we went to the locker room and sat down and the coach says listen guys I have something to say', so we're thinking someone had gotten injured or sick or something. He comes up and says well we have a problem, and the problem is that Fred House
...' and I jumped up and said listen, I was in my room, I didn't do anything wrong, what's the deal? So all the players started looking at me and laughing, saying yeah coach, Fred was out late at night' knowing that I just sit in my room and wasn't doing anything wrong.
Coach said no, here's the deal, Fred House
has been asked to go to the Memphis Grizzlies Summer League team but there's a problem, he cannot play with us in the championship game. He looked at us and said Fred, what do you want to do? You are picked to go to Memphis summer league but you cannot play another game for us or else they will give your spot to someone else.' So I kind of cried and put my head down and a few of my teammates came up to me and said you know what, forget the USBL, you need to go to Memphis and make the team. We'll win the finals and whoever gets MVP is going to give it to you because you carried us here. It made me feel good because my teammates weren't selfish. I got everyone's phone number the day I left and said thank you so much, because it was a tough decision and felt like since I started something I should have finished it.
I went to Memphis for mini-camp and I was on the last string and played against the center. I got upset and said to myself I can't believe I blew this and left the USBL just to be in this situation. Memphis told me I had to show them something. I played real well in practice from that point forward but we got out to Long Beach for the summer league and I didn't get to start. I finally got my turn and I think I had 27 points, 8 rebounds and 7 steals, but some people still thought that was a fluke. The next game we played against Houston and almost had a triple double, and afterwards Jerry West
came up to me and said he liked the kind of defense I play. I thought I was going to stick with Memphis but after summer league Atlanta called and offered me a contract.
When I went to Atlanta I thought I'd be ok there. The team had no history of winning but had Jason Terry
, Dion Glover
, Shareef [Abdur-Rahim] and Ira Newble
; there was room for me to make the team. I thought I played well in the preseason against Indiana when I had 13 points and a bunch of steals at the time. I don't know the thought process Lon Kruger had at the time, but I got caught up in the numbers game. I can say that it's a business and I didn't think it was the end of basketball and I got a phone call to come play overseas when I was driving home less than 48 hours later.
I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but I got on the plane and flew over to Serbia. There were chickens all over the airport and I didn't know who to go to and there was a goat; I was just like wow, what is going on. A guy from the team met me there and took me to the hotel and gave me the keys to my car. I didn't know where to drive to so I parked the car and went over to the gym to practice. I didn't know we were supposed to be having a game I went to the gym at 6:45 and the gym was full of people. When I walked across the court everybody started cheering for me and I was like what did I do? The coach said where have you been' but nobody told me we had a game. I didn't start and didn't get to play until the third quarter. I got in and played well, and we won, and have built my career from that point.