2010-01-28 / News

Former European league basketball star calls Jamestown home

By Adrienne Downing

If Michael Andersen could combine the American way of developing players and the European style of basketball, he might be onto something big for the future of the game.

Andersen is a former University of Rhode Island and European league star who now calls Conanicut Island his permanent home, thanks to his wife, Ellen, who was born and raised in Jamestown.

He had never even been to the U.S. prior to being recruited to play for the Rams, but he said the adjustment to the new culture was fairly easy.

“I loved it. The funny thing is that growing up, my mom and I always watched American shows. I would always say I would love to go to America and go to college and it just turned out that way,” he said.

The seven-footer was not a child basketball prodigy, or even a standout player in school, but was noticed because of a good work ethic in his native Denmark, he said.

“I didn’t start playing until I was 16. A teacher of mine suggested I play for a local team because I was tall. I played for two years in Denmark, and then straight to college,” Andersen said.

The Danish do not have sports teams in high school or even at the college level that are part of the school system. Andersen had to pay to play for the club-level team that got him noticed by URI.

“The team I played for played a youth tournament in Denmark. There was a Dutch scout there and that scout was sending out reports to all the colleges in America,” Andersen said. “Bill Coen, who is now at Northeastern, saw it and said, ‘Let’s check him out, let’s get a videotape.’ They saw the videotape and they decided to give me a shot.”

Andersen said he was fortunate to get his shot to play college basketball that way, but said it was not normal, given the way athletes are developed in Denmark.

“The system in America has been working so well to produce prime athletes. If you are just talking about athletes, I think this system works a lot better. In Denmark, for example, we don’t produce as many,” Andersen said. “If some kids who are not that rich or don’t have that extra money to pay to play, you will have athletes that will never play.”

Because of his late start in the sport, Andersen said he had not really developed as a player when he departed Europe for the U.S.

“I didn’t really have a style. I hadn’t been playing that long, so I really learned to play here,” Andersen said. “Basketball in Denmark is pretty much not instruction, it’s just go out and play.”

Basketball was not always Andersen’s sport of choice. As is the case with a lot of Danes and Europeans, Andersen played soccer in his youth, but gave up the sport because of his height.

“They put me in the goal, but I didn’t want to be a goal keeper,” he said. “I wanted to score the goals, not be in the goal.”

His introduction to the world of American basketball was essentially a “trial by fire” experience.

“I came over the first time for the World Scholar Athlete games, then a few weeks later for a basketball camp in Massachusetts that my coaches wanted me to go to for seven weeks. Then I started college right away. I had to adapt very quickly,” he said.

Having good coaches at URI helped with his transition, he said, and he still talks to his head coach and all of his assistant coaches from his college days.

But his style of basketball was not the only thing Andersen found at URI. He also met his wife, Ellen, through a friend.

Ellen was a former North Kingstown High School basketball player and played at the intramural level while at URI, but basketball wasn’t what caught her eye about her future husband.

“I actually wasn’t all that interested in sports. I didn’t attend a lot of the games,” she said. “But, he was so nice and he was really smart, which was important.”

She didn’t know at the time that falling for him would take her on a 12-year, eight-city adventure.

Although she had lived her whole life in Jamestown, Ellen packed up and finished her final year of college in a completely foreign world.

She said living in a place where she didn’t speak the language, understand the culture or know her way around was difficult and a bit daunting at times, but was an experience that has shaped her into the person she is today.

“In a lot of ways, it helps me relate to the military families who live in Jamestown. Michael was gone a lot, so I just had to adapt, make friends and learn to deal with things the way they do,” she said.

Read more about Michael and Ellen Andersen’s time in the European league in next week’s Press.

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