Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:09 am
basketball
Ex-Bluejay getting back in shape for European pro career

Dane Watts sized up the defense, took a step back and then drove down the lane for a layup.

The maneuver drew a biting response from a Creighton assistant coach, who stopped practice to express his displeasure.

“You guys just let an old man like Dane Watts blow right by you. That can't happen.”

Watts is hardly an old man, though the former Bluejay — Watts played for Creighton from 2004 to '08 — was feeling older than his 27 years by the end of a recent practice at Vinardi Center.

Watts has played professionally in Europe since leaving Creighton but is coming off a back injury that brought a premature end to his fifth season last February.

He hopes to return to Europe after the first of the year, which is why he was practicing with the Bluejays. He even participated in end-of-practice sprints with the younger players.

“It's nice to come back and see the guys,” Watts said. “They let me get in there and mix it up a little bit while trying to get back into shape.

“I've taken my time to make sure I'm healthy and that everything is 100 percent before I go try to play again.”

Watts has spent most of his professional career with Ludwigsburg, Tubingen and Ulm in the German Basketball League. He also got a chance at the end of 2011 to play for Hyeres-Toulon in the French A League playoffs.

In addition to allowing him to make a living playing the game he loves, the overseas experience has been positive for Watts and his wife, Coco, the sister of Watts' former Creighton teammate Josh Dotzler.

“We've been able to travel and see some different cultures,” Watts said. “It's been really good for us.

“I've bounced around a little bit and we've been able to see some different places. Overall, it's been a really good experience.”

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The couple has an 18-month-old son, Ezekiel. Watts said the family likely will be headed to France this year as a couple of French teams have expressed interest in signing him after the first of the year.

The Watts family has embraced its lifestyle, which has allowed it to adapt to spending much of the year away from family and friends in strange lands.

“We made the adjustment and this is our life right now,” he said. “It's been a blessing to have her with me, and now we have my son. He keeps us on our toes, and it's always nice to come home and have him smile at you. It makes you forget about the tough times you've had in practice.”

Having his family with him has helped Watts avoid some of the pitfalls that he's seen other American players experience when they've tried to play overseas.

“For some guys that are single, it's easy to get homesick,” Watts said. “You come home after practice to your apartment and, if you don't interact with anybody, it's tough because you're over there for a long time.

“I can't tell you how much it's helped having my wife be supportive of this. She's never had a house of her own. We could get a call in the next four or five days, and we'd have to pack everything we own into two suitcases. She's been a trooper in helping me continue living my dream.”

The German teams that Watts has played for provide him with a car and an apartment. The pay is good, and the fringe benefits — the ability to see the world — keep Watts and his wife excited about the opportunity.

“I want to keep doing this as long as it's fun,” he said.

He recalled some advice he received from former Creighton assistant Kevin McKenna.

“Kevin told me I should play until it's out of my system,” he said, laughing. “I don't want to have any regrets or wish that I would have tried to play one more year. I guess I'll keep playing until it's time to settle down and try something else.”

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar

stevepivovar@hotmail.com    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

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