Three-time All-American Chris Braier has his first season of professional basketball in Europe off to a flying start. The former Lawrence forward signed with Danish team BK Amager this summer, and has helped them to the quarterfinals of the single-elimination nationwide Cup tournament and a 3-2 record in regular season action. Braier, or Bopper as he was known on campus, is averaging 17 points, eight boards, three assists and three steals a game. The Lawrentian’s Phil Roy talked to Chris this week for an update on life and basketball in Copenhagen.PR: From what I was able to make of the Danish statistics I looked at, it seems like you’re putting together a more than solid season as a first-year player. What kind of role have you found yourself in at BK Amager?
CB: The role I play is different from many American players in Europe. I am not asked to do all the scoring, but instead asked to lead the team in other ways. I am playing a lot, which is important, and have tried to make my teammates better in any way possible. We have two guys on our team who play for the Danish National Team so it’s there job to score while I focus on all the little things.
PR: From your experience in Denmark so far, what seems to be the biggest difference between the European and American styles of playing the game?
CB: There are many a few. First there is a 24-second shot clock instead of 35 in college, so the game is much higher paced. Secondly, the game is played a lot like European soccer is played; guys flop a lot and take dives. Also, when a ball goes out of bounds the refs hand the ball over fast to the other team so there can be fast breaks from an out-of-bounds situation. It takes a while to get used to. And yeah, the three-point line is a foot longer than in college, so that took some adjusting as well.
PR: With how much ease have you managed to fit into the system at your club?
CB: Everyone at the club I am at has been great to me. They all speak fluent English and are very easy to get along with. Basketball-wise it is a little different. I had played four years on a team at LU where I knew where everyone was going to be on the court. Now I have to learn a new system and find myself making passes which last year would turn into lay-ups, but this year are turnovers. Part of that is because the teams we play against are much faster and stronger, but it will take some time to get used to.
PR: How difficult was the cultural transition?
CB: Because everyone speaks English here the cultural transition wasn’t too bad. However, they only speak English when you speak English to them, otherwise everyone speaks Danish. So, when I am on the bus/subway I find my iPod is my best friend because everyone around me is speaking what sounds like mumbles. Copenhagen is a wonderful city with a lot of things to do. The team and the players have helped make the transition easier. I go out with the guys on the weekends, and go to dinner with some of the general managers and coaches often. It keeps me busy.
PR: How good is your Danish? Do the fans heckle in Danish? Does your coach speak English?
CB: My Danish right now is rather bad. I know how to count to 12, and say all the basic things (hi, bye, how are you?), basically enough to get me through “bar talk.” They say it is the second hardest language in the world to learn, and the fact that so many speak English . that has really slowed my drive to learn the language. Fans do have some weird Danish chants yes, and everyone has drums and air horns at the games. The biggest thing they do is when you are shooting a free throw, the opposing fans will blow an air horn right as you release the ball-kind of like Jackass the movie and the golf swing. The first two or three times that happened I was really rattled, and my free throw shooting isn’t that good to start with. My coach speaks English without an accent. He lived in the U.S. for six years and played Division I basketball at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. He’s only 31 and I get along with him real well.
PR: How long is your current contract? Does this seem like something you’ll be doing for several years or is med school lurking around the corner?
CB: My contract runs until May 1. Right now it is too early to tell if this is something I will do for awhile. Some days I think I could do this for another four or five years, and then there are some days when I miss the little things about the U.S. and my friends there. I guess if the situation and the money outweigh the little things in the U.S. then I could see myself continuing to play.
PR: What do you miss most about your life at Lawrence, on and off the court?
CB: Wow, what a tough question. I would say the thing I miss most about LU is just hanging out with friends. From seeing everyone on a Friday night no matter where you go to walking just down the hall in the dorms to play some video games with others, I took that for granted. Although everyone knows everything you do at Lawrence it still was a great place to go to school. On the court I miss the fans, the atmosphere and just playing with the guys I played with. I don’t know any of the fans here. At Lawrence it was great having my parents in the crowd, and also all my peers and professors. It made it sort of like a show. You didn’t want to let them down as much as your team.
PR: When people ask about your college experience, what are the first things you tell them?
CB: The first thing I tell them is about all the friendships I made. Basketball was great, but through basketball I got to meet so many great people. From our great coaching staff, to all the guys on the team throughout my four years, to the students and professors and locals that came to watch the games. Basketball was a catalyst for me to help me become acquainted with the school and find my niche my freshman year . but it was stretching out beyond basketball that made my experience at LU special.
PR: Is there anything you want to tell the loyal Vikings fans?
CB: Loyal is correct. I would like to thank all the fans that have supported not only our team but all LU athletics over the years. To see you guys travel on road trips and to come out in the hundreds to watch us play is very special. It was one of the big reasons that my journey through basketball at LU was so fun, and why it was so hard to leave. I have now become that loyal Viking fan and will be following the team closely this year, hopefully by way of Mr. Alvord and WLFM radio.