The journey from a small NCAA Division II school to a professional career in the British BBL, has been an experience Matthew Schneck has thoroughly enjoyed. Despite putting up impressive numbers in his first and second year overseas, Schneck's career highlight will be when his parents visit him this April in England.
Schneck shared his story with RidiculousUpside.com, and explained, "My parents at age 55 are visiting in April, it will be their first time out of the United States. To give my Mother a reason to visit Europe, to see the Eiffel Tower, that's what I'm most proud of." Schneck added, "that and the fact that my brothers can look up to me as a professional athlete, I hope that it gives them a reason to follow their life goals, and inspires them to be passionate about something."
In his senior season at St. Cloud State, Schneck averaged 18.5 points, and 11.4 rebounds while leading his team to a NCAA II Final Four appearance. Now in his second season overseas, Schneck is averaging 16.7 points and 10.6 rebounds for the UCP Marjon Plymouth Raiders. Schneck currently leads the league in rebounds per game (10.6) and Plymouth is third overall in the British BBL standings (17-7). As a result of his hard work, Schneck has now positioned himself as one of the top big men in the BBL.
Before his professional career overseas, Schneck spent three weeks working out for the Milwaukee Bucks, but failed to make their Summer League roster. Schneck then decided to write off any idea of the NBA D-League and pursue Europe. Schneck used a former NBA first round draft pick Joe Alexander as an example for himself. Schneck explained, "Joe Alexander helped me to understand (the decision to play overseas), he was one of those D-League cusp players drafted 8th after college, and his footwork, size and mid-range game were phenomenal. It hadn't panned out for him because he was kind of stuck between positions. Instead of trying the D-League another year, he went to Europe. Seeing a player of his caliber make that decision made it easier for me to do so."
Similar to Schneck, Alexander hovered in a gray area position-wise, at 6-8 it is sometimes difficult for players with their skill set to find a role on an NBA team. Schneck further added, "unless you are one of the guys short-listed to be a NBA roster replacement, the D-League doesn't make much sense financially, or experience wise. It's an international game now, and Europe has a lot to offer."
Often times, the transition for players to alter their game in hopes of being successful at the international level can be difficult. In Schneck's case, his game has blossomed in the European setting. "The transition came quite natural for me. Everything for me comes from rebounding, and that's allowed for me to be a consistent double-double player from my rookie year onward. I've approached the game of basketball the same way for a long time. You can't teach height, but you also can't teach having a deep-rooted passion for the game." Schneck said.
Schneck's unorthodox style has made him difficult for opposing teams in the BBL to matchup against. His size and foot speed can create numerous opportunities for him down low, but also out on the fast break. Schneck has the capability of putting up 20 and 10 in any given game, and his skills have translated nicely once again this season. Schneck described the importance of being a team player as well. "Everyone wants to make it to the next level, but it takes maturity and patience to understand that it can happen with unselfish play. You have to understand that, and focus on consistency. I'm always evaluating where I could improve, and making sure that I'm a team player."
The dominant and exciting brand of basketball that Schneck has brought to the BBL has English basketball fans craving for more. With the well-documented fact that English sports fans, particularly their soccer fans, are some of the most educated and passionate fans in the world, basketball is starting to fall in line as another premiere sport obsessed by the English. Schneck discussed what the fan base has been like, "The English fans have been incredible. The fan base for basketball is well-educated, but smaller. If you go to a championship basketball game there will be 10,000 fans of which 9,500 of them are truly educated. That makes for a unique and demanding environment, you've got to have thick skin."
As far as the playing conditions go in England, similar to the growing fan base, the amount of new arenas and stadiums are expanding as well. However, Schneck noted that there is certainly a transition period in regard to the playing conditions. "The top-level teams have arenas similar to what you would find in the NCAA, while the lower-level organizations sometimes make you feel like you are playing on concrete at times. In your first year out here it is a bit of a shock regarding some of the facilities that you see, especially after what you are used playing in back home, but you adjust."
Plenty of players from the NCAA Division I ranks have managed to find success playing in Europe, but Schneck's unique background from NCAA Division II prepared him just as much for a professional basketball career. Schneck explained, "There is a large misconception about Division II schools. From my personal experience, I hold the belief that the top level NCAA Division II teams would compete just fine in a mid-major situation. The difference between Division I and Division II is the athleticism and pace, but you work just as hard. By the time I was a senior, I had put the work in two-fold and reached that fast-paced level to complement an intelligent basketball IQ that you learn at the Division II level. It all made the transition to professional basketball quite natural."
For now, Schneck continues to shine for Plymouth as evidenced from his last performance. Schneck scored 13 points and added 16 rebounds as his team knocked off Newcastle 76-71. From his humble basketball beginnings in the mid-West, to his career in England, Schneck certainly understands that Europe is the best place for him and his game moving forward.