With so many great players having difficulties to find new teams this summer it was not easy to retain an overview. E.g. the BBL assist leader of the last season (6.2 per game) Michael Hakim Jordan is still available. A remarkable player who still is without a new team, but not available any longer is three-time BBL All star Brandon Woudstra. The 29-year old american was in the prime of his career but surprisingly to many decided to retire from professional basketball.
Retiring at 29 is something players usually only do when severe injuries force them to. Woudstra’s retirement was not entirely planed, but something that just became reasonable for the family man:
“The main reason was my family,” stated Woudstra. “We were expecting our second child and we wanted to be in a place we felt comfortable for the birth and it got to be a lot more work and stress taking a family back and forth. The summer went on and the opportunities I had to play somewhere were not where we thought was best for us at the time, so we decided to stay home for the time being.”
The 191cm / 6’3’’ guard was well respected by fans, team mates, opponents and coaches and experts around the league. If one asks former team mates of Woudstra they all praise different strengths of “Woody”. Bamberg’s Eric Taylor, who was Woudstra’s team mate in Leverkusen emphasizes his off-court qualities:
“Brandon was one of those guys who was absolutely reliable, resilient, and dependable. If there was any problem that needed to be addressed, Brandon would be there out of his good nature to provide goodwill.”
While Derrick Allen and Jared Newson remember his great shooting and the ability to stretch the floor and make defenses respect him, Bamberg playmaker John Goldsberry also mentions his passing abilities:
“Obviously he was one of the best shooters in the league but he also was one of the best passers who really knew how to get his teammates involved.”
For someone who always has been a very team oriented player it seems reasonable that Brandon Woudstra decided to start a basketball school for kids after retiring. BluePrint Basketball is the name of the program and Brandon likes his new role as a mentor:
“I had always done camps during summers when I was home and in Europe and I had thought it would be something I would do when I wasn’t playing. So the idea had always been there. So far I have enjoyed it and the response has been very good. I am excited about where the program is going and I am proud of what it’s about and teaches. It’s fun to watch players develop, especially for those who really want it.”
Brandon has always been a player with a high basketball IQ and one could really imagine him to be good coach. Asked about any ambitions in that direction he explains:
“My dad has been a college coach for close to 30 years so I have been around the profession quite a bit. I can see myself doing it at some point, just not sure right now I am feeling the urge.”
Career in review
Brandon Woudstra spent his college days at Northwestern University, a NCAA division 2 team. He still holds records in points (2.487) and assists (648) but coming from a small school certainly did not help to start a pro career:
“I went to a few agent and professional combines after college, because no one really wanted to give me a chance coming from a small school. Finally in September, a team from Iceland called me up and I took the offer. It was a great decision. I enjoyed it, and learned a lot and it helped me get my foot in the door.”
Surprisingly many successful players started their careers in Iceland. Woudstra thinks as an American who wants to learn how to play in Europe it is a good way to start a career:
“It forces you to be a key player for your team. With the way the American rules are set up in most countries now you can come into a bigger league and be a role player, which may not prepare you as well. When I first started playing it was always two Americans, and in smaller countries you were expected to contribute heavily. I think this really helps you develop as a player when you have those types of expectations. DA’s (Derrick Allen’s) teams and ours had our battles in Iceland, so it was fun to play with him in Leverkusen. AJ Moye, Jeb Ivey, and now BA Walker are all guys from the Keflavik/Njardivk teams that have been in the Bundesliga recently. There are also others from the other Icelandic teams as well.”
After being honored with the Eurobasket.com All-Icelandic League Guard of the Year 2004 award Woudstra spent a few games in USBL and then signed with Woon!Aris Leeuwarden from the Netherland’s Eredivisie. The league in the Netherlands certainly has a better reputation than the one in Iceland, but Woudstra did not have any difficulties to adapt to a higher level. At the end of the year he was the league’s best scorer (23.3 points per game) and just found the perfect situation:
“I felt like I really improved through the Iceland and USBL experiences I had and I was placed a perfect situation in Holland. We were a new team moving up, the club had a lot of excitement and they put together a good team. We got off to a great start and made the playoffs for the only time in club history. Again, it was a situation where I was depended on heavily and grew because of it.”
In 2005 Woudstra signed with Bayer Giants Leverkusen and spent his first season in Germany. The BBL is a much more competitive league compared to the ones in Iceland and the Netherlands.
“I think the biggest difference was the night in and night out competition. The smaller leagues have some very good teams but not as a whole for the league. You really find out that the any body can beat any body in the Bundesliga and you have to prepare each week. Obviously, the skill, size and athleticism of the Bundesliga were better as a whole,” stressed Woudstra.
In his first season in Germany he averaged 17.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game and as a rookie he made it to the BBL All-Star Day. But Leverkusen did not make it to the play-offs in 2006.
The following year Leverkusen had a roster with more depth and quality players. If one just reads the names of a team with John Goldsberry, Brandon Woudstra, Jared Newson, Derrick Allen, Nate Fox and Eric Taylor one really has to wonder why this team did not have more success. Leverkusen made it to the play-offs that year but lost to Ludwigsburg in the quarterfinals 2-3.
“It’s quite a roster and it took us a while to gel, and when we finally did we ended up reaching our potential by the end of the season. We had won 11 of 12 going into the playoffs and we really felt like we had a great chance to go deep. Ludwigsburg had a very good team that year and Jerry Green had a monster series against us. We felt like if we stole one on the road we would have a chance because of how we had played at home during the season, but they actually beat us twice at home which was the difference.”
One has to reconsider that all those players were still young. For example John Goldsberry was a rookie coming straight out of college. But asked about the potential success this team could have if it was regrouped, Derrick Allen, Jared Newson and John Goldsberry agreed that this squad should be a championship contender.
33-year old Eric Taylor remembers this year as a very special one:
“Our team with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen was special in a unique way. We had a great organization from top-level management to community marketing. Most importantly, a group of men that wanted to win. Believe it or not, that year had its ups and downs but in my opinion, the adversity that we shared when we realized the chance of making the playoffs dwindle, made the team pull together on an amazing level. That element of collective teamwork made the game of basketball fun again, and made the season that year of great value. If the Bayer Leverkusen team of 2006/07 were assembled once more, I have no doubts of the potential success, but currently the Brose Baskets Bamberg have an agenda this year,” says Bamberg’s veteran Eric Taylor.
With the uncertainty about Bayer still sponsoring Leverkusen this group of players fell apart. John Goldsberry signed with the Artland Dragons, Derrick Allen joined Frankfurt Skyliners and Jared Newson signed with an Australian team. Brandon Woudstra left Kuczmann’s team as well and signed a two-year deal with EnBW Ludwigsburg in 2007.
After being the big surprise team in 2006/07 Ludwigsburg’s next season was a tough one full of injury trouble. With Ronald Ross, Coleman Collins, Vincent Yarbrough, Heiko Schaffartzik and Michel Nascimento the team looked pretty strong but failed to make it to the post season.
“I would say it was definitely the injuries and transitioning of players. We never really had one team for the year. Vernon Hamilton, Ed Norvell, Charles Bennett, Chad Prewitt, Nate Harris, Lewis Monroe, Anthony Richardson, Vincent Yarbrough, Heiko Schaffartzik, Radi Zradkovic, Stefan Fahrad and myself were just to name a few of the players on and off the our active rosters. There may have been more. It really hurt to lose Nate Harris to injury early and I felt like my 6 week absence hurt our team’s rhythm during the playoff stretch. We were in 7th place when those injuries happened and then we went on a skid. When we got everybody back we made a run to the Cup final, but our season behind us held us from the playoffs.”
Woudstra’s second year with Ludwigsburg was not successful either and the team missed the play-offs again. To me it looked like Ludwigsburg’s new head coach Rick Stafford did not run a lot of systems for Brandon and did not give him a lot of opportunities to score.
“Coach Stafford never told me not shoot, but I just never got a rhythm or felt completely comfortable in our style of play and with the way things were. I think we both made real efforts to get the best out of myself during the season, but it did not click consistently. I had some very good games and some that were out of character. It was very frustrating at times,” stressed Woudstra.
Frustrating is also the fact that Woudstra decided to retire from professional basketball. He and his game will certainly be missed by many fans. In a league full of Americans who often tend to play a streetball style Woudstra’s unselfish, team oriented play combined with his great shooting and versatile game was a highlight.
Asked about possible return in Brett Favre style Woudstra admits:
“I don’t think I can really say right now. If you would have told me 10 years ago I would have played professional basketball in the places I have played, I wouldn’t have expected it. So to say what will happen in the future is hard to say, only the Lord knows.”
Whatever the future might bring for Brandon Woudstra the German Hoops crew wishes him all the best.