Chris Hortman(Vellaznimi Gjakove) Broke Through In Croatia´s Top League After Overcoming Countless Adversary And Paying Dues During His Career

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Chris Hortman after he dropped 15 points and got 14 rebounds in a 76-63 Schwelm win in Frankfurt

            It was the beginning of November in the 2017-2018 season as the 6-1 EN Baskets Schwelm traveled to Rhondorf to meet the 5-2 Dragons showcasing a massive guard battle between Kameron Taylor and Chris Hortman. Taylor who would become the Pro B player of the year that season led the Dragons to a huge satisfying 95-72 victory while Chris Hortman gave a fine performance with 22 points, but one could sense from his down state in the post game interview that the loss was eating at him. But it wasn´t only the loss, but something else was bothering him. Something that would haunt him that season. “Days before the game I got hurt in practice. Just had the strangest pain in my leg, so I asked to see a doctor. I was given an x-ray and was told that I was okay to play in the game, but during this game it was clear I no longer had the same explosion or lateral movement. I personally knew something was wrong. I asked for a MRI after the game and the next day I learned I tore my meniscus”, stressed Chris Hortman. He began to rehab and the club continued to lose. Instead of finishing his rehab, he came back to early and got hurt again which was his ultimate downfall which led to his release which was a real bad down period in his life. The club tarnished his reputation by questioning his charachter “ The team had begun to lose several games in a row. The management became very needy to get back to the winning side. The situation turned from me waiting until I was 100% healthy to play, to me playing and not being 100% healed. This is where me and the club had difference of opinion. They made false statements pertaining to me. It came to a point where I no longer felt welcomed, very simple things became complicated and I knew I had to do what was best for me. The main thing I’ve learned is to care for your body. Don’t expect others to care, but to take matters into your own hands and ensure you’re doing everything to protect your future”, warned Chris Hortman. More than 2 years later, the American from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin remembers his Schwelm experience very well, but at that difficult time had the continued right self confidence not to give up and hide his head in the sand like a stressed ostrich, trying to flee from a hungry Lion, but knew with his experience of beating adversary his whole life that better times would come. “This was a very difficult time , but I know what I was capable of. I started that season off great averaging 20 and 10 then bam, injury , I knew there was more to be let out , just had to figure out how”, stressed Chris Hortman. The guard has seen adversary his whole career from achieving that chip early having to pay his dues at Milwaukee Area Technical College (JUCO), Missouri Valley (NAIA) and the University of Wisconsin at Stout (NCAA3) As a rookie he had to prove himself again a lower league called SBL in Australia and also in the German Regionalliga with Ibbenburen. After facing more adversary in his second season with the EN Baskets Schwelm and in the German Pro A in his third season where he wasn´t given a fair chance with FC Schalke, he finally rebounded in his fourth season in Croatia having an incredible stellar season. Even if the COVID-19 shortened his amazing season, he finally made his break out season in Croatia after having to suffer countless adversary and paying his dues and now can sing a song with the famous line “better late than never.

            After the tough season with the EN Baskets Schwelm, the American decided that he needed a change of scenery after playing his first 2 seasons in Germany. He could have been fed up with Germany after seeing so much misfortune in Schwelm, but going to a new country was a new challenge. The American who names NBA pro´s Wes Matthews and Jimmy Butler as the toughest guys he ever battled on the court found a new employer with  KK Pula 1981 (Croatia-Prva Liga). He took apart the league quickly as through 4 games he was averaging 23.5ppg, 7.3rpg, 3.0apg, 4.0spg. Even if he lost his first game in Croatia against Jazine 88-74, he exploded with 37 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals .It would have been interesting to observe  if his strong play would have continued or gotten even more potent, but instead he was back on his way to Germany for an unexpected new challenge. “The experience in Croatia was amazing and that´s why to this day I live in the same city. My time was so short there because I was told that I would have the opportunity to prove myself in the Pro A in Germany”, warned Chris Hortman. The American had proven that he can be a top player in the German Regionalliga and Pro B and now it was time to try to prove himself again, but in the second division Pro A that he never played in before. Instead of proving himself once again with success, he had to sit mostly on the bench and watch as the club was well fortified with strong guards. His FC Schalke odyssey lasted only 5 games in which he averaged only 6 minutes per game. This time he was healthy, but like with his former club Schwelm seemed not to have any support from management for his situation. “I remember asking god why, when I was there , I wasn’t on that team to prove myself or even given an opportunity, still to this day I don’t understand that but its ok because even that wasn’t enough to make me stop believing in myself”, warned Chris Hortman. Once again the American was let down facing more adversary, but he never forgot his short time in Croatia before he arrived in Gelsenkirchen and returned back to Croatia. If successful once why not again?

            He returned back to Croatia and this time suited up for KK Dubrava Zagreb (Croatia-Premijer Liga). He had more than just a good season, but a great season. He didn´t score 20 plus points like he did in Germany in lower leagues, but more importantly showed his extreme versatility in the first division in Croatia. He averaged 14.8ppg, Reb-2(7.7rpg), 3.4apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 47.1%, 3PT: 31.3%, FT: 78.4% He received a huge honor being named to the Eurobasket.com Croatian Premijer Liga All-Imports Team. There was no secret to his success, but just overwhelming confidence and trust from his coach. “The Coach let me play , when a player like me comes and puts up big stats , some people get offended , even the Coach , so he tried to restrict the player , something as simple as little playing time or continual mental abuse , in the case we’re talking about both”, warned Chris Hortman. He showed tremendous strength once again in overcoming adversary with FC Schalke as he was focused in Croatia and believed in himself and just continued to do work on the court. “I worked for it and my mama prayed , that’s it. My mind set was simple. I’ve come this far to not do what I said”, stressed Chris Hortman. He scored in double figures in 11 games and registered 3 double doubles. His best games included a 33 point explosion against top team Zadar, 22 points, 14 boards and 5 dimes against Split and 21 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists against Ostijek. The only major downer to the season was that the team wasn´t successful. The team had a record of 4-12 while Hortman wore their jersey. “As a team we were not able to be successful , but one person can only do so much , for me I will cherish this season a lot , first top league job, not only did I show I belong , I showed I was one if not best”, warned Chris Hortman.

            He may not have been convincing in his first Pro A attempt in Germany, but he still has gotten some added satisfaction with his overpowering season in Croatia in terms of the skill and competitive level when comparing it to other leagues that he has balled in. “The experience in Croatia was great. They were very cultured people. It’s basically the same as Pro A Germany besides two other teams that are very advanced”, stressed Chris Hortman. He also had the chance to play against some top teams that have played international club tournaments with Zadar and Cibona. He played Zadar twice and Cibona once losing by a combined total of 101 points, but just getting a shot to present himself against top competition was something that he will never forget. “It was just amazing to see how organized and together they were. No one there had a 40 inch vertical , but had the ability to play as a team , which outweighed everything. I’m just happy to have played in the arena with all its history”, expressed Chris Hortman. He also faced two very talented players with ex Sacred Heart(NCAA) stand out Shane Gibson and ex George Mason(NCAA) stand out Bryon Allen. Both played in the German BBL and have played in other top leagues around the world. He not only held his own against them, but was on triple double course against Gibson and hit Allen´s team with 33 points. “For me it was very important to play well against them , Starting off my pro career in the 4th division in Germany , I had a long road to playing in a top league, and with me finally being there and going through all the things I’ve went through, I not only wanted to but had to show that I can not only play with these guys but also put up big performances against them”, warned Chris Hortman. He may be 31 years of age, but he knows that he can´t get lazy or loose focus for just one second, but continue to visit the lab and keep grinding to not only stay at the level he is at now, but possibly continuie to climb the basketball ladder. “For me , I have been able to be successful in a majority of the statistical categories , but there’s always room for improvement , at this point I feel high efficiency is something I can add, maybe hit something like the 50/40/90 club , until I can make 100% I will work on my shooting regardless of my age”, added Chris Hortman.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Chris Hortman in a post game interview after the American scored 22 points in a 95-72 loss in Rhondorf

            COVID-19 has been a shock for so many people especially those that lost loved ones and has been a totally new experience. It has been some months since COVID-19 hit Europe by lightening, but instead of returning home, he has remained in Pula, Croatia. Like so many other people worldwide, he only thought that it would be a fad and leave as quickly as it came. He went with the norm and started to really be careful in public concerning sanitary measures and that was a huge adjustment. It was tough having the season end as abruptly as it was, but you have to love life more than basketball even if it may be tough for even the biggest competitors on the court. “I love the game , but the safety of the world is a little more important”, warned Chris Hortman. He has so much free time now to not only work on his game, but also to be contemplative about certain basketball issues like the “games with no spectators”. This could really come into play in the 2020-2021 season should a vaccine not be on the market yet. “Without out fans it is tough  The name of the sport is entertainment , so without fans I´m sure it´s a completely different game being played”, stated Chris Hortman. COVID-19 hasn´t only affected the present, but will also affect the future in so many things in life. It won´t be any different for basketball players who might come back to Europe after the summer seeing less teams as some have folded and witnessing salaries making an extreme dip as well as other major factors. He is in the same boat as many other players not knowing what to expect. He knows that how hard he grinds this summer will separate him from others when battling for the next job. “The virus doesn’t kill everyone who gets it. Some people who get it don´t even get sick , this is not the end of the world , but there will be a major adjustment we all will have to make , at this point we don’t know what those adjustments are. I play train basketball because I love it , so until we know what’s going on i’ll keep doing that for my happiness”, commented Chris Hortman. His season may have ended months ago, but he has already got an early jump on training and preparing for the next challenge. “Honestly the only thing this virus has stopped in my normal day life is going to the gym , besides that I´m still doing the exact same training for the ball , now instead of weights I do body weights and instead of an indoor gym I´m outside “, said Chris Hortman. It hasn´t been an easy time for basketball players during COVID-19 being isolated, having so many restrictions cast on you and having to train alone, but you just have to make the best of it to move ahead. “In these times , I realized that you really have a choice , the world has shut down , all movement has stopped , it´s very easy to get depressed , but in the same thought , the world has shut down , all movement has stopped , and now we really have time to do whatever we want , sure your creativity level has to go up , but if you wanted to work on your game , you have all the time in the world to do it now , just got to make that choice”, warned Chris Hortman

            Back in May 2020 there were a few leagues left in Europe looking to finish their season while other clubs were looking to survive and look ahead to next season. It wasn´t any different for Hortman who would be entering his fifth season as a professional. If one looked at his vita, then one could see him going back to Germany to prove all doubters wrong and play in the Pro A or remain in Croatia that has become a new stomping ground for him. Or he could attempt a total new experience as the only countries he has ever balled in are Germany and Croatia. “, This summer I’ll do all I can to improve my game , and when it’s time to make a choice on which team, I’ll choose whoever can help me the most to continue in my growing process. for me personally the country doesn’t matter”, stressed Chris Hortman. It seems like it has been ages since that depressing post game interview in Rhondorf in 2017 as the American has gone through so much, but one thing that he has lost track of is the player that he is. And one thing is sure, Chris Hortman isn´t the same player that he was when he was under contract with German Pro B team EN Baskets Schwelm. “Besides the obvious , of stronger , faster , smarter , but now I’m tougher mentally, since then I’ve battled a lot , season ending injury , making a Pro A roster , but then not given the opportunity to play and then being cut , a lot of people would have folded and called it quits. I was able to fight those obstacles and eventually break through to get to where I am today”, warned Chris Hortman. Basketball life is finally really really good for Chris Hortman in 2020 even with COVID-19 having affected the world, he is really really content having taken the challenge in Croatia and being successful and proving he can ball in a first division. “I feel too blessed. A lot of people say never quit on your dreams , but when faced with so many lows it’s easy to hang it up. I had a choice , I stayed true , now things are looking a lot better”, warned Chris Hortman. The basketball journey for Chris Hortman has continued as despite COVID-19 found a new basketball job with Vellaznimi Gjakove (Kosova-Superliga). So far it has been an interesting ride for the American. “Its been crazy good, but has been a huge adjustment rorm other countires like Germany in terms of development, but the people here have been great , and the food is amazing”, said Chris Hortman. The club is off to a slow start, but the American has put up crazy stats averaging 22,0ppg, 11,8rpg, 4,6apg and 2,6spg. He scored 30 points twice, registered 3 double doubles, had  a19 rebound game and is shooting a strong 36% from down town. “The league is very similar to Croatia , and in terms of Germany, I would compare it to a Pro B low Pro A level, stressed Chris Hortman. He is a role model for every American balling in lower leagues in Europe, because he proved that he is a talented player that could make it from 4th division Germany to the first division Croatia. “Im just happy and blessed to continue to do what I love to do. Each league brings a different experience. This year has been good so far. I´m xcited to see what the basketball gods brings to me next”, stressed Chris Hortman. Now he is in the first division Kosovo as his basketball journey continues and he is far from done as he is finally really enjoying basketball life after having experienced so much displeasure earlier in his career.

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