To say that Jason Siggers has flown under the radar during his long and winding basketball journey is an understatement. With no Division I offers coming out of Skyline High School in 2003, Siggers toiled for two seasons at New Mexico Junior College before picking up his only Division I scholarship offer in the 25th hour of the recruiting period from basketball blip on the radar Albany, and even then, it came only after Albany head coach Will Brown came across the bouncy 6’4” scorer while recruiting another player.
In his two years at Albany, Siggers helped put the Great Danes on the map, leading them to the first two NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. Since then, while waves of high-profile players from big time schools have flamed out as pros over the past decade, the under-sized, un-recruited wing from a small school has continued to thrive, closing in on a decade as a pro, playing in Switzerland, Denmark, France, and now Israel.
PopGates recently caught up with Siggers to talk about his travels overseas.
Noah Perkins: How would you describe nearly 10 years overseas as a basketball vagabond?
Jason Siggers: It’s been great. I’ve been exposed to a lot of things that people don’t get the chance to see. I’ve learned French from being in France for so long, which is a great thing I can take away from my basketball career.
I interviewed your former teammate at Albany, Levi Levine last year. He told me that when he was playing in Romania he saw people who had been purposely crippled so that they could make more money begging. How eye opening is it as an American to spend this much time living in other countries?
To kind of piggyback on that, I’ve seen people use their kids as a means to get money off people; I’ve seen people use their kids to steal, to manipulate other people. But that’s just one facet of it. What I notice more is how Europeans take care of their countrymen — the healthcare, that was something I hadn’t even known existed until I came out here. It’s like free healthcare, free insurance; you can go to the doctor whenever you need. It was so foreign to me; I didn’t understand how it worked, but it’s a great thing.
So far, what has been your favorite country to play in?
France is like a second home for my wife and me now. I’ve made some really good friends in France.
How do you compare the overall basketball experience of playing in France to say Albany?
Fans are crazy. We had crazy fans in Albany, but these fans are people that grew up with this club. Their fathers and grandfathers cheered for this club, and its not just that they’re fans of the team, it’s like a family almost. It’s different over here because of the closeness we have with the fans. It’s great to play in that kind of environment.
On paper you aren’t the biggest guy, or the most talented guy. Why do you think you have been able to last for so long, when so many other guys who are more impressive on paper have not?
My first lesson coming through high school and college was nothing is going to be given to you. I think that was what set me apart from other guys who maybe were faster or stronger, or more talented. Because I was never going to give up; whatever the situation was I was going to have to make it work for me.
Overseas life is not for everybody. A lot of guys get homesick, have culture shock; they weren’t prepared for how the life is. Not just the practices and the games, but as far as going to the grocery store, or just being out. A lot of guys are not speaking the language; a lot of guys are not prepared mentally for that drastic of a change. I think that sets me apart. I have always been open to new cultures, new food, all that kind of stuff.
Every country is going to be different. Once you get towards the Middle East and Eastern Europe sometimes, things can get a little helter-skelter. If this is really what you want to do you have to take a leap of faith and pray and say I hope everything is set up and ready for me to be comfortable.
I think it’s fair to say that most Americans have pretty sharp, pre-conceived notions about living in Israel. What’s Israel like to both play and live in?
People think it’s like a vast desert with tents everywhere and people riding camels. It’s nothing like that. The people are really warm, very inviting. There is a greatness of purpose and unity among the people in this country, given the circumstances. I was surprised too. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’m in a great town; it’s a great club, a great organization. I have nothing but good things to say.
You’re getting into the longer-in-the-tooth phase of your career, what do you still want to achieve as a player?
I’m 30 now, I’m not a spring chicken but I’m not an old man. I would like to play forever. I’d like to play until I’m 60 or 70 years old. Realistically I think 35 would be a full career for an international basketball player. I know guys that are still playing at 40. I think 35 will be it for me give or take how my body reacts.
As a player I always want to get better, everyday, every practice, every game. You know, try to win as many championships as I can. As a player I just want to win, win as many games as possible and be able to support my family.
Who have been the best players you have played with and against?
Jamar Wilson might be my favorite player. I had to guard him two years straight (at Albany). I think it helped me develop as a defender, it also made me be able to appreciate opposition within your own team.
I learned things from all those guys (at Albany):
Lucious Jordan taught me how to be strong, even if someone cuts you off, still bully him over. Levi [Levine] taught me toughness and leadership. My first year in Albany changed me a hundred percent as a player.
How would you break down the leagues you have played in top-to-bottom in terms of talent level?
France is definitely the best league that I have played in; there is athleticism everywhere in that league. Israel has some very talented players from top-to-bottom. Denmark even had some great players. Switzerland might be at the bottom; it’s a tough call between Switzerland and Denmark.
How coachable would you say the average American is going over and playing for a foreign coach?
It varies. I’ve played with some guys that were completely un-coachable. Un-coachable means unemployable. That’s how the game goes out here. I think most Americans as far as basketball goes are pretty receptive to coaches after a point. You have to go through that growing pain – I went through it – like this guy is so much different, I don’t see how he thinks basketball needs to be played this way. At the end of the day that’s the coach you have to adjust.
What is the perception of American players from the domestic players?
It can be pretty bad. Some of the guys I have played with have played with Americans that were horrible people. Guys have been burnt before by American teammates.
I think they are always a little bit apprehensive before meeting you. After that first meeting they get a feel for who you are. When they see that you are approachable, and a guy that’s ready to be a good teammate it’s all good.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to in terms of the European style of play?
The rule changes, my first game in Denmark I traveled eight times. I had eight turnovers just from catching the ball. That was the biggest rule change for me.
Are there any countries you haven’t played in yet that you really want to play in?
I really want to play in Japan. I would like to play in the Philippines or Korea. Those three countries are places I really want to see.