McNeill enjoys European basketball experience

Heidi McNeill, a 2005 graduate of Oak Harbor High School, is continuing her basketball career by playing in the Austrian women’s professional league.

McNeill plays for the WBC Raiffeisen Ladies in the city of Wels and averages 17 points and nine rebounds a game. The Ladies are 4-2 and in second place, and they handed the first place team, Post of Vienna, its only loss (67-65) earlier this year.

The Ladies play in the Bundesliga (premier) league. McNeill said, “It’s not the most competitive league in Europe, but it is the top league in Austria.”

She said that women’s basketball is not as popular as soccer in Austria and her team draws about 200 fans per game. She added that the Wels’ men’s team packs the gym (about 2,000) and the fans are crazy and loud.

She said, “Having played in a Division 1 program (University of Washington) in the biggest conference on the West Coast, I would have to say I was spoiled with my experience and the facilities that we had in Seattle. We don’t have the best facilities here, but we have everything we need.”

She enjoys the more laid back atmosphere of Austrian basketball. In college her practices would sometimes last over three hours and include heavy conditioning. In Europe, her 90-minute practices focus on shooting and breaking down plays.

The team meets with a trainer once a week for conditioning and the players have free access to a local fitness club to condition on their own.

McNeill said, “In college there is a mind-numbing attention to detail, offensively and defensively, to the implication of every play. Since I no longer hinder myself to this, I find myself enjoying the game in a way that I haven’t since high school.”

The language barrier hasn’t been much of problem for McNeill because her coach is also an American. She added that most of the other girls speak a little English and that she is starting to pick up a bit of German.

She is enjoying her experiences outside of basketball as well. She lives in Thalheim, “a very nice little village outside of Wels on the Truan River.”

She said the people emphasize family and relationships, unlike Americans’ obsession with money and cars.

She added, “There is hardly any traffic. Compared to Seattle, traffic here is like a couple of cars in front of you going five under the speed limit.”

The only drawback of her experience so far is that she hasn’t had enough time to travel. Austria, being in the center of Europe, allows people to catch a train to “pretty much anywhere.”

Her life in Austria has presented a few surprises. She was shocked to find out how few Austrians have ever seen “The Sound of Music” since the film classic was based in Austria.

She also found out that her name links her to Austrian pop culture.

McNeill said, “The name ‘Heidi’ is of German/Austrian descent and the name of a popular cartoon in Austria and Germany, and whenever I introduce myself, people think I am Austrian or German and they start singing the ‘Heidi’ song.”

McNeill summed up her experience by saying, “I’m excited to go home for Christmas and see my friends and family, but I enjoy being on my own on a different continent. I’m already thinking about where I want to play next season.”

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