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Oak Harbor's Heidi McNeill settling in as Austrian basketball pro
Editor’s note: The following story about Oak Harbor native Heidi McNeill was submitted by David Baigent, a freelance journalist and media trainer living in Wels, Austria.)
By David Baigent
The sound of the crowd is proving as exciting as the Sound of Music for Oak Harbor’s Heidi McNeill as she plies her trade in Austria’s Women’s Basketball League.
Based in Wels, Upper Austria’s second-largest city, Heidi is starting her professional career in a compact and competitive league.
As Heidi explains, WBC Raiffeisen Wels became her club almost at the last minute. Options in the U.S. had almost dried up when she changed to a European agent.
“Within two weeks the agent had found me the position in Wels. It was exciting coming to Austria – the home of the Lipizzaner horses,” horse owner Heidi said.
Austria’s women’s league comprises six teams, and the USA is well represented with the same number of players. Heidi is joined in Wels by her teammate Theresa Meacham, a native of Champain, Ill.
“Coming here has been a good professional start for me,” Heidi said.
“The league is not as competitive as Pac-10 and they have a few unique rules such as a 24-second shot clock.” (In the United States, the women’ shot clock is 30 seconds.)
Wels is a basketball fortress. Its men’s team won the Austrian competition last season. The game has a modest following though often overshadowed by the national passions of alpine skiing and soccer.
This has led it to be popular outside major cities. Though Vienna and other major cities have their teams, the top hoopers can be found in lesser-known centers as Gmunden, Fürstenfeld and Wels.
“Within 24 hours of being picked up by a teammate, I watched my first Wels men’s basketball game. I got to know several Americans in the team including a couple, Matt Nelson and Andrew Strait, from the Pacific Northwest,” she said.
“I have found a good church to go to down the road (freie Christengemeinde Wels) and I get the podcasts from Generation Church in Seattle.”
A few words to the wise for aspiring players thinking about Europe?
“Just go for it,” Heidi advises.
“It’s challenging and interesting to be immersed in a foreign culture.”