Home » Sports » Making their mark in EuropeSeven former GB players are enjoying pro hoops

Making their mark in Europe
Seven former GB players are enjoying pro hoops

By Greg Bates
Even five years removed from playing her final game in the Green Bay women’s basketball program, Jessica Lindstrom stays in close contact with her former teammates.

In fact, her and a bunch of her Phoenix cronies are planning to get together next month.

They won’t be meeting on the Green Bay campus or at an area coffee shop to catch up, they will be converging in a big city across the pond. A destination in Europe will be the spot. That’s because Lindstrom and her friends call overseas home as seven Phoenix alumni are playing professional
basketball in different countries across the continent. Many of the ladies are located in Central Europe.

All the various leagues in Europe hold breaks at similar times in November and February, and the former Green Bay players are checking to see if their schedules align.

“We have a group text going just to see whose off days match up with whose, so we could meet somewhere on the same day,” said Lindstrom, who stays in touch with her former teammates mostly via WhatsApp. “It will be so cool. I hope it happens.”

It’s become commonplace for Green Bay players to finish out their four years with the Phoenix and want to continue their basketball careers at the professional level.

Phoenix coach Kevin Borseth loves to see his players staying with the sport and also keeping their close friendships with one another.

“There’s a level of respect from these players and love they have for each other in that bond that they’ve built in that time that they’ve been here,” Borseth said. “That is warming to the heart to see. Obviously, it means that we’re doing something right here in getting our players to care for one another, work hard with one another and for one another and still follow each other beyond their college days.”

Julie Wojta, a 2012 Green Bay graduate, has been playing overseas for the past decade. She became the first Phoenix player to be drafted by a WNBA team and had a few stints with the Minnesota Lynx. She’s now playing for one of the top teams in Europe, Tarpes Gespe Bigorre in France.

Mehryn Kraker, who finished college in 2017, is in her fifth season playing professionally. She is currently suiting up for the Rheinland Lions in Germany.

Lindstrom latched onto pro basketball in 2018 after her Phoenix career was over. She’s played the last two seasons for the BC Castors Braine in Belgium.

Laken James is in her fourth season playing overseas after finishing out her Green Bay career in 2019. She’s the starting point guard for the Nördlingen Angels in Germany.

Frankie Wurtz and Karly Murphy, both 2020 Phoenix graduates, are playing in Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, respectively. Meghan Pingel, a 2021 grad, is competing in Ireland.

The Phoenix hoops alumni love to see all their former teammates securing roster spots throughout Europe.

“It’s amazing, really, because it makes me a feel a little bit — I wouldn’t say I’m lonely, but it’s less lonely when you know that all these girls that went through the same type of process you did and we’re all at different times in our careers,” Lindstrom said. “Karly Murphy and Meghan Pingel, this is their first time overseas, so I think they reach out to us more so just because we’ve been there, we know exactly what it’s like. Whereas I reach out to Mehryn sometimes because she has a year or two on me, so she has more of a veteran status than I do, so I reach out to her about certain things just because there’s some things overseas that go on that you almost have to be here to understand, you have to go through it to get it. It’s really nice to be able to rely on all them, and it’s so nice that we’re all such good friends still.”

Kraker said her longtime friends and former teammates really share in one another’s good times and struggles and are valuable to seek advice and help.

Kraker’s team actually played Lindstrom’s team during a couple friendly games the first week in October.

“It’s comforting to have friendly faces and camaraderie over here,” Kraker said. “I think it’s awesome for the girls in the program to see that Green Bay produces a really good product that’s well respected overseas and kind of gives them an option if they don’t want to go into the typical workforce right away that there are professional basketball options out there.”

Having so many former players in pro basketball is certainly a tip of the cap and it speaks volumes about the Green Bay program.

“We’re bringing in the right players, one,” Borseth said. “Two, we’re training them when they’re here. I don’t think they’re getting better training any place in the country, in my opinion. Recruit good players, train them when they’re here — not only physically but mentally, competitively, so when they go on to play beyond this, I don’t want to say they achieve an immediate level of success, but they’ve seen it all before, they go there and they’ve got the skill level, they understand what it is to compete, just understand the love of the game, the work ethic, I think we instill really good work ethic in our players. I think our recipe, our atmosphere, our culture is such that it is very basketball friendly and team friendly
and be as you can be friendly environment. I think the players gravitate to that.”

The former Green Bay players stress that they are extremely prepared when they hit the professional level. That’s all due to what they were taught in the Phoenix program.

“I think the one thing Green Bay does is creates well-rounded players that always put the team first and are willing to adapt any role necessary on whatever team they’re put on,” Kraker said. “It’s a very team-first mentality. Green Bay has always been about the team first, the culture, the Green Bay way, that mentality. It never truly leaves. So, I think that it almost makes you valuable as an American overseas because you might be asked to score a lot of points and you can or you might be asked to take a different role or a leadership role or a defensive role, whatever it might be. You’re just OK putting the team first and a lot of imports overseas aren’t looking to do that, so I think that kind of makes us
invaluable over here.”

Lindstrom has really noticed during her time playing pro ball that the small details that were major focuses with Green Bay are not things players from other American programs were taught.

“Defensively and things like that, they make you care about defense,” Lindstrom said. “When you get at a higher level, some girls tend to drop out if they’re just based on offense, because their career really never gets elevated. I think that’s a big misconception in basketball. Green Bay really focuses on defense, I can really thank them for that. And just like the small details tactically in the game, whether it’s defensive rotations, whether it’s ball movement on offense, reading screens, switch defense. There are so many things at Green Bay that I learned that I use every day. I need to send coach Borseth a thank you.”

For James, she said players that leave the Green Bay program are prepare with the skills that are needed to succeed at the next level.

“But I think the coolest thing about the Green Bay program is that when we all leave, we’re still hungry for more,” James said. “I think that they really instill the love of the game for us, and it just makes us want to continue. We’re not the only mid-major program that has skillful players, but at the same time, look at how many of us are playing overseas and it’s solely based on our passion for the game.”

Kraker actually played in Europe for four years before deciding to come back to the United States and become an assistant coach at Green Bay for the 2020-21 season. However, her coaching career — at least for the time being — was put on hold.

“I was in a spot where playing overseas had kind of taken a mental toll on me, so I decided I was ready to be done,” Kraker said. “Then kind of being home, being with family, being in the Green Bay community, almost gave me that time away and it healed mentally a little bit and I started playing for the Wisconsin Glo again. I realized I wasn’t done.”

Kraker was back over in Europe in no time.

Most of the former Green Bay players say they never really thought about playing professional basketball in Europe while their college careers were going on. Those realizations didn’t come about until after their final game wearing a Phoenix jersey. But with the help of Green Bay coaches and their fellow former teammates, getting to Europe became a destination.

“It’s a pretty cool experience to play overseas,” said James, who grew up in small town Oconto, Wis. “I can’t imagine that when I was a young kid I would be doing this.”

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