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Ex-Zag Hendrix a hardwood hard-knocks tale

Former Gonzaga star Bakari Hendrix was WCC Player of the Year in 1998.
Former Gonzaga star Bakari Hendrix was WCC Player of the Year in 1998.

Now it’s Ron Artest who says he’s going to play in Europe during the National Basketball Association lockout, not for the money but to promote his music, be on a soap opera and “enjoy myself.”

And back in the States, Bakari Hendrix shakes his head.

“I don’t know where these guys are getting their advice from,” he said. “Do they even know what goes on overseas? If you get hurt, now what? If you’re a bubble guy, absolutely. But Deron Williams and Kobe? C’mon. It’s a joke.”

Welcome to Overseas Basketball 101.

Your adjunct professor: Bakari Hendrix.

Over the past several Sundays in these pages, you’ve had the chance to catch up with players from area colleges who have chased the game beyond these shores to nearly every continent, with varying aspirations and outcomes. The final chapter is not a cautionary tale, necessarily – but Bakari Hendrix has some cautions.

In the decade after being West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 1998 – and helping set the table for the remarkable rise of Gonzaga that followed – Hendrix played professionally for 10 teams in 10 countries, not including stops stateside in the CBA and the D-League. It wasn’t lack of production that made him a nomad; he averaged 18 points a game in a good league in Greece his third year out of college and was still doing so in Australia at the age of 31.

But a year later, he pulled the plug on his career after a dispiriting episode in Lebanon.

“I was on a team that had moved up from a lower division – young, not a lot of talent or experience,” he said. “We drop our first three games and the guy running the team – he was either the prime minister’s son or nephew, and a spoiled brat – threatened to get rid of everybody and cancel the season. But it had already been determined that I wasn’t going to be there, and I got stiffed for the rest of my contract.

“That was it. You put heart and soul in physically, emotionally and spiritually in many ways and people treat you with so much less than that, you can only do it for so long.”

The son of a middle school principal and a tutor from Vallejo, Calif., Hendrix always had a chip-on-his-shoulder quality to his game (“I’m the guy they overlooked from the beginning” he once said). Bright and forthright, he can project a similar edge off the court, too – if mere candor can be considered an edge.

He took his degree from Gonzaga in journalism, and five years ago wrote and published a novel. “For Love or the Game” is a basketball story in the sense that the protagonist is a player – an overseas pro, not coincidentally – but more of an attempt to “humanize the professional athlete experience,” he said.

He is considering a follow-up broadside at the overseas basketball culture. He could start with his first experience out of Gonzaga, with PTT Turk Telekom, a club in Ankara, Turkey.

“There was an older guy who had been one of the top players on the national team,” Hendrix recalled. “The dude was as lazy as they come – fat, out of shape, terrible. But the coach wanted me to make up for his lack of effort and get him the ball every time on offense. We played a preseason game and I had maybe 22 points on only 14 shots, and the coach is livid with me. He’s going off on me like I’m the most selfish thing on the court – and we won the game!”

Their relationship deteriorated, and on one road trip Hendrix found himself separated from the team and put on a plane with a mysterious team functionary and two henchmen and flown back to Ankara. At his apartment, he discovered his phone no longer made outgoing calls and his car had been taken away. When his agent finally called, the advice was: Take what they’re willing to give and get out of there.

“That led to me firing my first agent,” Hendrix said. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Not every experience was a bummer. Hendrix enjoyed the competition in Greece and Italy, the lifestyle in Portugal, was treated well in Australia and New Zealand. In the Philippines he tore an ACL in the second quarter of his first game, still scored 43 points and had 14 rebounds on one leg and was done for the season – but got all his money.

Yet even in the best situations, he learned the cardinal rule of overseas hoops:

“If I was to talk to a young guy, I would tell him, ‘You have to play the most selfish basketball you’ve ever played in your life,’ ” Hendrix said. “If you lose and don’t have the stats, it’s a double whammy. If you have stats, you at least have a leg to stand on – other teams can see that you can play.

“That said, some coaches want a local player to be the star, and will sacrifice winning for that. My coach in Korea would put me on one side of the floor, run the offense for a shot on the other side and tell me to just go get the rebound.”

Any other tips:

• “Get as much up front in your contract as you can. I wouldn’t settle for less than two months’ salary.”

• “Insist they buy you a round-trip ticket.”

• “Never relinquish your passport to anyone without getting it back before you rest your head on the pillow.”

• “Make sure your agent asks specific questions – history of the team, did he talk to anybody who played there, did he get all his money? Agents want to keep good relations with teams. They’re only going to step up for you to a certain point.

“I don’t regret anything,” Hendrix insisted. “Am I bitter and do I have some animosity about the business? Yes. I wasn’t fortunate to get in many good situations. But I’d still do it.”

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