Among the belongings that former Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers had packed with him Friday were a couple of books on speaking Spanish.
Lammers was on his way to Spain to begin his professional career with Bilbao Basket, a second-division team in the Spanish league. He joins the cadre of former Yellow Jackets making a living playing basketball overseas.
“I’m kind of excited to get started,” Lammers told the AJC, speaking by phone from O’Hare Airport. “I’m happy to know I have some security in knowing where I’m going. The past three months have been pretty much, you’re either at home or working out and then you get a call and you leave a day later. It’s nice to know where I’m going to be for the next nine months.”
Lammers, the 2017 ACC defensive player of the year, said that the offer from Bilbao Basket had been on the table for a couple weeks as he contemplated various options, including the NBA’s G-League. He said he felt that his chances for advancement were better in Spain. For example, Lammers said Bilbao had just been relegated from the first division and signed Lammers as part of an attempt to get back into the first division.
Should that happen, Lammers’ salary would likely increase, and compensation is generally much higher than in the G-League. Further, while a common perception is that European players can’t get into the NBA, it’s not unusual for Europe-based players to get looks in the NBA summer league.
“It seems like it’s a little more fluid to go between the different (European) leagues,” he said.
Beyond that, Lammers had interest in living abroad. Bilbao is a city of about 340,000 in the Basque region in northern Spain. The only time he had been abroad prior to his Friday flight to Spain was the Yellow Jackets’ trip to China last fall.
The team will provide Lammers with housing and a car and pay for his taxes, as well.
If you’re wondering, Lammers does not know Spanish. The reason is quintessential. When he was in high school, Lammers had to study a foreign language but, because he figured he would forget it anyway as he didn’t plan to study it in college, he picked what he thought would be the easiest to learn. He chose Latin over Spanish, though Latin is widely considered to be more difficult than Spanish.
“I’m hoping it’s one of those things where I have a knack for it and I just haven’t discovered it,” Lammers said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. I’m hoping for some reason it just clicks.”
Lammers said he is one semester shy of earning his mechanical engineering degree, but isn’t in a rush to start using it.
“I’m planning to try to ride basketball as long as my body can take it,” he said. “Assuming I’m not playing somewhere random for $1,000.”
As a post player who can play facing the basket, can shoot from the perimeter and also pass well, Lammers does seem like a prototypical European player. He’ll find out soon how well he fits. He said he believed that practice was to start Monday.
“I like the position I’m in because it kind of feels like a starting position in a great company where, if you do well, people will see you and you can skyrocket,” he said. “It’s basically like I control my own future with this one.”