LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There are guys who talk about going overseas to play professional basketball and sound a bit wistful about not getting to play at home. And then there's a guy like Stephan Van Treese.
The recent University of Louisville graduate's only trip out of the country was with his Cardinal teammates on a trip to the Bahamas. Late next month, the Indianapolis native will travel halfway around the world to join his new team, Niigata Albirex Basketball in the Basketball Japan League.
He spent several days studying up on Niigata before accepting the deal, but the more he talked to his agent, Alex Johnson of the Milan, Italy-based Two Points Management, the more excited he got.
"I just have to say this," Van Treese joked at the end of a session with reporters on Friday. "I'm taking my talents to the Pacific."
To be more accurate, he's taking his talents to the Sea of Japan. Niigata is a coastal city with a wet, cool climate, and the prefecture is primarily agricultural, known for producing rice and flowers. It's on the other side of the Japanese mainland, just a 2 1/2-hour drive, from an area dealing with the effects of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that hit just hours after Van Treese made his announcement.
As soon as it was official that Van Treese was heading to Japan, he got a text from former U of L teammate Luke Hancock that read, "The Vanilla Godzilla!" In fact, Hancock's brother had called him that off and on for more than a season. U of L social media director Nick Stover was quick to add his photoshop contribution to Instagram.
"It's the best fit for me in the long run, so I'm excited about it," Van Treese said. "It's hard to research. I don't know Japanese, so you're basically just looking at Google and Google Maps and talking to the coaches. But I checked out the league and they get up and down, they like bigs who can run like we did here at Louisville, so it seems like it should be a good fit. They're excited about having me. They need a guy who is going to rebound and hustle, and they're going to expect me to score some."
The league has a 52-game schedule. It's the No. 2 basketball league in Japan, whose top league includes only six leagues and is heavy on former NBA stars.
Johnson said he thinks it's a great opportunity for Van Treese.
"They love athletic big men over there," Johnson said. "I think his game will fit right in, and if he has a good season, there will be a lot of options for him."
Van Treese could have the option of going back to Japan if he plays well, or catching on with teams in other countries.
For now, he's focused on the near future, not the distant future.
"It's going to be an adjustment," he said. "I am a pro now. It's a different playing schedule, and a different practice schedule than we had here, thank God. But I am pumped. It's going to be an experience. We were looking at a possibility somewhere in Germany, and there were a couple of other smaller countries we were looking at. But this was the best fit."
Van Treese will leave for Japan on August 27. Preseason camp will last through September, with games beginning in October. Van Treese said he knows former Indiana player Verdell Jones plays in the league, and is looking forward to making other connections, and to learning as much Japanese as he can muster over the next two months.
"I'm fortunate my girlfriend is going to come with me, so I'll have someone with me who speaks English and knows me," he said " ... But it'll be an experience. My coach speaks good English, so I feel like I'll be okay as long as I can communicate with him."
The team will provide Van Treese an apartment, and pay all his expenses on the road. Van Treese said he thought about staying home and going into some kind of business field, but the more he looked at his options, the more he thought he had the temperament and the talent to play overseas and craft a basketball career. When asked where he thought he'd be in five years, Van Treese said he hopes he's still playing.
"That would be awesome," he said. "I think I can have a good career playing overseas, whether it's playing in Japan or in Europe. As long as I'm playing good competition and the money is there, I'll be happy. I've learned from (team trainer) Fred Hina how to take care of my body, how to get my sleep and eat right. And from Coach (Rick Pitino) I've learned everything basketball-wise. I've learned the things I need to know to have a good career."
At the very least, Van Treese is off on an adventure.