MORGANTOWN — Since graduating in 2011, former WVU basketball player John Flowers accomplished two things that many people dream of doing.
Travelling the world and playing professional sports.
Of course, not every college basketball player gets the opportunity to play in the NBA. But there are still many options for those who want to pursue a career playing basketball.
Flowers started his professional basketball career off in Japan playing for a team called the Saitama Broncos in the bj League.
“That was my first time being out of the country, so I really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It was a huge culture shock.”
When he arrived, the team set him up in a small studio apartment and he mostly just kept to himself.
“Looking back at it, I probably didn’t do as much as I should have done there as far as just sightseeing and enjoying myself,” Flowers said. “I enjoyed it, but I could have enjoyed it a lot more if I had been more open to sightseeing and seeing the culture.”
Focusing primarily on basketball, he averaged 19.4 points per game for Saitama that season.
After Japan, Flowers made his way to Europe for the first time, starting off at Denain ASC Voltaire in the Pro B league in France.
In order to adjust to the international game, Flowers had to improve his shooting and other facets of his offensive game.
“Coming out of college, I was known as a defender, role player, glue guy, but I really had to become more of a scorer because that’s what you have to do overseas to remain on a team,” he said.
His hard work paid off because in his first season with Denain, Flowers led the Pro B league in scoring that year, averaging 20.6 points per game.
The next season, Flowers was rewarded for his performance with a more lucrative contract on another Pro B league team, JL Bourg Basket in Bourg-en-Bresse, France. They went on to win the Pro B championship that season.
In European basketball, when a team wins a championship, it is “promoted” to the next highest tier league or division.
Bourg re-signed Flowers for the 2014-’15 season, this time to play in the Pro A league.
“I did well, I averaged about 11-12 points and five rebounds or so, but the team didn’t do too well,” Flowers said. “It’s a tough league.”
After a brief stint with Medi Bayreuth in the Bundesliga in Germany, Flowers made his way back to Japan. But due to some contract issues, he only stayed in Japan for half a season.
So, Flowers made his way to Venezuela.
Dodging a bullet (literally)
Playing professional basketball overseas isn’t all glitz and glamour, however.
Venezuela has been in the midst of a civil war for a number of years, since the people have risen up against the country’s authoritarian regime.
Flowers signed for a team named Cocodrillos in Venezuela’s capital city of Caracas.
Caracas is known as the murder capital of the world, having had 3,387 reported homicides in 2017, the most in the world, and the second highest murder rate as well, with 111.19 homicides per 100,000 people.
“Venezuela was probably by far the craziest experience I had overseas,” Flowers said. “I was waking up to gunshots every morning. So I really didn’t go out a lot. I was there just to play basketball and collect my check.”
Flowers said one morning in Caracas, he was walking down the street to get some food when four men on two motorcycles pulled up alongside him. One of the men pulled out a gun and pointed it at Flowers.
After a moment, the men excitedly recognized him as “John Flowers, from Cocodrillos!”
Sometimes being famous can save your life.
Flowers said he actually saw the same men at the team’s next game.
“The people there were great, the people in the city and my teammates were like a family,” he said. “So, I really couldn’t complain about anything.”
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Flowers said that the pay was ironically high in Venezuela.
Soon thereafter, Flowers found himself in Mexico playing for a team called Soles in Mexicali right along the California-Mexico border.
“Mexicali is right on the border of California, so it was basically just like playing in the states,” he said. “You can go across the border and San Diego is only two hours away.”
Unlike the near-miss in Venezuela, Flowers was the victim of a crime in Mexico.
“Some people broke into my house and took all my stuff during one of our games,” he said. “They stole my laptop and stuff, but I didn’t take too much stuff with me there. The team was very professional, they reimbursed me for the stuff that I lost.”
Despite the robbery, Flowers said Mexico has probably been his favorite place internationally to play basketball.
“Mexico was great because the money is good, and it’s cheap to live there,” he said. “My team was great, they actually went on to win the championship. It was just a lot of fun, it wasn’t stressful. Before I went there, I thought it was going to be dangerous, but it was really cool.”
Flowers wasn’t able to experience winning the championship with Soles because a team in France, Chalons-Reims, bought out his contract right before the playoffs and brought him back to Europe.
He played for Chalons-Reims this spring before coming back to Morgantown for the summer in May.
Overall, Flowers said the biggest adjustment in all the countries that he’s played in was just getting used to the language.
“In France, I learned how to speak French, at least enough to get around,” he said. “They spoke English in Germany so that was good. I grew up learning Spanish, so I was ok in Mexico. In Japan, there was just no hope.”
Bob Huggins noted how much Flowers has grown as a person since he left WVU.
“When you’re on your own, particularly in a foreign country and you don’t understand the language, you have to figure things out,” Huggins said. “John’s really matured as a person and as a player. He’s doing some things now that will help prepare him for life after basketball, which I think is really important.”
Back to Morgantown: The Alumni Game
In the summer, like Flowers, many former WVU basketball players make their way back to Morgantown to relax and work out. Huggins said about 10 of them are in town right now, and will probably be in town for most of the summer.
Huggins encourages and fosters the closeness that exists between the fraternity that is the former and current players of WVU basketball.
“It’s been like that everywhere I’ve ever been,” he said. “We really try to sell that. These are guys that have learned from their own mistakes, and they can help keep our younger guys from making those same mistakes.”
He added the alumni locker room to the Basketball Practice Facility for that very reason.
“They can come and go as they please,” Huggins said. “They go in and use the weight room, use the training room. Some of them come back kind of banged up, so they spend their first few days back trying to get healed up in the training room. We’ve got a great facility here, and I want them to be a part of it and to use it.”
While they’re in town, some of the players have their own way of giving back to the fans and to the community that has supported them through thick-and-thin.
Some host basketball camps for kids, while others have charitable foundations that they help raise money for.
“What we try to explain to them is that at many places you’re there to play for your team or maybe your university, here you’re playing for an entire state,” Huggins said. “We’re the team that everybody roots for, everybody watches and everybody cares about. And our guys understand that. It means a whole lot more here than it does at other places.”
Flowers helped come up with the idea to hold a WVU Basketball Alumni Game.
Today, the WVU Men’s Basketball Alumni Game will be held for the fourth consecutive year.
The game will be held at Joe Retton Arena, at Fairmont State University at 7 p.m., and afterwards, fans are welcome to join Flowers and some of the players for karaoke at Kegler’s Sports Bar & Lounge, at 10 p.m.
Tickets for the game are $15 online at jflowent.com or $20 at the door.
“The best thing is going out there and playing in front of our fans again, being able to put the ‘Flying WV’ on, and going out there and hearing our fans do all our cheers and stuff,” Flowers said. “It’s just a great time.”
The proceeds from the game will go toward former WVU basketball player Da’Sean Butler’s charity, the Give-A-Hoop Foundation, which aims to make a difference in the lives of children by providing positive role models, mentoring and giving back to those in need.
According to the game’s website, 24 former WVU men’s basketball players are slated to be in action tonight, including Flowers, Butler and other notable names like Kevin Jones, Devin Williams, Jarrod West, Nathan Adrian, Chris Moss and Darryl Prue.
“It’s just great to be with my teammates again and hang out with the players from different generations,” Flowers said. “The WVU basketball program is like a fraternity, it’s always great to hang with the brothers, with guys like Herbie Brooks and Darryl Prue, and just hearing stories about when they played here.”
As for his next stop overseas, Chalons-Reims has offered Flowers a new contract for next season, but he said he’s just playing the market right now, and he’ll wait to see what happens.
Such is life playing professional basketball overseas.