From Brooklyn to Berlin might seem a long distance, but not in the Wendell Alexis family. Every summer, he goes home to the New York area, and by August, his three young sons are bugging him to go back to Berlin. That tells you something about the roots Wendell Alexis has put down as one of the Europe's most consistent scorers over 16 seasons in five countries. Now in his sixth season with Alba Berlin, Alexis has seen and played against greats stretching from Drazen Petrovic to Dirk Nowitzki, and he is not slowing down at 37, either. Quite the opposite. He remains first on Alba in scoring and blocked shots and second in rebounds. Indeed, the veteran forward is such a smooth operator on the court that his German fans call him Iceman. "They call me and three other guys Iceman, and all of us are older veterans," Alexis said in a Euroleague.net interview this weekend. "I don't know if it's because we've been around since the Ice Age or not." Read on and hear more from Wendell Alexis, an American classic on the European hoop scene.
There was a rumor out there that this would be your last season. Is it true?
No, no, no. My feeling is the same as ever. This is not going be the last season of my career. I plan on playing next year. As far as Alba concerned, it's probably more than a 50 percent chance I'll be back in Berlin.
What's the secret to averaging 20 points a game for 16 seasons?
If I could put it into three words: versatility, perseverence and self confidence. As a foreigner playing overseas, you have to have those characteristics to survive. It's not easy walking into situations blindly, not knowing anyone and being expected to lead. I've been in places with three Americans and every week two names were picked out of a hat to see who would play. Certainly I have a lot more stability now in Germany, but early on I felt there was a lot of pressure.
Can you compare European basketball now to when you arrived 16 years ago?
It has changed over time. When I first got to Spain, I found the game very fast. Every call or violation, you grab the ball, ran to nearest sideline and off you went. That took some adjusting. At that time, Spain and Italy had the majority of the most competitive ex-NBA players. The high-profile guys went to those leagues: Bob McAdoo, Michael Ray Richardson, Daryl Dawkins, most of the guys went there from the NBA. They all had very pretigious but competitive backgrounds and reputation and every night was like getting lessons.
What do you think of the united Euroleague this season?
Will I certainly think its an improvement, after the fiasco last year of splitting into two leagues. The one league we have now is definitely better. The division last year gave the fans too much confusion. In that case, more was not better. This year, with consolidation, the fans get a better product. It's the top basketball league in Europe and that is saying something.
What about the competition in Group A?
As always, we drew the death group. Really, we started off without our center and then we got a replacement in, Jiri Zidek, who broke a couple ligaments in his wrist. We had that and injuries to some important role players. Now, Dejan Koturovic is back and the center situation is settled. With everyone healthy, hopefully we can make up some of ground we lost in the beginning. We can't lose anymore at home. If we can also win two or three away games, getting that fourth spot to advance will be possible.
Who are the greatest European players you have faced?
Well, early on, I played against Drazen Petrovic and he was certainly the greatest. He had constant movement, a great shot and the desire to win. That was the thing that stood out the most. He took it upon himself to win. He was in a system and on a team that supported him to do that. When you have that and the talent, you can be very successful. I played against Toni Kukoc, who was great in a different way. He was a team player, individuaally very talented, but he was used to filling a role on very good teams. When he was put in a situation to do a lot on his own, I think that was more of a challenge.
In general, has the level of the European player improved?
Sure, the European players have absolutely improved and, as always, there are one or two who are head and shoulders above the pack, but the pack is always getting better. That has to do with the popularity of the game bringing the level up in general. The style is the same, very good shooters who run and jump well, and those who are exceptions to that rule can have success too.
Having played in so many other countries, what is your opinion of basketball in Germany?
They have a great upside in Germany because of the fact that the game here developed so late. Spain had their run, Italy had their glory days. Germany is getting a reputation, not for throwing money around like the other two, but for being stable in the sense of lower, but well-paid salaries and a competitive league. Over the course of time, now that they have a good television contract, that will allow them to certainly market basketball more and in turn get better players to come here. Certainly the last three years, there has been a lot more movement and lot more change in terms of number and quality of the players coming in. It may be that high-profile names still maybe go to Greece or somewhere, because Germany doesn't have the most money yet, but this league is still very competitive within itself and within Europe, especially considering the taxes on sports and salaries, which is similar here and in France.
What about the fan base in Germany? You were involved in a game that broke the European record for attendance, 18,000 or so.
That was a one-time deal I think. On a nightly basis it's not possible but on an individual basis, when the media pumps up a game, you get big crowds. It shows what can happen anywhere when the marketing is there and the teams are competitive.
Germany agrees with you it seems.
Yeah, my three young boys tell me every year they want to come back to Berlin. By far its been the best place for my family. There's a large American community with the armed forces and its own school system. That helps a lot.
Why do they call you Iceman in Germany?
The call me and three other guys Iceman. And all of us are older veterans. I don't know if it's because we've been around since the Ice Age or not. No, really, that name they gave me my first or second year here because of my lack of expression on the court. But I've been around so long that I've seen everything. Unless a center starts playing like a point guard, I'm not going to be surprised on a basketball court.
What do you see yourself doing after retirement?
I'm interested in coaching. I'm also interested in working with one of the shoe compainies and I want to open my own recreational center, basketball only, kind of like Basketball City in New York. I'm looking to play at least another season first, though. I want to keep playing.