Eric Fiegi is back home in Medford, awaiting his next big adventure. The former South Medford High star played professionally in Romania for six months, returning in May. Here he works with kids at a local hoop camp. - Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune

A trip to remember

His apartment was roughly the size of a shoe box. Meals consisted almost exclusively of chicken and potatoes, causing him to lose 25 pounds. His coach barely spoke English.

And he played in arenas that were stuffed with cigarette smoke.

But Eric Fiegi considers a recent six-month trip to Romania to play professional basketball as a positive experience.

"It was a great opportunity for my wife and I to spend time in a foreign country and experience another culture," said Fiegi, a former South Medford High and Corban College standout. "And getting paid to play basketball — most guys can only dream about doing that."

Fiegi had signed to play for a professional team in Australia last November, only to learn at the 11th hour that the team had run out of money and couldn't pay him. Four days later, Fiegi was on a plane to Bucharest. He suited up for C.S. Otopeni, a small town about 15 miles outside the Hungarian capital.

The 6-foot-9 center averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds through about 25 games and helped his team elevate from 11th to seventh in a 14-team league. The top eight teams made the playoffs.

Fiegi said the officials heavily favored the better teams and the established players, adding that he averaged only about two free throws per game, far less than what he averaged while twice leading the nation's small colleges in scoring.

"I couldn't count the number of times I got hacked and nothing was called, but after a while I adjusted my game," Fiegi said. "I started to shoot some fadeaways and a few 3-pointers. The second half of the season I did a lot better job of getting off shots that I had a good chance of making."

Fiegi earned about $1,000 per game. His apartment was paid for but it featured just three rooms and he had to share it with not only his wife, Kellie, but also Chris Hill, the team's point guard and its only other American player. Hill starred at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"We didn't get a refrigerator for five months," Fiegi said.

Fortunately, the Fiegis could eat for free at a nearby restaurant that was owned by the team. Unfortunately, a chicken dish was served nearly every night.

"Kellie kept a tally sheet and said we had eaten grilled chicken 95 times after four months," said Fiegi, who weighed 245 pounds when he left Medford last November and tipped the scales at just 220 when he returned in May. "There wasn't much variety."

Fiegi and Hill were clearly the best players on the team but they struggled to communicate with their Romanian coach.

"We had one Spanish player on the team who had lived in the states and he translated what he could," Fiegi said. "But there was definitely a language barrier with the coaching and management side of things.

"Chris and I were the most fundamentally sound players but it was a struggle just trying to find out what drills we were running in practice."

Fiegi learned just enough Romanian to get by.

"Foods, numbers and how to say "hello" and "goodbye" were the main things," he said.

Fiegi's most memorable game in the Eastern European country was his first — a one-point loss in a jam-packed, smoke-filled gym in a town called Tg.mures. A Tg.mures player swished a 3-point basket with 10 seconds remaining to win the game for the hosts.

"The place just exploded," Fiegi said. "Fans started throwing streamers and rushing the court. Chris (Hill) was dribbling up the court with streamers around his neck. It looked like it had snowed on him."

When the court was cleared and order restored, the officials put only one second on the clock for Fiegi's team. A desperation shot at the buzzer fell short.

In the playoffs, C.S. Otopeni upset No. 2 seed Dinmono in the first game of a best-of-three series but dropped the final two games.

"Everyone thought we'd get blown out two straight," Fiegi said.

Since his return to Medford, Fiegi has been working out with recent South Medford High graduate and Duke-bound Kyle Singler. The two have engaged in some fierce one-on-one sessions.

"Since I last saw Kyle last November, he's taken his game up another level," Fiegi said. "I wouldn't say he's a completely different player, but he's taken parts of his game that were good, and other parts that were very good, to being excellent in almost everything he does."

Fiegi hopes to hook on with a Western European professional team later this year, preferably in France, Spain, Greece, Italy or Germany. First division players earn $80,000 to $100,000 per season while second division players make about half that total, Fiegi said.

Fiegi also is considering a return to Romania, albeit with a different team.

Fiegi's agent, Chicago-based Mike Naiditch, has contacts throughout Europe and has sent teams video of Fiegi.

"My hope would be to play for a team in western Europe from August to May," Fiegi said. "It's a matter of filling a team's needs or having a coach seeing your tape and liking the way you play.

"I'm just happy to get some opportunities and to get paid playing the game I love."

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail

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