Life in Italy not all fun for DaJuan Summers
San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair(notes) played just four games in Russia before mutually parting ways with the team. Orlando Magic forward Earl Clark(notes) signed a contract to play in China then left without even playing in a game. Detroit Pistons forward DaJuan Summers(notes) is the latest NBA player coming home early from an overseas job. He left his Italian team after only four games.
Any other American NBA player considering making a similar job to Europe or Asia during the ongoing lockout might want to talk to Summers first.
“I would tell them to be prepared for any and everything because it’s a different world than what you are used to,” Summers told Yahoo! Sports in a phone interview from Italy.
Summers, 23, played for the Pistons the past two seasons, averaging 3.2 points as a reserve, but struggled to crack the team’s regular rotation given the number of forwards on the roster. Shortly after the lockout began, Summers signed a two-year contract with European powerhouse Montepaschi Siena. Siena finished third in the 2011 Euroleague Final Four and has won four straight Italian League championships.
“They were telling me how much they wanted me to be a part of the team,” Summers said. “With those things considered, I thought it was a good move to get that exposure with the top Italian League, as well as a top Euroleague team.”
A Baltimore native, Summers had never been to Europe until making his first trip to Italy. In fact, outside of a trip to China to play in a charity game for Yao Ming(notes) last year and traveling to Toronto to face the Raptors, he hadn’t spent much time outside the United States.
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The team gave Summers and his girlfriend and son a nice three-bedroom house in Siena’s countryside. But though Siena is a popular Italian tourist destination, Summers had trouble adapting to living in a small town – and he thinks team officials picked up on it.
“Kind of slow-paced,” Summers said.
Summers was also given a Volkswagen by the team, but he quickly learned the difficulties of driving in Italy. On his second day in town, his car was rear-ended as he drove to practice. He was taken to the hospital, and his inability to speak Italian made it difficult for him to get help until someone realized he played for the local basketball team. By then, Summers’ girlfriend had already received a call from a team official alerting her that Summers hadn’t made it to practice. She was happy to eventually learn he had suffered only whiplash in the accident.
“I got hit by a small SUV on my blind side of the passenger side,” Summers said. “When I got hit, I ended up on the other side of the car in the backseat. That’s how hard I got hit. I was just shocked. I never have been in an accident like that.
“People here drive much different. It’s not as organized as back home, driving in-between lines. You got to be more alert.”
Summers averaged about 18 points for Siena in the preseason. But the team was missing four players and its coach (Simone Pianigiani), all of who were involved in the European championships for the respective countries. Once Siena had its full roster together, Summers’ role changes. In his regular-season debut, he scored three points in 12 minutes.
“That was my first red flag,” he said. “In the preseason I was playing close to 30 minutes every game. But when the real games started I was getting 14, 15, 16 minutes. It was weird. I couldn’t understand it.”
Adjusting to the European game also proved difficult.
“Back home you got to score, make plays and be able to spread the defense,” Summers said. “But here it’s more [emphasis on] defense. It’s more like a college feel. The paint is jam packed. Guys play harder, but it’s not more physical. That’s a misconception.”
NBA players are accustomed to five-star hotels and charter flights. Siena traveled like many European teams: eight-hour bus rides, commercial jets and two players to a room.
“We were fighting over exit-row seats so we wouldn’t be bunched up,” Summers said. “That’s a major difference from flying private on the team plane. It’s like going back to AAU days.
“The beds were small and twin sized in the hotel. If you wanted to turn over you actually had to get up, turn yourself over and lay back down. You were like an arm’s length from the other person’s bed. You felt like you were in the same bed because the rooms were real small.”
Siena’s first loss of the season on Oct. 23 also was Summers’ last game with the team. He had six points and two rebounds in 12 minutes and said the coaching staff never gave him a direct answer as to why he wasn’t playing more. He also had been frustrated about not getting the full amount he thought he was due on his first paycheck.
Siena decided the day after the loss to part ways with Summers. Sportando, an Italian web site, reported he “did not perform as expected.”
“The team doesn’t really lose,” Summers said. “They wanted to make sure we didn’t lose games because the team we lost to was a bad team. But I didn’t play that many minutes in the game. I wasn’t out there long.
“I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on a precise thing. I guess they thought I wasn’t happy. That wasn’t the case. I can’t understand why they felt that strongly to make the move they made. I couldn’t get a grasp on what they expected from me and how to approach the game with the team.”
Summers was still in Siena on Wednesday hoping to complete his buyout with the team. He has received some interest from two European teams, including one in Italy, but plans on returning to Maryland to spend time with his ill mother. If and when the lockout ends, he’ll be back on the NBA’s free-agent market.
Now, he just hopes his quick trip to Italy doesn’t hurt his stock with NBA teams.
“I felt it was great for everybody to leave peacefully,” Summers said, “without there being any type of turmoil.”
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