GW Men's Hoops Alumnus Hollis Hoops It Up, Hungarian-Style
Former GW Standout Wins First European Title, One of Several Colonials to Raise High Overseas
June 3, 2013
By David Driver
SZEKESFEHERVAR, HUNGARY - Damian Hollis ('10) got the basketball and drove down the lane for an acrobatic layup, sending the blue and white-clad home fans into a frenzy here in late May.
His basket gave his team a 10-point lead with 90 seconds left in the game to seal a playoff win, but the cheers that came down on the former GW standout were much different than the ones he experienced at the Smith Center in Foggy Bottom. The most noticeable change - those chants are in Hungarian, one of the more difficult languages for a foreigner to learn.
A four-year player for GW through 2010, Hollis recently finished his third season playing in the top pro league in this western Hungarian city of about 101,000 people just over an hour away west of capital Budapest. This city dates to around 997 A.D. and was the location for the crowning of many kings, while in modern times it has been home to champion football (soccer), ice hockey and basketball clubs.
Hollis had 13 points as Albacomp added to that legacy and won at home 75-66 in the deciding game of the best-of-five series on June 2 over visiting Szolnok. It was the first European title for Hollis, who is one of several former GW standouts who played for pay during the 2012-13 campaign and the third to win a league title in the last two seasons (Pops Mensah-Bonsu ('06) - Turkey 2012, Chris Monroe ('03) - Russia 2013).
"I was ready to keep playing basketball and see where it took me," said the soft-spoken Hollis, standing outside the home locker room about one hour before Game 3 of the championship series in Hungary. "I knew I had a chance to be something across the water. I just didn't know where. I had to figure it out."
Some NCAA products without an NBA pedigree play in the D-League after their college career. That was not a consideration for Hollis, who pointed out top Division I products can make more money in Europe than the NBA feeder system.
"I definitely wanted to come to Europe. If anything I wanted to experience Europe. It is priceless to be in Hungary, just down the street from Budapest," said the 6-foot-8 Hollis, whose uniform is filled with ads for team sponsors, which is typical in Europe.
Hollis did not head out to begin his pro career in Hungary. He got cut from a team in Belgium in his first season out of college and landed in Hungary, a country of about 10 million people about the size of Indiana that was under Communist rule until the late 1980s. Hungary, a world soccer power in the 1950s and 1960s, joined the European Union in 2004.
Albacomp has a passionate fan base that beats on drums and blows whistles when the opponent is at the foul line in the style of European soccer fans. Some fans wore blue and white scarfs in support of the team.
"It was rocking," said Hollis of the sellout crowd of 2,200 fans that were on hand during the Hungarian league finals. Among those in attendance at Game 3 was team president Kornel David, the first Hungarian to play in the NBA and a teammate with Michael Jordan in Chicago; and Adam Hanga, 24, a Hungarian who was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2011 and played this past season in Spain, which has one of the top leagues in Europe.
Hollis, who averaged 13.9 points and 4.9 rebounds as a GW senior in 2009-10, nearly duplicated those numbers this season for Albacomp. He tallied about 13 points and six boards per contest and averaged nearly two assists and two steals.
"He is a great teammate. First and foremost he is a great man," said guard Brandon Wood, a former Michigan State player who was teammates this season with Hollis. "He is just a fun person. He does a lot of things well on the court. He is a good all-around player."
"He is a very good guy. He played well for us," said Albacomp assistant coach Gabor Matus, who is Hungarian.
How did GW prepare Hollis for his pro career? "As far as basketball, being obedient and getting extra time in the gym. I definitely learned that from GW," he said.
A native of Fort Lauderdale on the east coast of Florida, Hollis - as is customary for top American players in Europe - was provided a free apartment and car with a meal allowance this past season in land-locked Hungary. He lived in a flat about a five-minute walk from the Vodafone Sportcentrum, tucked just off a tree-lined street a few minutes from a McDonald's and small family-owned stores.
"It has obviously been a change. I came from Fort Lauderdale and the beach is right down in Miami. Then I went to D.C., where there is always something to do. I have to find things to do with my time" in slower-paced Hungary, he said.
Hollis became a dual citizen of Hungary last fall and that means he does not count against the limit of only three North Americans allowed per team in Hungary. He tried to become a dual citizen of Hungary after first season with Albacomp. After delays it was written in his contract that a deadline would be set for him to get the proper paperwork late last year.
"It gives me a better and higher marketing value," Hollis said. "I am an American, obviously, but they don't use me as a foreigner since I am part of the European Union." The other Americans with Albacomp in the league finals were Wood, Ronald Moore (Siena) and Jarrod Jones (Ball State).
The former GW forward is no stranger to European basketball. His father, Essie, is a member of the sports Hall of Fame at St. Bonaventure and played pro hoops in Spain and one season with the Detroit Pistons.
The younger Hollis, who made trips to Spain with his father, played for the U.S. U-19 national team in the world championships in Serbia, which borders Hungary to the south, in 2007 following his freshman year for the Buff and Blue. The Americans lost in the gold medal game to host Serbia. His American teammates on that squad included Stephen Curry (Davidson), now a star in the NBA with Golden State.
"I was kind of used to him being open to the European culture," Hollis said of time spent with his father. "He spread that to me. It was not that tough of an adjustment as for other people. It is amazing to be able to play basketball for a living and be in this lifestyle."
The Global Game
Editor's note: David Driver, a free-lance writer, has written about college basketball in the Washington area for more than 20 years, covered GW basketball for the Associated Press and The Sports Xchange/Reuters, and has contributed to Atlantic 10 Conference publications. He has been covering European basketball for 10 years and lived with his family for three years in Szeged, Hungary, where he filed dozens of stories on American hoopsters playing in nine different countries. Driver has contributed to The Washington Post, The Washington Times and Basketball Times and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.