There have been some learning curves for Austin Dufault in his transition from the high-profile life of a NCAA Division I college basketball player to the nearly invisible existence as the lone American on his professional basketball team in the Czech Republic.
There are no more games in front of 10,000 screaming fans.
Though he is getting paid to play the game he loves, Dufault said BK Prostejov — the team he plays for in the Czech Republic’s National Basketball League — rarely fills its 3,000-seat arena. Some games, he said, have fan turnouts that would be similar to the Class B games he grew up playing at Killdeer High School.
Nonetheless, Dufault has earned a starring role in his new home.
“I think I’ve really fit into the league well,” Dufault said. “I’ve adjusted to how the game is played. I fit in well. A lot of guys over there are skilled guys who can shoot the ball.”
A 6-foot-9 forward who played primarily in the post at the University of Colorado, Dufault is now playing what he feels is a more natural position for him.
He’s back on the perimeter.
In high school, Dufault was a ball-handling swingman and outside shooter who went into the post if his team needed him there.
Now, the 2008 North Dakota Mr. Basketball winner is back in a similar role. He is averaging a team-high 16.2 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field. He leads BK Prostejov with 22 3-pointers and is shooting 42 percent from deep.
“At my position, I have a little more quickness than the guys I’m playing against,” Dufault said. “I’m able to use that to my advantage. I can get to the basket, as well as pop out and shoot some 3’s every once in a while. I’ve played a lot more on the perimeter than I did in college. That’s been a lot of fun to getting back to playing on the perimeter and having a lot of freedom.”
Dufault’s experience isn’t without its struggles.
Though his teammates and coaches speak English, he has had problems communicating during games.
“Sometimes on the court it can get confusing communicating on defense and stuff. But other than that, it’s pretty normal,” he said.
For now, Dufault is on his own in Prostejov. He had been living with his girlfriend, Lauren Sanford, in an apartment provided by the team as part of his contract. However, she could not obtain a work visa to continue living overseas and had to return to the United States earlier this month.
“Having her there with me was nice,” said Dufault, who continues to maintain a blog he and Sanford started at austinandlauren.tumblr.com. “Now it’s more the professional lifestyle, living on my own and trying to occupy my time after practice.”
Dufault is staying in Greeley, Colo., with his parents, Rich and Karen, but plans to return to the Czech Republic on Wednesday. His team next plays Jan. 3.
Because he is playing well, Dufault said he has drawn the interest of teams in other countries and hopes to use his first season as a springboard to a bigger European team.
But, he knows it won’t come easy.
“For the future, I think it’s a good sign that teams are showing some interest,” Dufault said. “Hopefully this next summer, I can find a good deal over there somewhere. The way professional basketball over there is, you need to come in there and produce. Your teams have to win, otherwise they can release you at any time. There’s not really any guaranteed contracts in Europe.
“I just, every game, try to bring it and play well and try and build my resume for next year.”