Austria gets farther away for brothers at St. Francis
By Tina Akouris email@example.com January 13, 2013 8:32PM
University of St. Francis basketball player Sebastian Thurner. Supplied photo
Updated: February 15, 2013 6:11AM
Picturing a college life right out of the “American Pie” movies, Max Thurner and younger brother Sebastian found themselves plunged into the world of Wal-Mart, fast food and American-style basketball at the University of St. Francis.
It has been a basketball journey the brothers dreamed about as youngsters in the iconic Austrian cities of Vienna and Linz, where they grew up.
“America is the motherland of basketball,” Sebastian said. “I think for every (foreign) basketball player it’s a dream to at least come over here and experience that.”
Their story begins with a former Fighting Saints assistant coach who left the States for Europe.
Mike Kress used to work for former St. Francis coach Pat Sullivan before moving to Austria. While working in Europe, Kress coached the Thurners and eventually told Sullivan about the brothers.
“It was our childhood dream to come (to America) to play basketball,” Max Thurner said. “Kress opened the door for us to come here (to St. Francis) because he brought Pat to Europe for a couple of camps. He approached us and asked if we were interested in going to college in the U.S.”
Sullivan told St. Francis coach John Baines about them when Baines took over for the retired Sullivan.
Baines asked the brothers for some game film and then met the Thurners and their parents on a campus visit during his first summer coaching the Fighting Saints.
What Sullivan and Kress probably saw in them was the same thing Baines sees in them now: two European basketball players with a lot of potential who just needed to learn the American style of play — and put on a little muscle.
“Max is more of a shooter, and Sebastian is taller and plays more of the forward spot for us and he’s more of a driver, more of an all-around type of player,” Baines said. “European players are very skilled, but they put on 25-30 pounds of muscle. They came in here with a lot of skill.”
The brothers still are on the thin side in their upper bodies, but adding that muscle took more mental work than physical.
Max Thurner said bulking up, practice routines and getting used to the physical American game was his most difficult adjustment.
In Europe, practices are centered more around the team as a whole. In the U.S., Max Thurner said, more emphasis is placed on the individual and their skills.
And lifting weights was something the brothers did maybe once a week, not three or four times per week.
There also was a new set of rules to follow.
“I got called so many times for traveling in practice the first couple of months,” Sebastian Thurner said. “And the shot clock here is way longer, so it looked like we were all stressed out on the court.”
Sebastian doesn’t really remember a specific “Welcome to American basketball” moment, but Max certainly does.
“I just got settled in at my dorm and went to an open gym,” Max said. “About five minutes into it someone came over and elbowed me right in the face and I broke my nose.”
A slice of home
The predominately German neighborhood of Logan Square on Chicago’s North Side has given the brothers reminders of home with its summer fests and restaurants. Sebastian’s favorite bakery, the Austrian Bakery, is in nearby Lincoln Park on Clark Street. And during the Christmas season, the brothers usually trek downtown to Daley Plaza and check out Christkindlmarket, the German-American holiday marketplace.
It helps them forget about homesickness that flares up occasionally, usually centered around home-cooked meals the boys would have at their grandmother’s home.
The Thurners have adapted to life in the United States but sometimes find themselves in awe of things such as how big the local Wal-Mart is compared to the stores back home.
They also are preparing for life without basketball. Sebastian, who fractured his right thumb (twice) and has been out for two weeks with a high left ankle sprain, knows how fragile a basketball career can be and said he prepares for the worst. He’s majoring in sports management with a minor in sports marketing and wants to go to law school one day. Max is pursuing a degree in computer science and information technology with a minor in math.
Both agree that getting a job in the real world will take precedence over basketball if the money is right.
“You never know with pro sports,” Max said. “I have to see how I am physically. But if there is an opportunity to play professionally and I have a really good job offer, I’m taking the job.”