It may not be much fun, but sometimes you really can learn a lot by sitting on the bench.
Just ask former Pentucket basketball standout Kirsten Daamen, who spent three months a year ago (as a citizen of Holland) with the Dutch national team.
Although the 6-foot-3 center, who recently graduated from Central Connecticut State where she set a school record for blocked shots before her senior year even started, didn’t play as much as she would have liked, she loved the experience.
“I was with a great group of players and I learned so much, traveling around and learning the (European) game,” said Daamen.
One thing that Daamen learned was that she felt she could play professionally in Europe and that she’d like to try it.
And that’s what she’ll be doing in three weeks when she travels to play for La Garanche in the French professional league. She’ll be the first-ever Pentucket player to play professional ball.
Daamen also had an offer to play in Italy but, even though her knowledge of French is “about three words,” the opportunity with La Garanche was too good to pass up.
In exchange for her talents on the basketball court, as well as helping out at a local school as an occasional PE teacher, the 22-year-old Daamen is given room and board, transportation costs, two weeks off at Christmas and a decent salary. The team will also set her up with French lessons.
“I can’t complain about anything,” said Daamen, who was a marketing major in college. “The salary is enough and I won’t have to spend money on much of anything.”
It wasn’t until after her junior year at Central Connecticut, when she averaged 12.3 points, five rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game, that Daamen even considered continuing her career in basketball. When she finished this past season, she was sure that she wanted to keep playing.
“I just wasn’t ready to hang it up,” she said. “I thought it’d be a great opportunity and I love to travel.
“Plus I talked to a lot of people about it. People who had played overseas were never sorry that they did it, but some who didn’t when they had the chance regretted it later. I didn’t want that to be me.”
As to why she picked playing in France rather than Italy, Daamen said: “It was a better fit. The teams in Italy play more of a shooting, running game with smaller players. There are more bigger players in France. In fact, I’ll be playing the ‘four’ position. There’s a girl on the team much taller than me, about 6-6.
“The other things is I just felt so comfortable with this team. I went there last month and worked out with them, and they were just so welcoming. They made me feel right at home.”
Daamen’s first impression of pro ball in France is that it’s competitive, but she’ll be able to hold her own.
“I hope to make an impact and I think I can,” she said. “Here (in the U.S.), we do a lot more lifting and conditioning and we’re stronger. I think that will help me. It’s going to be different basketball, but I’m excited about it.”
That excitement would be diminished, if it existed at all, if it hadn’t been for her time spent with the Dutch national team.
“If I hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would be trying this (playing professionally in France),” she said. “It was so much fun and I think it helped prepare me for this.”