There is no shortage of former Boilermakers in professional basketball, but one player has spent the last 10 years in Europe.
Chris Kramer returned to Indiana this month after a season with BC Khimki, a Moscow-based EuroLeague club. Khimki plays in the VTB United League, the top tier of Russian basketball, akin to the English Premier League in soccer. Kramer signed with Khimki in August after a two-year stint with Lithuania’s Rytas Vilnius.
“The coach of my team in Russia now was my head coach for Rytas when I was in Lithuania,” Kramer said in a phone interview. “He took over the team that I’m now on in Russia, Khimki, the second half of last season.”
Kramer played at Purdue between 2006 and 2010 alongside JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel, helping the team to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and a Big Ten Tournament championship in 2009.
Kramer vividly remembers breaking his nose while guarding Michigan’s Manny Harris in his junior season. As Harris was going up for his shot, his elbow connected with Kramer’s face and shattered his nose in two places.
“I go back into the training room and check it out and they’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s broken,’ and they put a tampon in there,” Kramer said. “They gave me a face mask that was already fitted for somebody else. I put that on and went back out and played and had to get surgery a couple days later.”
After leaving Purdue, Kramer bounced around NBA training camps before signing with German club Würzburg in 2011. Since then, he’s played for three other EuroLeague teams, including Rytas and Khimki.
Kramer is on a team with players and coaches from America, Russia, Sweden, Latvia, Serbia and Lithuania. Despite the diversity in personnel, he says language has never been a problem when communicating with his teammates.
“I guess the only problem I’ve ever had was going into the city and trying to get groceries or (talking) to somebody in a restaurant,” Kramer said. “Everybody (in the league) speaks English because on all these teams they’ve got foreigners from everywhere.”
Kramer says “the basketball moves so much better” in European basketball. He emphasized the league’s focus on forcing defensive movement and rotation, and called it a “closer fit” to college basketball than the NBA.
Kramer’s return to America was spurred by the suspension of EuroLeague activities back in March.
In a statement, the league said, “It has become impossible to maintain the regularity of the competitions” and halted play with fewer than 10 games left in the season. The other American players on Khimki were also motivated by the U.S. government’s call to Americans abroad to return home.
Kramer is back in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife and infant daughter, who he said keeps them “completely busy.” He’s using the time in isolation to spend more time with his family and keep in shape for the eventual return of basketball.
“If I do get the call that I have to go back, I’m not completely out of shape or won’t have to basically start from square one to try to get ready again,” Kramer said.