Cody Cousino / Asst. multimedia editor
A star player in college football, basketball or baseball usually has a good shot at being drafted or given a tryout on a team in the U.S. If all else fails and that player still wants to play badly enough, he or she can always go overseas.
But if that person is a volleyball player, as Ohio State fifth-year seniors Steven Kehoe and John Klanac know, going overseas is the only option.
It is not necessarily a question of talent.
Kehoe, a setter, was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after leading the Buckeyes to a national championship with 51 assists in the semifinal against Penn State and 65 assists in the championship against California-Santa Barbara. Meanwhile, Klanac, an outside hitter, led the team with 16 kills in the semifinal and finished second in team kills for the season, with 372.
The problem is, there are no professional indoor volleyball leagues in the U.S. Klanac said there have been attempts to create leagues but they have always fallen through because of a lack of money.
The Association of Volleyball Professionals is a major beach volleyball league that holds most of its events in the U.S. It is in unsure standing, however. After filing for bankruptcy and holding no events for nine months, it restarted last month.
Kehoe said making a move to beach volleyball would be unlikely for him considering its current state and that he prefers the indoor game.
Klanac said it is a possibility for him, but that beach volleyball is a different game.
“A lot of people think it’s just volleyball, but it’s really a whole different game and the strategies are completely different than you would have in indoor volleyball,” Klanac said. “Right now I’m just going to concentrate on indoor volleyball, six on six.”
There are many professional indoor leagues in Europe and other countries. OSU coach Pete Hanson said there are strong leagues in Russia, Italy and Brazil. Klanac said he has heard France and Italy support good levels of volleyball.
Because of this, top American college volleyball players on both the men’s and women’s sides are faced with a difficult decision: continue playing the sport they love far away from family and friends, or give up playing to stay home.
But the decision is only half the battle.
“I could be one year and done, or I could not even get signed. There is the potential for that to happen, even though I don’t think it will,” Kehoe said. “It’s really going to be kind of a play-it-by-ear, and that’s the beauty of it, that it is exciting.”
Getting signed could be the longest and hardest part for both players, and there are different ways to go through the process.
Klanac said he is putting film and highlights together to send to teams and he will also be looking to hire an agent.
“They’ll kind of shop me around just like an agent would for a guy in the NBA or NFL and try to find me the best place for the right amount of money,” Klanac said.
Kehoe said he is putting together a résumé and gathering video highlights, but he would rather not sign with an agent until the agent has gotten him a job.
That is part of the advice he received from his sister, Bryn Kehoe, who just finished her second season playing professionally in Switzerland. She played last season in Switzerland’s A-League on a team called Neuchatel. Bryn played at Stanford from 2004–07 and won a national championship her freshman year.
She said one of the hardest things about getting a contract overseas is having contacts and that if a player has the contacts he might not need an agent.
“I’ve been talking with Steven about that and to be careful about what kind of agent he signs with,” Bryn said. “I don’t want him to sign a binding agreement if somebody can’t provide him with a good contract.”
There is no typical contract for professional volleyball players.
“It’s such a wide range. There’s some leagues that just don’t have a lot of money. You can get maybe a few thousand dollars to I’ve heard some of the U.S. Olympic guys making a couple million dollars in Russia,” Klanac said. “So it just really depends on where you go and how financially structured the league is and the team.”
One of the standards for European leagues is that most seasons last eight months, something both Klanac and Steven said they will take advantage of by coming back to the U.S. during the offseason.
Steven said he would like to come back to the U.S. whenever he gets a break.
“In marketing for a contract, one of the things is that I want to be able to come home for Christmas,” Steven said. “It’s little things like that to make a contract good, not just necessarily the money.”
Based on how many contracts work for professional volleyball in Europe, Steven might be able to find one that suits his desires.
Bryn said that, as a professional player, there are no bills to pay.
“Everything is taken care of,” Bryn said. “You’re usually provided with an apartment. Some players are provided with a car, transportation to and from the country. Sometimes you have meals at restaurants that are provided, so whatever is in your contract that you make is really just yours.”
But that does not mean the adjustment to the professional game, especially in a new country, comes easily.
“The mindset of a professional is very different. Part of it is being a professional but part of it is also the European mentality is much different than a collegiate or university team mentality,” Bryn said. “Especially with my first season, it was difficult because I didn’t understand that, as one of the professionals on my team, if the team didn’t succeed it was automatically my fault.”
Hanson said one of the main challenges for American players is adjusting and getting through that first year.
“Typically those places don’t know a lot about you as a player, and so you have to kind of go make a name for yourself and prove yourself,” Hanson said. “But once you kind of have opened that door a little bit, the word seems to get out that these kids coming from America are pretty good volleyball players.”
After a player gets through that first year, there is no telling how long he will play. Bryn said she might play a couple of seasons more, or only one more, as she has other goals she is excited to accomplish outside volleyball, including obtaining a master’s degree, most likely in sports science. She said her plan is to see if there is a university coaching job open for volleyball so she can get her education paid for at the same time. She said OSU was “absolutely” an option.
Klanac was on the other end of the spectrum.
He said he sees himself playing as long as his body allows. He graduated with a degree in history and said going for a master’s in education is a possibility after he is done playing to teach history and possibly coach.
Steven was a little less certain.
“It’s really tough to say, because I don’t know how much I’m going to enjoy it and it’s going to be a completely new experience,” he said. “So I’m definitely taking it year by year.”
Steven graduated with a degree in business and said he turned down job offers for the opportunity to play professional volleyball.
“When I do come back I’ve made sure that, although I turned down these job offers, I’ve kept in good standing with the companies,” Steven said. “The opportunity to work in a big company in the U.S. is something that will be there for a while.”
Regardless of how long they want to play, both are confident in the other’s abilities to play well at the professional level.
“I think it’s something that John has had his mind set on and he’s going all in with it too,” Steven said. “This is his dream just as much as mine, and I know that he wants it and I know he’s going to get it done.”
Klanac said it would be “pretty cool” if he, Steven and Bryn got to play in the same country. Bryn said it has been her an
d Steven’s dream, and Steven said it would be incredible.
“The one thing I’ve definitely heard consistently from people who have played overseas is you want to have another American with you, or at least another foreigner,” Steven said. “So having people around like that to just share the experience with makes it a lot more worthwhile.”
No matter what happens for the two, or where they end up, both said their love of the game and an opportunity to play it for a living far outweighed the negatives.
“You hear all throughout high school and college you want to find a job that you love because you don’t want to dread going in to work,” Steven said. “Well, I can tell you every day I wake up and think, ‘Hey, I’m going to go play volleyball today.’ That’s a good day.”