It's been 18 years since Jeff Nordgaard was named the winner of the West Central Tribune's Hengstler-Ranweiler Award for outstanding male athlete in the area. But the 6-foot-7 forward standout is still considering getting another year of mileage out of his 36-year-old body on the basketball court.
Nordgaard finished last season as the player/coach for AZS Koszalin, a professional team in Poland. The team was 0-4 before the former coach was fired and the team finished 10-2 under Nordgaard. But because Nordgaard has played 13 seasons professionally and because franchises in the league there are having financial difficulty, the team could not afford to retain his services.
So Nordgaard returned to his home in Milwaukee, Wis., with his wife, Alexis, and their sons, Dawson, 6, and Langdon, 4.
He is currently waiting to hear from his agent if any team is interested. Nordgaard thought he had a verbal agreement to play one more season in Poland, but the deal fell through when the team named a new coach and that coach wanted to rebuild.
"I'm kind of in limbo now, waiting on a contract" said Nordgaard, by telephone. "I enjoyed coaching and would consider that again. But I also might play another season, too. We'll just have to wait and see what's out there."
Nordgaard left Dawson-Boyd as the school's all-time scorer leading with 1,653 points. He then finished four outstanding seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and is still that school's second all-time scoring leader. He also led the Phoenix to three NCAA tournaments.
Nordgaard was drafted in the second round of the 1996 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He appeared in a few games with the Bucks and has also spent time in the CBA with the Fort Wayne Fury, but for the most part, has played overseas with teams in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Poland.
European teams who have considered signing Nordgaard have been deterred by his age and rust from not playing much last season while he concentrated on his coaching duties. Nordgaard, however, disagrees.
"I think the year of not playing a lot actually helped give me another year of fresh legs," he said. "I'm still in good shape and the rest last year actually helped me more than hurt me."
Nordgaard enjoys coaching, but found it hard to be a player/coach. His team was struggling when the former coach was fired and the owner looked to the veteran Nordgaard to be the player/coach.
"The hardest part was I was now telling my teammates and my friends what to do," he said. "I mean, we had been on the court together and now I'm saying who can play and who can't. That part was hard. I didn't play much myself because it was hard to coach while out on the floor. Toward the end of the season, I was in a suit and tie. I did dress for one game late in the season because we had some injuries."
Nordgaard admits the grind of playing professionally gets harder and harder both mentally and physically as he gets older.
"But it beats working for a living," he laughed.