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Winkelman eager to start pro basketball career

<b>Associated Press</b> North Dakota State's Brett Winkelman, top, shoots over Tyrel Reed of Kansas during the NCAA tournament March 20 in Minneapolis.

FARGO, N.D. - Brett Winkelman won the West Central Tribune's Hengstler-Ranweiler Award as the area's outstanding male high school athlete out of Morris Area in 2004. Five years later, he signed a professional basketball contract with Nuova Palleacanestro Pavia of the Italian LegaDue.

"It's one of the top 10 leagues in Europe," said Winkelman, by telephone on Wednesday. "Quite a few players shuffle back and forth between this league and the NBA."

Winkelman had an illustrious collegiate career with North Dakota State University, helping the Bison reach the NCAA tournament for the first time this past winter. Winkelman leaves as the school's No. 2 all-time scorer with 1,962 points and the Bison's all-time leading rebounder with 874.

"I knew I didn't have a great shot of being drafted (by an NBA team)," said the 6-foot-6 forward, a two-time winner of the presigious Summit League's Scholar-Athlete of the Year. "I was hoping I woud get a look from a few teams after the draft. I had a tryout with the (Indiana) Pacers and a few other teams expressed interest. But I just figured this is my best option."

Winkelman averaged 18.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for the Bison last season.

Winkelman's agent was on the phone with European teams every day. Winkelman had offers from three teams in June and then seven more in early July when those teams start to fill rosters.

"My agent called me and told me that this team and this team and this team had all offered contracts," said Winkelman. "And went over what each team had offered. I had a set amount I wanted to sign for and Pavia made me an offer that was more than I was hoping for so I just couldn't turn it down."

Winkelman declined to dislose financial terms of the one-year contract he signed on Monday.

"Let's just say it was a really good offer," he said. "I thought it was a no-brainer. It's one of the best leagues and the best contract I was offered. I'm not nervous at all ... just anxious to get started."

He will travel to Pavia in August to meet with his team. The season begins in October.

Winkelman also received offers from teams in Belgium, Poland and Turkey.

"I've never been to Europe before so I'm exciting to go," he said. "I went to Taiwan with Athletes in Action, but never to Europe."

Pavia is a city of approximately 71,000 residents in Northern Italy and is 30 miles south of Milan.

Winkelman received a call from his coach last week before he signed, filling him in on what to expect and what they expected of him. European teams are allowed three American players on each roster. 

Was Winkelman's decision to play in Pavia, Italy, a wide one?

Consider this: Albert Einstein lived in Pavia from 1879-1955.

Enough said.