By JORDAN WINNETT — Special to the Des Moines Register
MURCIA, Spain — Former Iowa captain Matt Gatens is still playing basketball, but he’s exchanged his winter coat and gloves for swim trunks and flip flops.
Gatens followed his impressive senior season at Iowa by signing a one-year deal with UCAM Murcia in the Asociación de Clubs de Baloncesto (ACB). Playing in the best league in the world outside of the NBA, Gatens and his fiancée Erin Hake are living in an apartment just off the southeast coast of Spain, where winter temperatures hover between 64 and 77 degrees.
“The weather’s great. Probably a little better than Iowa,” Gatens said with a smile.
Playing professional basketball in the south of Spain sounds like an easy life, but for a guy from Iowa City who stayed in state for college, transitioning to a new culture and language can be difficult.
“It’s tough. It’s definitely an adjustment,” Gatens said. “My fiancée has dinner ready when we get home so we’ve tried to keep a normal eating schedule (it’s common to eat dinner between 10 and 11 p.m. in Spain) and go to sleep at a normal time. But if we go out to eat we have to wait until 9, 10 or even 11 o’clock at night because the restaurants aren’t open.”
Gatens, who left Iowa as its No. 6 career scorer, misses being home at times despite a generally positive experience in Spain.
“I miss certain kinds of food, friends, family and my dog,” he said. “I also miss being able to converse with people easily.”
Gatens said his Spanish has improved, but he had forgotten most of everything he learned during class in high school.
There are no language difficulties on the court.
In a recent game against Fuenlabrada in Madrid, Gatens came off the bench after sitting nearly two quarters and spearheaded his squad’s comeback in the fourth quarter with a rim-rattling dunk over 7-footer Mouhamed Saer Sene, a first-round pick in the 2006 NBA draft.
Gatens, wearing his familiar No. 5, subsequently silenced the boisterous, orange-clad crowd by drilling two 3-pointers, including one with less than 2 minutes left to give his team its first lead in the second half.
Gatens then hit two free throws to finish with 10 points in the fourth quarter and help seal the 81-75 comeback win
Afterward, Gatens was quick to downplay his 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting by crediting his teammates.
“I got great passes and just had to knock down the open looks,” he said.
Gatens said he wasn’t the only person responsible for his poster-worthy throwdown, which he regarded as one of his top dunks in recent memory.
“The play before I took it up soft and one of the assistant coaches told me to take it up harder, so the next play I did and threw it down,” he said.
Gatens is averaging 10.5 points per game while often playing sporadic minutes.
“It changes. Some games you start, some games you don’t play the first quarter,” he said. “You have to be ready when your name is called, but you never know.
“It’s a matter of being ready.”
The amount of depth in the ACB is something Gatens didn’t see at Iowa, even in the highly touted Big Ten Conference.
“It’s the second best league in the world; guys are good,” he said. “Every guy brought off the bench is good, quick and smart. Guys are really smart and fundamentally sound in this league. It really forces you to be engaged defensively every possession.”
Gatens still tries to tune in to Hawkeye games despite being 4,500 miles away.
“The time difference is tough, but I stayed up to watch the game against Michigan State,” he said.
Gatens credits his solid NBA summer league performance for his opportunity in Spain. But the NBA remains his ultimate goal.
“I just want to work hard here and try to get to that first league,” he said.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball