The first thing Avi Fogel noticed were the metal awnings covering the benches.
Fogel, a former Torrey Pines basketball standout, had just arrived in Rejkavik, Iceland, for the start of his professional basketball career two years ago on the European club circuit.
Fogel admits he didn't know much about the European game and had no idea why such extreme measures were taken to shield the benches. But he figured it couldn't be good.
He learned why during player introductions at his first game in a small arena in Turkey, where crazed fans tossed beer cans and other objects at him and his teammates. He watched in amazement as fans lit up cigarettes in the stands and spent the night cheering and singing for their home team and cursing the visiting team and referees.
"Their concept was taking a soccer game and moving it indoors," said Fogel, who launched his professional career within months of playing amid a comparatively tame environment at Div. II Mercyhurst in Erie, Pa.
"It definitely took me a couple of games to adjust to it, but I think it provides a great atmosphere," Fogel said.
Easy for him to say.
Amid the rabid fans and smoky arenas, Fogel, a 6-foot-2 guard, has excelled in the club circuit, beefing up a basketball resume that he hopes will lead to a career in the NBA.
Fogel made an immediate impact. He was named the regional Bosman League's Player of the Year by
After another successful 2008-09 club season for MENT, a team based in Greece, Fogel led the U.S. team to a gold medal last month at the 18th annual Maccabi Games, known as the Jewish Olympics.
Fogel, who was making his third appearance at the Maccabi Games, led the U.S. National team, scoring a team-high 20 points in the title game, a 95-86 overtime victory over the host Israeli team.
Fogel considers his performance at the Maccabi games to be among his career highlights. His Team USA took a bronze medal in the 2005 games.
"It's not just a great athletic competition - it's just a great event to go to," he said. "We got to tour Israel a week before it started."
Fogel emerged as a basketball standout at Torrey Pines, leading the Falcons to a title his junior year in 2002. In 2003 he was an All-San Diego County selection and McDonald's All-American nominee.
He also played on the volleyball team, which he said helped him develop quickness and athleticism that elevated his basketball game.
Fogel played at Div. I University of San Diego, starting his freshman and sophomore years as a walk-on. He said he transferred to Mercyhurst because he felt he didn't fit in at USD.
He scored more than 1,100 points at Mercyhurst, where he attracted the attention of professional scouts, leading to his opportunity to play in Europe.
Fogel remains unsigned but expects to play in Europe this year. He believes his success in Europe shows he can compete in the NBA.
"I definitely feel like I can compete at that level," he said. "A lot of people have God-given talents, but once you get to this (level) the mental aspect of the game means a lot more."
Fogel is a point guard with scoring ability who can play either backcourt position.
His versatility figures to be a key asset for NBA suitors, says his agent, Matt Brown, noting Fogel projects to be a combo guard in the mold of Los Angeles Lakers guard Shannon Brown (no relation).
His agent believes Fogel's grit sets him apart.
"I love his toughness," Brown said. "He never backs down, he's never really intimidated."
Fogel credits his experience at Torrey Pines playing for Falcons coach John Olive and the influence of his parents, who instilled in him his work ethic and drive.
Fogel was an academic standout at Torrey Pines too.
He was named to the National Council on Youth Leadership as a junior at Torrey Pines and to the National Honor Roll his senior year.
"In addition to being a great basketball player, he's one of the best people I've ever met," Brown said. "He's the whole package."