Persevering to go pro

After having one of the greatest careers ever in Division III women's basketball, Chelsie Schweers had a successful professional career in Greece and Australia.

By Ryan Scott

There’s a false correlation between men’s and women’s professional basketball. It’s easy to think that because the NBA is leaps and bounds above any other pro league – in terms of salaries, prestige, and level of play – that the same relationship would exist between the WNBA and women’s leagues around the world.

“There are a lot more opportunities on the women’s side for playing really competitive basketball,” says Chelsie Schweers, the 2011 Player of the Year. “The average WNBA salary right now is about $55,000. For sure there are opportunities overseas making that kind of money in a lot of places.”

Of course a Division III player can’t expect to just walk into a contract like that, even as the second all-time scorer and an All-American as a freshman, as Schweers was. The opportunities and competitive salaries make the fight for jobs that much tougher.

After a successful professional career with stops in Australia and Europe, Schweers is currently working as Director of Basketball Operations for Division I William and Mary. "[Playing professionally] is more competitive because a lot of WNBA players are willing to go overseas and most countries only allow a certain number of Americans on their rosters. So you’re competing with WNBA players who want those same jobs, making that kind of money.” 

Begore graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 2017, Lisa Murphy was a two-time first team All American and 2017 Jostens Trophy winner. She now plays for Lemvig in Denmark. She earns about $750 a month, but that doesn’t include housing, food, and transportation, which is also provided. She says, “It’s enough to live on and travel a bit.” 

Murphy's father often works internationally, so the adjustment off the court has been pretty smooth. “I get to coach and work with the youth teams, which I love,” says Murphy, who plans to pursue early childhood education when her playing career is over. “[Lemvig] is a really small town, with a harbor and breathtaking views. It’s not at all commercial. I can live like a true Dane out in the country.”

Schweers spent her first year playing in Greece and while, “the food threw me off for a while,” she says, “the hardest part was being without my support system. I had never played a basketball game in my life without somebody in the stands I knew was cheering for me. I had to stay connected to my support group back home who were rooting for me, even if they weren’t there.” 

Carrie Snikkers, a Hope grad and 2010 Player of the Year, spent one season playing professionally in Spain. “We played pretty fast at Hope so the basketball transition wasn’t too tough. Not speaking the language, though, was difficult. We had to just call the plays uno, dos, tres, and quarto, so the names weren’t complicated.”

At first Snikkers had difficulty adjusting to the culture and, like Schweers, the food. She also had some personal differences with the head coach, who was replaced during the season. “That changed the experience 100%,” says Snikkers. "By the end of my time there I was crying because I didn’t want to leave.”

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Lisa Murphy has had to adjust her game to deal with larger opponents while playing professionally in Denmark.

Murphy has already signed with her second team, Hume City in Australia, where she’ll play in the spring when the European season ends. Those staggered seasons are what allow WNBA players to compete on multiple teams. Schweers took the same route, bouncing from Greece to Australia and then back and forth to various European counties each fall.

It's easy to hear Iceland or Denmark and think the level of play might not be stellar. Murphy says, “The game is much faster with the 24 second shot clock. Players are faster and stronger and of course they’ve had years and years of experience as professionals.”

Murphy, who is the Division III career leader in field goal percentage, has had to change her game a bit. “I’ve not had a lot of experience playing against post players my size or taller and almost every opponent here is taller than me.”

Schweers got a trainer right after graduation to prepare for the rigors of professional basketball. “I had to get stronger from the jump,” she says. "As soon as I graduated I was on the weights. College players see games from Europe and they say ‘I’m better than her,’ but it’s a local player. They don’t understand we’re not competing with the local players for jobs. We’re competing for the two American spots they allow.”

Being a Division III player doesn’t make it any easier. In the piece I wrote last year about men’s players in the pros, it came up time and again that Division III meant catching on anywhere and hoping to play your way into a resume that might get noticed. For women, it’s even more difficult.

Schweers explains “Everyone said when you get your first playing job overseas and you prove yourself, no one will bring up Division III anymore. I’m here to tell you that is not the case. Everywhere I went it was the first question. I was MVP of my league in Australia and, when I went back to Europe, the first question my coach asked was, ‘Why did you play Division III basketball?’” 

Murphy found the label frustrating as well. “I went to a combine last summer and I won MVP, but there were no offers that came out of it.”

Like the men, though, both players said it was vital to find the right agent and make connections to secure opportunities. Murphy sent out highlight films and talked to other professionals to see which agents and teams were reputable.

A 6-foot-3 forward with great footwork and athleticism, Snikkers probably didn’t have to convince too many people of her abilities. She even stepped into a scouting combine, unplanned and unannounced, a few years after ending her career and managed to get a contract offer out of it. She values her Division III experience for a different reason.

“Originally I was going to play at Oakland, but ended up choosing Hope. I’m glad I did because, if I had played Division I, I think I might’ve been too drained to pursue it further. I appreciated the balance, not having to eat, sleep, and live basketball all the time.”

Schweers was in a slightly different position. Having been such a dominant scorer, she had agents offering services and had to find some way to choose the right one. “I told them I wouldn’t sign with anyone until they had an offer for me from a team. Some didn’t want to do it, but I had heard crazy things about some agencies and what they made players go through, so I said ‘this is how it’s going to be.’”

It took guts and patience. “I graduated in May and I didn’t head to Greece until January,” says Schweers. “There were some dark days in there where I wasn’t sure if I would make it.”

She says that, though, oozing confidence. Schweers clearly loves basketball with a crazy passion – the way she talks about the game makes it seems like she’ll be playing forever. As she transitions into the coaching phase of her career, I suspect she’ll be the first one hopping on the court to demonstrate proper defensive positioning or battling her players in pickup games.

Murphy, on the other hand, isn’t sure she’ll make this career her career.

“I love basketball and I want to play as long as I can, but I’m also excited about my off-court pursuits.” Murphy deferred admission to several of the graduate schools where she was accepted for a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education and will re-evaluate her options after the season in Australia. Like a true UAA grad she said, “I’m glad I did it to have this experience and prove that I can play at this level, but I miss the academic side of things.”

It’s tough to know what the future will bring, but it’s also nice to know even Division III athletes have the option to continue their playing careers after graduation. Hunter Hill of Augustana, whom I profiled last year, is back in Chicago, working on his post-basketball career. Rochester’s John Dibartolomeo won the Israeli League MVP last season and moved to Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the biggest clubs in Europe, where he plays alongside former NBA stars.

Of course, there are also ways to do both. I was not able to get in touch with her for this piece, but Washington U. guard Shanna-Lei Dacanay played professionally in Iceland while also doing graduate work in renewable energy engineering at the University of Reykjavík. Westfield state alum Jen Ashton is playing in England for the Sheffield Hatters this season.

When asked what advice she had to current Division III women looking to play professionally, Murphy said, “First, know that it’s possible, then try to get your name out there as much as possible. See what agents other players have signed with. Talk to players who’ve played [for teams you’re considering] in the past.”

Schweers said, “Keep working hard and be patient,” which echoed the advice from Andy Panko in last year’s piece. “Be a professional.” With so many talented athletes competing for limited spots, showing up, working hard, and being responsible can set you apart from the rest.

Most of all, though, have fun and play basketball. 

Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon