Ali Schwagmeyer is ready to resume her professional basketball career.
Schwagmeyer scored more than 1,950 points in her career at Central High School (playing for the Central-Southeastern co-op) and was a two-time all-state selection. After two years at Charleston Southern, she transferred to Quincy University where she was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference's Player of the Year during her junior season in 2010-11 and was a first-team all-GLVC pick as a senior.
She since has played professionally in Germany, Spain and Australia. In 2012-13, she averaged 14 points and eight rebounds playing in Germany with the GiroLive Onsabruck Panthers. She averaged 15.2 points and eight rebounds for the Panthers the next season.
Schwagmeyer also played in the summer of 2014 in Australia, averaging 19.1 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Kalamunda Eastern Suns. She was playing with Cadi La Seu in the Spanish professional league in December 2014 when she learned her sister, Angie, had been killed in a crash in the early morning hours of Dec. 21 on I-55 in St. Louis.
Schwagmeyer, now 25, returned home to be with her family. She has been an assistant coach for the Hannibal-LaGrange University women's basketball team while also working at the Quincy YMCA. She leaves Tuesday for Perth, Australia, where she will play for the Lakeside Lightning of the Western States Basketball League.
How did you find the Lakeside team to play for?
I played for their coach, Craig Mansfield, two seasons ago. I wasn't sure if I was going to play again, but about November-ish, he messaged me and told me he was hired and asked if I could come back. I took some time to think about it. Eventually, I just decided I want to try to start my career again.
What is it like playing in Australia?
It's so much fun. It's a little more lax than the European season, but it's still good professional basketball. In Europe, we'll have two-a-days every day. It's a bit more strenuous over there. It's a lot of fun in Australia. I get to be relaxed, and all the Australians are super nice. I made some really good friends when I was there. I'll be there during their winter. It just rains. The lowest (temperature) it will get is 55. Some days it gets up to 70. It's just really beautiful. I get to coach a youth team there as well.
Did you ever think you would not return?
I tried stopping after Angie died, but it's just, you've got to do it while you're young. I've worked my way up to a pretty good league over in Europe. I don't want to end the way I ended it. Now it's round two. I get to work my way up. The season will last six months, and it's going to show: Do I want to continue to pursue this or not? If I do, I‘ll probably go somewhere in Europe. The season over there starts in September. If it doesn't work out, I'll just have to try to find a different path in life.
Can you imagine basketball not being part of your life?
Honestly, I can't. Even if basketball isn't part of it, I can't imagine not having my life without a workout or helping someone get better. My passion is to try to help people to get better in a certain area or at a certain skill, on the court, conditioning, in the weight room. I like to see people improve.
Is your game much different than it was when you were at QU?
I've been working with Darrell Johnson at Cross Over Hoops since I went overseas, and he's made my game peak. When I was at QU, I was good, but he has helped develop my game so much. When you're overseas, everyone's athletic and everybody's talented, especially the imports from overseas. I was always able to get past people at the college level, but the first year (in Germany), it opened my eyes. My American teammates kept saying, "I can't wait ‘til I get to go home and work with my trainer." And I thought, "Work with your trainer? I need to get one." Instead of going one speed all the time, my footwork is better. I can make a combo move after my stepback.
How did you do in Germany?
I did pretty well, then I came home and played in a semipro league in St. Louis. In the last game, I tore some ligaments in my ankle. I had signed to play in Romania, but that didn't work out. The team I played for in Germany heard I was injured and didn't go to Romania, so they called and offered for me to come back. I played for them again, and from there, that's when I went to Australia. From there, I went to Romania, the same Alexandria team I was supposed to play for. I played one game, scored 30 points in 20 minutes. My agent called and said I had an offer from a first division team in Spain.
How was life in Spain?
La Seu is in the mountains on the border between France and Spain, about two hours north of Barcelona. It wasn't warm. The style of basketball changes from country to country. That's a hard thing to adjust to. In Germany, it was very systematic. They like to run plays. In Spain, they like to run systems, but it's very fast-paced. In Australia, you're just playing. It's go go go. I really like Australia.
Did you speak the language in Spain?
Un poco. (A little.) I took four years of Spanish in high school, but it didn't pay off.
How did you find out about your sister's death?
We were on Christmas break. My boyfriend, (former QU guard) Courtney Belger, was playing in Germany. I was flying from Spain to Germany so we could have some time together. I was in the airport when (the crash) happened, but I didn't find out until Courtney picked me up at the airport. That's when my mom called me. I can never explain the feeling I had when I heard about it. I'm just thankful Courtney was with me when I had to receive that call.
How did you handle the news of your sister's death?
My whole world came crashing down. She was my best friend. Even to this day, it still doesn't feel real. It's such a surreal feeling. It changed my perspective on everything. I used to think basketball was life, but after something like that, you realize basketball isn't life. The things you work for in this world aren't life. You have to work and make a living, but at the end of the day, what it showed me is what matters are your friends and ultimately, God. There's nothing I wouldn't give to have one more conversation with her.
How has the past year been for you?
I have worked at the YMCA. I was a personal trainer, and I also worked at the front desk. I'm also an assistant basketball coach at Hannibal-LaGrange. Career wise, I was very blessed having the opportunity to coach at the college level. Other than that, I was just trying to figure everything out -- how to live without Angie in my lie, how to cope with it, how to deal with it. You never know how it feels until it happens to you. I was always such a happy person. I can truly say I never really was unhappy, and my friends could vouch for that. I never understood how people could be depressed. After Angie passed away, it really opened my eyes. I have to figure out how to wake up each day and get myself out of bed. God is the one who has helped me through this so much. This last year was just trying to figure out who I am without Angie here.
When you leave for Australia, are you taking anything to remind you of Angie?
A picture of me and her when we were younger. My family always got us the same clothes when we were kids, so when Angie opened her Christmas presents, I couldn't look. I have a picture of us at Christmas time in our matching outfits. Also, when I was in Germany the first time, I was missing Angie a lot. I made a collage of me and Angie with all of our pictures together. I put it on Instagram, and my mom printed it out for me.
How difficult is it for you to leave your family to play basketball at this time?
I decided to stay last year for my family. When I agreed to go to Australia, one of the biggest factors is that I don't believe Angie would want me to give up. She was my biggest fan, my biggest supporter. After every game, she would ask, "How did you do? What were your stats?" I feel like Angie would want me to do this. For as much excitement as there is, there will be sadness and apprehension. The last time I was gone, something bad happened. That feeling always will never leave me, but my mom was telling me that you can't live life in fear. You can't hold back what you want to do for other people. That advice is going to give me the strength to go.