June 14, 2012
To say the most prolific shot blocker ever to play in the Big Sky Conference and a former standout for The University of Montana Grizzlies has a lot going on in his life these days might be the ultimate understatement.
Brian Qvale, who spent the last several months playing professional basketball in Turkey, takes a big step in his personal life recently (June 15), as he married former Lady Griz player and long-time girlfriend Misty Atkinson at the Heritage Hall located in Fort Missoula.
Qvale, a 6-11, 245-pound center from Williston, North Dakota, was one of the most dominant big men in league history during his four-year (2007-08 to 2010-11) career at Montana, as he set league and school records with 247 career blocked shots. He is ranked eighth in Griz history with 721 career rebounds and tied for 21st (with former guard Mike Warhank) in scoring with 1,046 career points.
He had a monster senior season (2010-11) and was a unanimous all-league pick and tabbed the Big Sky's "Defensive Player of the Year," setting a conference record with 95 blocked shots.
It was a life-long dream to make it to the professional level of basketball. He played for Aliaga (pronounced: al-gee-ah) Petkim in the 16-team Turkish Basketball League.
Aliaga is a town of 55,000 people, and in the district of Izmi Province, and situated about 30 miles north of Izmir, Turkey. Its economics are centered around an oil refinery (which sponsors Qvale's basketball team), ship-breaking, as well as tourism.
It was a long-time goal for "BQ" to get to the next level, and playing in Europe was a bit tedious at times, but it was a challenge that he truly embraced.
Brian arrived in Aliaga in early August, and the season ended on May 12. He and Misty ended up staying in two different hotels for several weeks at a time, and then, somewhat ironically when the other center (Arnold Marcus, who played college hoops at Illinois) on the team got cut, then his apartment which was provided to him by the team became available, and the pair got to move in to that apartment and finally was able to stop living out of their suitcases.
"I would call it kind of a culture shock," said Qvale, who said the trip to Turkey took around 24 hours. "The language barrier was the biggest thing and really made me uncomfortable. Just being out of the country and having a whole new lifestyle took at least the first two months to get used to.
"We spent time with the two other Americans (on the team), and sometimes with the Serbian (guard Ratkovica Branislov) on the team, who spoke perfect English," Qvale said. "But the Turkish guys were great too. They all spoke pretty good English."
For almost 10 months his basketball routine consisted of practicing during the week, including two-a-day sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the games were played on either Saturdays or Sundays.
Brian was one of four foreigners on the Aliaga Petkim's 12-man roster, which included three Americans and a Serbian, and eight players from Turkey. And, as on all international basketball teams, Americans and other imported players are expected to be major contributors.
"At points, when we were losing it really feels like your job was on the line, but if you are winning, the team was having fun and everyone is happy, and then when we made the playoffs it was definitely fun to still be playing basketball and calling it a job at the same time," he said.
Aliaga Petkim finished the regular-season with a 14-16 record, but made the prestigious league playoffs - which was obviously a big deal for Brian, his team, and the team owners. Qvale starred in an upset of Efes Pilsen, a team Aliaga had never defeated, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a pivotal game which qualified his team for the Turkish Cup.
He played in every game and averaged about 20 minutes per contest. He was third on the team in rebounding (4.4 rpg), fifth in scoring (8.9 ppg), and led the squad averaging about one block per contest. His shooting percentage was also very solid just like it was when he played for the Grizzlies at 56.5%.
The team's leading scorer was 6-4 guard Ryan Toolson, who averaged 17.3 points a game. Toolson, who played his college basketball at Utah Valley University, shot 41.5 percent from three-point range and an impressive 92.7% from the line. His senior year (2007-08) at Utah Valley he scored an NCAA-high 63 points in a quadruple overtime game against Chicago State.
The other American on the team was center-forward Trent Plaisted who played in 16 games, and averaged 6.9 points a game. Plaisted played collegiately at BYU.
Qvale said that the gym that his team played in "had a capacity of around 2,500-3,000, and it was fairly crowded for most of their games." He also noted that the team's owners were almost always in attendance.
"The oil company presidents had their own section in the gym," Qvale said. "I shook their (the oil executives) hands all the time and they were very nice, but you don't really deal with them directly. I dealt with the general manager and the coach much more than those guys."
Not only did he have to adjust to a foreign country and its dramatically different lifestyle, but he also had to learn a different type of play.
"Every play ended with me screening and rolling," said Qvale, who recently purchased a town home in Lolo. "So I would screen, head to the basket, catch it and that would be the way I would score my points. I hardly ever just posted up and got the ball. That was the biggest difference - to be running full speed, catch the ball, and try to finish scoring. Our team had a really good scoring guard in Ryan Toolson and a good scoring point guard, so I would say we are guard oriented."
Qvale and Atkinson, who is from Clarkston, Wash., started dating since they met as freshmen at UM. Unfortunately Atkinson's career was cut short due to numerous injuries. Following her junior season of playing for the Lady Griz and after undergoing three shoulder operations, she left the team to focus on school.
Misty, who was a double major at UM and earned degrees in psychology and sociology, works for Youth Homes in Missoula. Brian earned his degree in exercise science.
Some of those in attendance at Brian and Misty's wedding might feel like they are in "The Land of Giants." Along with the 6-11 groom, Brian's best man will be his brother, Brent, a 6-8, 320-pound junior who will be starting at left offensive tackle for the Nebraska Cornhuskers next fall. One of the ushers will be Brian's long-time close friend and former Griz teammate Derek Selvig, a 7-footer.
Since he was a first-year player for Aliaga Petkim Qvale inked just a one-year contract and had to prove himself. He said that mid-way through the season the oil executives told him that they wanted him to come back, but he has not signed a new contract yet.
"They haven't asked me back yet officially since the season finished," he said. "I'm going to try to get on an NBA summer team, and July 1st is when that starts. If that doesn't happen my agent (Ben Pensack) is trying to find me a job anywhere in Europe. Spain, Italy, and Turkey are the three top leagues right now. I would play anywhere. I just want to keep playing.
"I feel like I didn't necessarily get a fair shot at it (playing in the NBA) because of the lockout," Qvale said. "There was no summer league, so I at least want to give it my best effort and try to play some summer league. There were teams that talked to me that wanted workouts and things last year, but then the lockout happened, and I had to wait a year. I guess it depends on what they think of my year in Turkey. Right now I'd play overseas, play in the NBA, but obviously I would love to make a summer league and try to stay in the United State if possible."
During their stint in Europe, Brian and Misty adopted a dog, "Turkey" or Turk for short, from a local animal shelter, and no matter what is in store for the new married couple and BQ's professional career their future, they do have a special reminder about their time in Aliaga.
"Turk - it was an experience getting him back," Qvale said with a smile on his face. "We found him in a little shelter in Turkey with a dirt floor, which was an old American NATO base or something. We got him, and he's still here. He flew all the way back to Montana, and he's in my backyard right now. He made it home, and the flight was long."
From Williston & Clarkston, to Missoula, to Turkey, and now living in near-by Lolo, although that might not be too long of a stay right now. Who knows what's in store for Brian, Misty, and Turk in their future - but it sure is good to have them back in Big Sky Country, if only for awhile.
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