In December 2010, less than two years after he graduated from St. Andrew's Episcopal School, Olney native Alexander Zurn found himself in Huntington Beach, Calif., living with his father, away from his college and high school friends because of an academic suspension.
This wasn't where Zurn, a 6-foot-4 high-flying guard and former Lions standout, wanted to be during his second year at Gettysburg College.
But there was a silver lining.
“I didn't have anything to do but to get my act together,” Zurn said. “Classes and basketball. That's all I did out there because I didn't know anybody.”
Nearly four years later, Zurn, 24, is preparing for his second season of basketball in Europe — his first with a paycheck — and is expecting to complete his business degree from the Dublin Business School in the fall. The suspension was a turning point, he said, helping make his pro basketball dream a reality.
Zurn made Dean's List and earned All-Centennial Conference Honorable Mention when he returned for his junior year, and carried that momentum into his senior season, when he was named to the All-Centennial Conference First Team.
“It changed his life,” his father, John Zurn, said. “He understands now that he has to work harder than anybody else if he wants to be successful.”
Zurn's journey into the European basketball circuit began after his senior season, when he sent emails to an estimated 1,000 coaches and team representatives to gauge interest. Most of his messages were ignored, but he did receive three tryout offers — one from Germany, one from France and one from Ireland. That was enough to convince Zurn to book a flight to Europe. If nothing worked out, he planned to travel abroad for the summer, he said, but it didn't come down to that. Zurn was offered an unpaid spot on the Swords Thunder club, taking it after he received a scholarship at the Dublin Business School (DBS).
Playing for both Swords and DBS, Zurn didn't disappoint; he won Player of the Year for the Division I League in the former and won Sports Individual of the Year for the less competitive DBS team.
Zurn put together a highlight tape which, combined with his Division I League accolades, was enough to convince the English Basketball League's Reading Rockets to offer a contract valued at $1,100 (650 pounds) in June for the upcoming season.
Christian Bors, a Gettysburg and Sidwell Friends graduate, said Zurn's athleticism is what sets him apart. A four-sport athlete at St. Andrew's, Zurn owns Gettysburg's all-time dunk record with 39 over four seasons.
“Just how fast he is, how quick he is to get off the floor and get up in the air. It's very tough to keep up with him,” Bors said.
Zurn, currently residing in New Port, R.I. said he is flying to Europe in mid-August for training camp, with the season beginning in October. He receives room, board, food and utilities, while also working on commission with the Rockets' marketing team, he said.
“My expectation is to be the leader on the team. Whether that's being the leading scorer, or [being] vocal, I expect to be the leader on the team,” said Zurn, who anticipates being the Rockets' only United States player. “It's going to be a really big stepping stone because last year I went into it not knowing what to expect. Now I'll be able to live on my own and solely focus on basketball.”
Zurn is the first St. Andrew's alumnus to play basketball professionally, according to Athletic Director Al Hightower.
“I don't know how high he'll be able to go but I think if he gets a little bit of luck with the right people seeing him play, he can go pretty high,” Bors said.
Zurn said he hopes his season with the Rockets will lead to more opportunities with other competitive international teams.
“I would never think he'd make it to the NBA or the higher levels of Europe, but I never thought he'd make it this far,” John Zurn said. “... I'm ready to be surprised some more.”