Collier, Patton chase dream
If one of the top collegiate basketball players in the country was looking to play professionally, all he would need to do is wait for a scout to spot him and sit by the phone for a call from a general manager on draft day.
In the case of volleyball player Michelle Collier, South Florida and Conference USA’s career leader in kills, and teammate Jolene Patton, another recent USF graduate, there is a little more work involved.
Collier, who graduated in December, and Patton are currently in the midst of a 12-day tour of Europe, showcasing their talents for professional volleyball teams.
“Me and Jolene are going on a tour to see if we can find a professional team to play with over there,” Collier said. “We are going to play and practice with different European teams.”
Collier, Patton and 14 other American players left for Munich Jan. 10 to visit stops such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
“It’s for teams and coaches to get to see us as players,” Patton said. “As Americans, we are supposed to go over there and make the team better.”
The pair has to go on a quest for a professional team because of the absence of a league in the United States.
The United States Professional Volleyball league disbanded last year, forcing most players to look for teams overseas.
Collier, who tallied 2,792 kills, 1,747 digs and 260 service aces during her career, and Patton, who recorded 729 kills and 605 digs, both expressed their interest in playing professionally overseas to USF coach Nancy Mueller, who directed them toward agent Tim Kelly and his assistant, Cory Soloman.
Since it is against NCAA rules to have discussions with an agent, the players have kept in contact with Soloman since about a month before the season ended.
Mueller knew of Kelly because of his relationship with a scouting service the Bulls used to sign freshman Leonie Mueller, who is from Germany.
Kelly and Soloman started by putting players in the European market due to their familiarity with the continent’s volleyball teams because one owns a house in Austria.
“They have been doing this for a while,” Patton said. “They are very well known throughout volleyball.”
The tour is not only beneficial for the players, but it doubles as a recruiting venture for Kelly and Soloman to sign players who get professional contracts.
The tour allows the two outside hitters to learn the ins and outs of professional volleyball by seeing where and how the players live and experiencing what it is like to play for a coach who does not speak English.
“We are going to stay in dorms where some of them live (and get) the whole experience what it is like over there,” Patton said.
Patton and Collier do not have to communicate with the coaches since they do not speak English.
“You don’t get to deal with coaches most of the time,” Collier said. “The director of the tour (our agent) does most of the negotiation.”
Coming from USF, Collier and Patton are not discouraged by professional life.
“I think it is going to be a great experience. There is a lot more pressure and money involved,” Collier said. “You are getting paid to perform at a high level all the time, so that is going to be a challenge.
“Off the court, it seems like professional life will be not much different from college, since I used to administer my scholarship money and make my own decisions.”
If they get signed, they will also have to deal with the culture change of living in a new country.
“It has been awesome to meet new people and to get to play with different styles of players,” Collier said. “European life is very different than American life.”
The girls will be traveling to the different teams in the middle of the European volleyball season, so the likelihood of signing with a team now is lower than it would be at the start of the fall season.
“It’s the middle of the season, so it’s rare for us to get picked up,” Patton said. “But if there (are teams) with a lot of money, and people who got hurt (they would be) looking for Americans to pick up.”
If a player were to be signed, she could make anywhere from $500 a month with a lower ranked team in a smaller market league to $3,000 a month with a top team in one of the stronger leagues, such as in Italy.
“I would like to play in either France, Germany or Spain,” Patton said. “Italy is the top-notch league, and France, Germany and Spain are the next caliber. They pay pretty well.”
Collier was born in Recife, Brazil, and moved to the United States six years ago. She has been playing with USF since 1998. Collier also has a preference on where to play.
“I would really like to play in Spain because the language is close to Portuguese,” Collier said.
Collier and Patton played together the last two years after Patton transferred from the University of Tampa, and they would like to remain near each other.
“It’s really hard because we play the same position,” Collier said. “But we are going to try and stay as close as possible.”
Even if the two remain close to each other, traveling overseas will separate them from their families.
Since playing professional volleyball has been their dream, Patton and Collier’s parents remain supportive.
“They’ve known it’s been a dream of mine, so they are happy,” Patton said. “My mom is kind of scared, but other than that they are pretty happy for me.”
Contact Oracle Assistant Sports Editor Bryan Fazio at email@example.com
Athletes to Write Home About will appear every Thursday this semester chronicling USF athletes trying to make it in the pros.