One-time EuroLeague guard Mark Dickel planted the seed in young Ben Madgen's head half a decade ago. It sprouted in 2015 into the unconventional journey of a 30-year-old Australian starting a basketball career in Europe. And Madgen has turned out to be an integral part of Lietkabelis Panevezys’s successful run to the Top 16 of the EuroCup in the Lithuanian club’s devut season in the competition.
"So far the EuroCup has lived up to all the expectations that I thought. The competition is amazing and to be able to travel around Europe and play some of the best local European players and great import players has been a dream come true for me,” said Madgen, who is Lietkabelis’s second-leading scorer with 11.3 points to go with 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. "To be able to play at a good level with these guys is why I came here, to show I can play at this level."
A dream-come-true for a player who had already maxed out in the Australian NBL, having established himself as one of the league’s best players and serving for three years as captain of the Sydney Kings. “I really wanted to challenge myself again like I had coming out of college [at Augusta State in the United States] and playing professionally in Australia. I thought the next step for me was to challenge myself in Europe,” said Madgen, who played five years for the Kings.
It was during his rookie season with Sydney in 2010 that Madgen received some counselling for the future from New Zealand international Dickel, who played for Fenerbahce in Europe as well as German giant Brose Bamberg in the EuroLeague and Poland’s Anwil Wloclawek in the EuroCup.
“I was a rookie in Sydney and he really put the idea of Europe in my mind and how that should be my main goal. Ever since he pushed me my rookie year I always had that goal,” Madgen said. “Some people might think that 30 is too late to come over here, but my body felt fantastic.”
The European journey landed the Adelaide native in Belgium with VOO Wolves Verviers-Pepinster. And his transition went well as Madgen led the Scoore League in scoring with 19.6 points per game last season. “I was advised that it was a good league to go to and showcase your talents and it’s fairly similar to the Australian league because it is more fast paced than some of the other European leagues. And that worked out really well.”
The next logical step for Madgen was improving in competition, which meant on a European stage. And after wading through some offers, he ended up with Lietkabilis. The move to Lithuania also meant the 31-year-old would have to step up his game. “In Lithuania it was a bit more structured than I had ever played before. I really had to up my game,” said Madgen, who needed to adjust to running more structured set plays. “I think that’s something that was a big adjustment for me, but it’s something that I’m very proud of - to have been able to adjust to a different style and philosophy of play and be successful. I’m really enjoying the challenge of it all. I think this year was more of an adjustment period than my first year in Belgium.”
Madgen’s voice exudes a lot of joy when he talks about his time in Europe - whether it’s initial difficulties distinguishing between the Lavrinovic twins, Darjus and Ksistof, or having his name butchered all over the place. “They even put the G before the D on the scoreboard some times,” he said.
This season has also brought his native Australia a bit closer to Madgen. His very first game for Lietkabelis was against Zalgiris Kaunas in the Lithuanian LKL league, and he got to face off against compatriot Brock Motum. “Awesome; two Aussies in Lithuania is pretty cool, especially playing against each other.”
In addition, Madgen’s sister Tess Madgen came to Europe and plays in the Polish top league. Madgen doesn’t know how long he’ll stay in Europe. “This is a huge bucket list item for my career to be able to tick off this season,” he said. Thanks to that seed from Mark Dickel six years ago.