On the list of Division I men’s basketball field-goal percentage leaders for 2006-07, only five of the top 50 spots are held by players 6 feet, 5 inches or shorter.
And there he is less than four-tenths of a percentage point off that list – 6-foot-5 Cal Poly senior swingman Derek Stockalper. With skills tailor-made for the international game, Stockalper will now have the chance to make a name for himself overseas. He will leave in July for Switzerland, where he will play for the Swiss National Team alongside Chicago Bulls rookie Thabo Sefolosha and others.
“I’m kind of a European-type player anyway,” Stockalper said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home in San Diego. “Their skills are really good. I’d say I fit.”
It would certainly seem so, considering Stockalper shot .540 from the field this past season, including a .496 mark from 3-point range. He led the Mustangs in points (14.4) and rebounds (7.0) per game as a senior, adding 2.2 assists in 30.9 minutes.
Stockalper, who was born in Vevey, Switzerland, on March 4, 1984, keyed a resurgent campaign for Cal Poly this past year. The Mustangs (19-11) earned their most wins in a season since moving to the Division I level in 1994-95, posted their best Big West Conference winning percentage ever (.643), had their best record and most wins overall since going 19-9 in 1991-92, went 12-2 at home and won 13 of their final 16 games.
If Cal Poly could have held on to its lead with less than 13 minutes to play in the Big West tourney title game, it would have reached the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m real proud of how our team ended up,” Stockalper said. “I thought we started to play well toward the end of the season. It’s a shame we couldn’t get that going in the start. You can’t wish for everything. I’m glad I could make my mark there at Cal Poly. I’m glad I played for (head) coach (Kevin) Bromley. I’ll be speaking with him for the rest of my life.”
Stockalper, who is currently working out in San Diego “getting ready to go,” has already graduated with a degree in history.
The two-time first-team All-Big West pick headed overseas for about two weeks after Cal Poly’s season ended March 10 to practice and meet the Swiss National Team’s head coach, Manu Schmitt. Stockalper’s brother Doug played professionally in Switzerland after a collegiate career at the University of San Diego, where Stockalper himself played his freshman year before transferring to MiraCosta College and then Cal Poly in 2004-05 (a medical redshirt season).
Now at the end of a collegiate career that ranks among the best in school history, Stockalper is excited to embark on a new journey, even if unsure of exactly how it will turn out.
“I have to get a real job for a little bit,” he said. “I want to start some sort of job and see what happens from there. You can develop opportunities playing over there also.”
The first major test for the Swiss National Team this summer will come when it plays a scrimmage in Switzerland against the French National Team, which features NBA stars Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Mickael Pietrus.
“That will be interesting,” Stockalper said.
As for long-term plans, Stockalper said he hopes to find a spot playing professionally in Italy. That was the route taken by Sefolosha, who starred for Angelico Biella in Italy’s top pro league in 2005-06 before being chosen with the 13th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.
“I want to start in Switzerland and play there for a couple years, hear what kind of comes up out of that,” he said. “Who knows from there? Eventually, I would like to get in the Italian League. I went over there and saw a couple games. Those guys are pretty serious.”
The NBA is becoming more serious about international players. An all-time league record 83 international players were on NBA rosters at the start of the regular season last November, including eventual league MVP Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), first- and second-team All-NBA picks Steve Nash (Canada), Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Yao Ming (China) and last year’s No. 1 overall draft choice, Andrea Bargnani (Italy).
Much of the globalization of the game is credited to the legendary 1992 Dream Team, which took the Gold Medal in dominating fashion and sparked interest in the game worldwide in the process.
“The competition over there is getting better and better,” Stockalper said of overseas leagues. “A lot of teams over there could compete in the NBA pretty well. There are guys over there who go to basketball school instead of high school. It becomes part of their culture. People over there are getting a head start.”
Stockalper also said the experience had by American teenagers playing in Amateur Athletic Union events differs from those overseas.
“Personally, over here (when) you’re getting hooked up with AAU teams, you don’t really work on your skills,” he said. “It’s just going around being evaluated by college coaches. It’s more just playing. Those guys over there are putting up 500 jump shots (per day).”
For the record, Stockalper put up 291 shots as a senior, finishing third among all Big West players in field-goal percentage.
Along with forwards Tyler McGinn and Joe Henry, Stockalper is part of a small senior class that could have set the table for even more of a breakout year for the Mustangs in 2007-08.
“I had great teammates and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do next year,” Stockalper said.