Not many people in Blair County can relate to Dirk Nowitzki, besides maybe sharing a love of basketball.
Chris McNaughton, though, has quite a bit in common with the NBA league and finals MVP of the Dallas Mavericks.
Both stand close to 7-feet tall. Nowitzki is from Wurzburg, Germany, where the 6-foot-11 McNaughton currently plays professional hoops.
McNaughton has been spending his summer in central Pennsylvania, though. He and his wife of six years, Ashley, currently are winding down a two-month stay in her hometown of Hollidaysburg before returning to Germany for the Aug. 10 tipoff to his training camp with s.Oliver Baskets, a team in the First Division.
The season opens on Oct. 3, eight days before McNaughton turns 31.
"I met my wife, Ashley, during our freshman year at Bucknell University," McNaughton said. "We were together all through college. During school breaks, we often traveled back to Hollidaysburg and stayed with her family. Hollidaysburg soon became my U.S. home. She grew up here and most of her family lives here."
Hollidaysburg has become the primary home for the McNaughtons during Chris' seven-year pro basketball career.
"We've spent each year living in a different city in Europe," McNaughton said. "It has been quite an adventure, but we both love it. I am lucky to have found someone willing to pack up and move with me each season and support my dream."
This year, Chris and Ashley will return for the second year to Wurzburg, a historic city in the free state of Bavaria with a fortress dating back to 700 AD.
McNaughton, whose father is a U.S. Army veteran stationed in Germany - and who's lived there ever since - started playing basketball at age 14 as he realized his towering size over friends of the same age.
"At 17 I gave up soccer altogether and even moved to nearby Bamberg in order to play for a club known for its outstanding basketball youth program," McNaughton said.
McNaughton first became a familiar name when he hit a hook shot with 10 seconds left to lift Bucknell over national powerhouse and third-seeded Kansas for the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. The Bison won in the first round the following year, too.
"To this day, that is the biggest shot I've ever made. The Kansas game is clearly one of my best basketball moments," McNaughton, who helped his team win the under-20 national championship in Germany before coming to college in America, recalled of his game-winner against the Jayhawks. "We made Bucknell and Patriot League history."
Although McNaughton likes to play golf with his friends and tennis with his wife when he's offcourt, his time in the United States isn't just for relaxation for him. He heads to Loretto two or three times a week to practice at St. Francis University with Red Flash assistant Eric Taylor. Taylor played professionally in Europe himself for more than a decade, and the two met there.
McNaughton also works out at Progressive Martial Arts fitness studio to stay in condition.
"I had several chances to play against Chris when he had important roles at the center position for German First Division teams," Taylor said. "I saw firsthand how much of a match-up problem he could be with his size, skill, strength, and mobility."
Where Taylor was known as a rebounding machine when he played at St. Francis, McNaughton has more of an inside-outside game similar in some ways to the 11-time all-star Nowitzki. McNaughton is trying to be a similar all-around threat, a big man who can knock down 3-pointers, take it to the basket off the dribble or post up and score on smaller defenders.
"I had the chance to fine tune Chris' skills," said Taylor, the Flash's post position and skill development assistant coach. "The basics and fundamental teachings in the post as well as the perimeter are my focus with Chris, and I have seen definite progress."
Interestingly, s.Oiver Baskets in the successor of Nowitzki's former club team, DJK Wurzburg.
With his American ties formed over the last 15 or so years, one might wonder why McNaughton didn't pursue an NBA or NBA Developmental League career and forego much of the shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic.
"I saw a higher chance of becoming a better player and pro in Europe than playing for an NBA D-League team," McNaughton said. "My first playing opportunity in Europe was in Barcelona, and I couldn't have asked for a better city to spend my first season."
McNaughton is certain he'll keep coming back to central Pennsylvania, though. One of his German teammates, Dwayne Anderson, just was hired as an assistant by Patrick Chambers at Penn State, and McNaughton is hoping to workout with his friend back in the area next summer.
He also likes to work with young players - "I love when I can get them excited about the game," he said - and would like to get into something basketball-related when his playing career is over. McNaughton has a degree in electrical engineering he could use, as well.
"The countryside here reminds me of Germany, "McNaughton said. "I Iove Hollidaysburg's historic small-town feel."