For Marco Calise, basketball is more than a job. It’s a journey – almost an odyssey – that’s taken him all around Europe and across the pond to the United States to do what he does best. Connect.
Marco and his agency, Mansfield & Associates, provide professional basketball players with the necessary guidance to thrive in a new and largely unpaved market, where corrupt mentorship and representation still get masked as opportunities.
This is where Marco comes in, handling anything and everything “behind the scenes” to make sure the athletes can focus on what’s important – the game.
It’s the time, effort and most importantly, an authenticity, he puts into the player recruiting and managing process that makes him a trustworthy contact.
And that sincerity, coupled with decades of knowledge from being around the game of basketball, has allowed Marco to help resuscitate the careers of guys like former Louisville star, Kevin Ware.
Marco had visited Atlanta in 2013, seeing Ware in action live at the NCAA Tournament. A couple years later, he personally recruited Ware to Mansfield, having a hand in helping an athlete come back from what’s still regarded as one of the worst injuries in live sports.
“He gained my trust,” Ware said about what makes Marco different. “I know with agents, it’s a recruiting process not only for them, but also for the organization that they work with. I did not want to be just another guy. Marco made me a priority from the jump.”
This is Marco’s story.
When it comes to overseas ball, an agent means one thing: connections.
According to a report pulled from the Eurobasket database, there’s 6,717 American basketball players (men and women) playing overseas in the last five years.
That’s nearly 7,000 individuals looking to establish themselves in a foreign market in a sport that – despite its rapid growth – is foreign.
Playing in Europe, or overseas in general, is far different from a professional career in the NBA. From the culture amongst players to whether a player talks back to a coach to the way they’re treated by the franchise and fans – everything is different.
The style of play, primarily, is different, forcing players who’ve had success in the NBA – like a DeJuan Blair – to the airport with bags packed headed back to the U.S.
Practices and training schedules differ, with the Euro style leaning heavily on endurance, skill and even time off as opposed to two-a-days and added lifting sessions the American athlete is used to.
In the NBA, salaries are public record; overseas, salaries are not. Teams overseas often will release an overall budget, but usually not for individual players.
With that said though, there’s no minimum or maximum overseas – a player gets what he and his agent negotiate for and accept. The player doesn’t pay the agent for their representation, but the agency and individual agent will get paid from the team for the placement.
In the NBA, this isn’t the case at all with teams only paying the player. Understandably, this can lead to a series of issues, most notably an agent trying to swindle a player for money for representation and/or placement.
As one professional basketball player currently playing in Germany anonymously put it, “beware of anyone asking for money upfront […] before putting in any work.”
When someone signs overseas – unlike the NBA – they are now more alone than ever before. And it’s essentially this wild west landscape of overseas basketball that makes Marco and his agency, Mansfield & Associates, a true partner for a pro ball player.
But for those who can keep their head above water and find a role on a team, the experience is an accumulation of travels and memories that potentially transcend the bright lights and glimmer a career in the NBA offers.
“I always wanted to have an impact on players’ lives, having them [look to me] for guidance and a person to trust on the human and professional levels,” Calise said.
Mansfield has been around for 28-plus years, an American company originally that branched into different markets and now is regarded as one of the best sports firms in Budapest. They work and manage players in all European Union (EU) countries, with Marco leading the Italian office, and having an influence on the Northern and Western Europe markets.
With the overall infrastructure of overseas basketball still having some issues with teams not paying properly and other similar obstacles, Mansfield’s experience in a range of issues – civil, arbitration, corporate law, economic criminal law – to go along with their sports expertise makes them, and Marco as an extension, a reliable source of information.
The adage knowledge is power is practically the moral of any story being told to a potential overseas ball player. The information is out there, but the players must be aware of it.
“[Marco] always kept it honest with me and told me the things I needed to hear and not want to hear,” added George Valentine, former Winthrop University star and pro basketball player in Iceland, Austria, Slovakia and now, Sweden (Umea).
Even the simplest bit of information like the fact that steadfast agents and firms won’t charge the player money upfront is unfamiliar to a recent college graduate looking to pave their pro career in Europe.
And Marco, maybe because he’s just a nice guy or because he’s seen every side of this business, can properly direct a player through this obstacle course to find the best situation for a player.
“He took care of me from a bad situation and had a lot of faith in me and in my professional career,” said Maurice Lewis-Briggs, former scoring-leader, and current player in Luxembourg.
Prior to joining Mansfield a couple years back, Marco worked as a sports journalist in Italy, a statistical analyst working with FIBA’s (International Basketball Federation) proprietary software, as well as an interpreter and event coordinator in Germany.
“Basketball has been my world since forever,” Calise said. “First as a kid just going to watch games, then as a player, I worked in several areas of this game before joining a sports agency.”
He has a Master’s degree in Law, and can communicate in English, Italian, Spanish, and even some German.
Marco has been around the game since he was a kid, dreaming and hoping to one day work within professional basketball. But what makes him good at his job is the same reason he’s gotten to this point in his career as such a highly-revered point of contact in the overseas professional basketball space.
Having always been interested in what’s going on off the court and “behind the scenes,” Marco pivoted his entire career some years back to make sure he would be on the right path.
This level of self reflection, he admits, isn’t easy to arrive to, but does put into perspective the purpose of one’s work.
He credits the mentorship of guys like Jamel Thomas and Chris Monroe for helping him take the necessary steps to turn a passion into a career. Thomas – well known in the basketball world as Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair’s cousin – helped Marco “to open his eyes and move into the position” he’s in now.
But even beyond proper guidance and educational background, Marco takes pride in his work and life because he took the leap so many others aren’t able to. He forced himself to travel, living abroad in Austria in 2014 for six months to build a contact list and network with folks he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
He was and is so enthusiastic about the game and an opportunity to work within it, that he figured out a path to his destination.
And because he could successfully navigate through treacherous waters, his knowledge and experience now provide the perfect mentorship for other newcomers to the wild west that is overseas professional basketball.