Last September, former ASU women’s basketball guard Jill Noe got a call from her agent asking if she would like to take her skills overseas.
Two weeks later, she found herself more than 4,000 miles away from home in a country where she did not speak the language and did not know a soul.
Noe spent six months playing for the Jamtland basketball club in the Damligan Women’s Basketball League in Sweden.
“[You get to go] to a whole other country and leave everything you’re used to and you’re comfortable with and just place all your trust into people you don’t even know,” she said. “It was definitely a huge learning experience that I will definitely take with me for the rest of my life.”
After wrapping up her ASU career in 2008, Noe inquired about continuing her playing career in Europe. ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne gave Noe the contact information for an agent, and it wasn’t long before she booked her first professional gig.
“[The agent] gave me a call in late September and said, ‘Hey, do you want to leave in two weeks to go to Sweden?’” Noe said. “I said, ‘Sure, count me in.’”
That led her to Ostersund, a town in the province of Jamtland that is located about 345 miles northwest of Stockholm.
On her team, Noe was one of only two Americans. The other was forward Chakhia Cole, who played her college basketball at West Virginia, and the rest of the players were Swedish.
Luckily for Noe and Cole, the other players and coach also spoke English, and Noe said she also picked up some conversational Swedish throughout her stay.
“I understood a lot more [Swedish] than I could speak properly,” she said. “I was able to engage in some kinds of conversations, and the Swedish people would get a kick out of it.”
Jamtland finished its season with a record of just 6-16 and placed ninth out of 12 teams in the Damligan standings, but Noe emerged as one of the team’s top offensive threats.
The season’s schedule also allowed Noe to travel to virtually every part Sweden, as her team played squads from all over the country.
“Our furthest trip was probably 13 hours on a bus, so we definitely scaled the whole entire countryside,” she said.
Noe said that there are more similarities than differences between the American and European styles of basketball, but that she had to make one major adjustment to her game upon arriving in Sweden.
“When I first got out there, I probably had like three or four travels a game because you have to dribble the ball even before you take a step,” she said. “I didn’t have an explosive first step, just because you have to dribble first and then take off, but I kind of perfected it in practice every day and then got a lot better with it.”
But even more valuable than the basketball experience was the fact that playing in Sweden allowed Noe to immerse herself in a completely different culture for six months.
“It’s a lot more laid back and relaxed,” Noe said. “A lot of the places didn’t open until noon and then they also close very early at night. They didn’t really believe in breakfast there. If I wanted to have eggs or something, I’d have to go to the hotel.”
Noe said that the Swedish people also generally have slightly different personalities compared to people from the western United States.
“People are so nice, but they’re also more just about themselves,” she said. “You go to another place and you expect someone to open a door for you or hold the door open, but they don’t do that all. It’s like, every man for themselves. It’s probably like living in New York.”
Another adjustment Noe had to make was to the huge climate change, as winters in Sweden generally see the temperature dip below zero on a regular basis.
“You have to walk outside with a scarf over your nose because you couldn’t breathe in through your nose [because] it was so cold,” Noe said. “At one point, we were up in the northern part of Sweden and it was about -16 degrees, and my eyes would just water the second I walked outside because they were trying to freeze. It was like bone-chilling cold.”
But those extremely chilly temperatures are ideal for snowboarding, and Noe said one of her best memories from her time in Sweden was when she spent a weekend at a teammate’s cabin on Mount Are.
“It was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking,” Noe said. “Then [after snowboarding], there’s what’s called ‘after-ski,’ and everyone just comes off the mountain and goes straight into the bars and there’s like a huge party with a live band, and I just thought that was so much fun. That was probably one experience that I will never, ever forget.”
Noe returned home from Sweden in early March, which was just in time for her to watch her former Sun Devil teammates make their run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
“I was so ecstatic and happy for them,” she said. “They had definitely been through a lot this past season, and just to see how they bounced back [was amazing]. You could see how much heart they played with and they just wouldn’t go down without a fight.”
Noe is currently back in her home state of Oregon, but she said she wants to play overseas again this coming fall because of her positive experience in Sweden.
“[It] definitely has made me a tougher person and allowed me to just understand another culture and another environment and really accept other people and respect how they live,” Noe said.
She just has one condition.
“I told the agent that I’m only going somewhere warm,” she said.
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