June 28, 2013
By Jon Cooper
– A few months back, odds were against Shaun Fein being on a basketball court celebrating a French Pro B League championship with his Antibes teammates. Long odds are expected for someone rehabbing a torn Achilles.
Then, again, as Fein has spent his life proving, nothing is impossible if the only criteria keeping him from reaching his goal is hard work.
“I set a goal for myself when I got hurt that I wanted to play again this season, whether it be the end of the regular season or the playoffs,” said Fein, who got hurt in his team’s seventh game of the season. “I had that goal set in my mind throughout the whole rehab process and just continued on that path. I knew I’d come back. I was just happy to be back on the floor and do what I could.”
He got back just in time to help Antibes, the fifth-place finisher in the League (the top eight make the playoffs) go on its title-clinching six-game winning streak. It was only Fein’s fourth team to make postseason in 12 years. Two had lost in the first round, the other, Quimper, reached the Pro B Finals in 2006-07.
“I think this year was a little bit different,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, I said from the first week of practice that this was the most talented team that I had been on, and it would be a shame if we didn’t win the championship because of the talent that we had. We had the ups and downs of the season, but I always knew if we could get healthy for the playoffs that we had a really good shot at winning the title.
“A few years ago when I played in the final, we were real underdogs going in,” he added. “We were, as a team, kind of just happy to be there. Nobody really expected us to be there. So it was kind of different.”
Nobody really expected the fifth seed to drop its first playoff game at Boulogne sur Mer then, stare down elimination and win the next two games, including the deciding game on the road in overtime, 98-95, and never lose again. They’d take out top-seeded Pau-Orthez two straight, clinching the series in overtime, 83-79, then swept third-seeded Chalon-Reims to win the title. Ironically, Antibes was 2-0 in the playoffs after not winning an overtime game during the regular season.
“It was my first title in 12 years playing professionally. so it was definitely special,” he said.
The journey for a title is the latest special chapter in what a journey for the Centerville, Mass., native of which dreams are made.
He starred at Barnstable High School as a sharp-shooting two-guard, but wasn’t recruited by a D-I school. So he played Division II ball at Stonehill College in nearby Easton, Mass. As a sophomore, he won the Northeast-10 Conference Player of the Year, only the second sophomore ever to do so.
That caught Georgia Tech’s attention, and he’d come to and star on The Flats his final two seasons.
“It was a dream come true to play Division I basketball,” said Fein, who played the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons for Tech, averaging 12.0 points on .411 shooting, .380 shooting from three (13.6, .432, .380 from three as a senior). “I was fortunate to be able to come to a school like Georgia Tech and play for Coach Cremins and for Coach Hewitt.
“It was a special experience for me, especially I got to play with one of my friends from high school, Jon Babul. The camaraderie we had as a team and being able to do something in my senior year, which nobody expected us to do, to make the NCAA Tournament, that was a really special moment because I had played in the Division II NCAA Tournament as well.”
Despite playing only two seasons, Fein still ranks in the top 15 in school history in career three-point field goal percentage (.380, 11th), three-point field goals made (140, 12th), and three-point field goals attempted (368) and his 2000-01 season still ranks 17th all-time in threes made (72).
Getting to that point might have been enough. But Fein wasn’t done. Following the end of his senior season, he participated in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, where he would meet his agent Glen Schwartzman, who got him signed to a French League team.
“He’s been working for me ever since,” said Fein. “Here we are 12 years later and I’m still playing in France. That’s how it all worked out.”
Things have worked out great for Fein, who has played five seasons in the French A league and seven more in the Pro B league. He credits his three-point shooting for his longevity.
“Being a three-point shooter is kind of a specialty, and I’ve been successful throughout my whole career in Europe shooting the ball from the three-point line, so I definitely think it’s helped the longevity of my career,” he said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, I work hard, I know my limitations on the court and my body doesn’t take a beating like a lot of the other guys that run, jump all the stuff that wear and tear on your body. I think having a specialty, like shooting, definitely prolongs your career.”
He’s in no hurry to leave France. He was granted French citizenship in 2009 (one can apply after living there five consecutive years) and is enjoying his life with his wife of six years, Nikki, a former world-class athlete herself, who won a silver medal with the U.S. Olympic Team at the 2000 Sydney Games and played in the WUSA for the Atlanta Beat — the two met in the weight room of Georgia Tech’s training facility.
“I’m very comfortable with the lifestyle in France, and my wife loves it over there, which makes it easier for me as well,” he said. “Right now we’re in the south of France. It’s an unbelievable place to live. A lot of people go there for vacation, and we actually get to live there for nine, 10 months out of the year. So we’re pretty lucky.”
Fein, who still owns a house in Atlanta, spends about two months a year in the States, visiting his in-laws on the West Coast and his family in Massachusetts in addition to his family on The Flats. He also still follows Georgia Tech basketball and the numerous alumni that are playing overseas.
“I’ve actually played Alade Aminu, who was playing in France the last couple of years,” he said. “I’m always on the Internet checking to see how the Georgia Tech guys did in Europe. I’ll keep track of B.J. Elder (who is in Italy), Gani Lawal is here, Tony McHenry is in Japan. If I know where guys are playing I’ll be sure to check the box scores and see how the team is doing and see how they’re doing individually.”
Perhaps the last major challenge facing Fein is fluency in his new native language.
“I’m still picking it up as we speak,” he said, with a laugh. “I’m learning new stuff every day, new words. It’s a very difficult language to pick up. I would say it wasn’t until about four or five years ago when I really felt comfortable having a conversation with somebody in French. Hopefully by the time my career is finished I can say I’m fluent in French.”