As a Division III school, Grinnell is rarely thought of as an athletic powerhouse. While it is true that for most Pioneers, competitive sports end after graduation, there are some notable exceptions.
Keith Chamberlain ’08 excelled during his time at Grinnell and is among the select few who have gone on to play professionally after graduation. The 6’9” forward earned All-Midwest Conference honors before playing professionally after college in Germany, Latvia and Turkey.
After his stint overseas, Chamberlain returned to the United States to play in the NBA’s D-League. In an odd turn of events, Chamberlain is currently playing for the Reno Bighorns under head coach Dave Arsenault Jr. ’09. Arseneault is the son of current Grinnell men’s basketball head coach David Arseneault Sr.
Despite all of his worldly travels, Chamberlain has not forgotten his alma mater.
“No matter where I play, I take the things that I’ve learned during my years at Grinnell College with me,” Chamberlain wrote in an email to The S&B. “My experiences at Grinnell helped me … adapt to almost any situation I encounter, whether it’s learning a new language, leading teammates on the court who aren’t great English speakers or discussing the political climate of the United States with the owner of a team.”
Following in Chamberlain’s footsteps, teammate Bobby Long ’09 played in Germany after graduating from Grinnell, joining the Rattelsdorf Independents, where he excelled due to his experience with Grinnell’s famed and unique offense.
“I averaged 27.8 points per game and over five threes a game. Thanks, Grinnell System!” Long wrote in an email to The S&B.
Since playing professionally, Long has worked as an athletic director. In the fall, he will work for the Christ School in Asheville, North Carolina, a breeding ground for future NBA talent.
John Grotberg ’09 represents yet another success story to come from the Grinnell men’s basketball team. Grotberg excelled at his time at Grinnell, and was once compared to presumptive NBA MVP Stephen Curry in a Yahoo Sports article. After graduation, Grotberg played professionally in Germany and Luxembourg. Grotberg admits that while the conditions were not always ideal, it was still a great experience.
“There were no whirlpool tubs for post-game ice baths, no personal trainers, no extravagant workout facilities, but playing in tiny gymnasiums in front of small, yet raucous, crowds really emphasized the sense of community that locals have with their athletic teams. In Luxembourg, I even got eat lunch at the family-style Portuguese restaurant every day for free as a part of my ‘contract,’” Grotberg wrote in an email to The S&B.
Grotberg, who is currently earning his medical degree, found that Grinnell helped him prepare for a life of professional sports in more ways than just athletics.
“The culture of internationalism and social inquiry that permeates the Grinnell education allowed me to engage in my community while I was living abroad,” he wrote.
It’s not just basketball players who have enjoyed athletic success after Grinnell. John Aerni-Flessner ’01 was a star of the track and cross country teams at Grinnell, winning 16 Midwest Conference titles in track and one in cross country, earning All-American honors along the way. After Grinnell, Aerni-Flessner went on to get his Ph.D. in African History from Washington University in St. Louis, where he describes his running career as “basically semi-professional,” as he took third place in the Little Rock Marathon and second place in the Go! St. Louis marathon.
“My Grinnell teammates forced me to look within—that while beating competitors was an important part of competitive running, the real race was against myself,” Aerni-Flessner wrote in an email to The S&B.
A few current Pioneers dream of joining the elite ranks of Grinnellian professional athletes, as well. Joey Brown ’15 and Isaiah Tyree ’15 of the men’s soccer team have a tryout for the Des Moines Menace, a professional team in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League, on Saturday. The tryout represents a daunting task for Tyree and Brown, but one that these two athletes feel Grinnell has prepared them for.
“Four years ago, I wouldn’t even be able to consider it,” Tyree said. “A lot of soccer and athletics in general is belief in yourself, belief in your abilities. I’d say my time at Grinnell has increased that substantially. ”
Brown believes that Grinnell’s emphasis on athletes being student-athletes has “helped me find a good balance between the two as well as to push me in both arenas.”
While the two soccer players are committed to putting their best foot forward, they are trying not to go into the tryout with any expectations.
“Part of going is just figuring out, at least for me personally, where I lie with my skills and just having fun,” Tyree said.
“To see what that next level even feels like and looks like is really what it’s about for us,” Brown said.
While the next number one overall pick is unlikely to come from Grinnell in any sport, it is impressive that this tiny, isolated liberal arts college can produce such a high grade of successful, professional athletes.