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Not just another basketball player


German foreign exchange student hopes to play either in college or the highest level German league

Janis Schultz just wants to be known as a basketball player.

Schultz, a foreign exchange student from Germany, is currently playing basketball on the Mitchell/Spray basketball team.by: LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Janis Schultz goes up for a fast break layup against the Crook County High School JV basketball team. The German foreign exchange student is playing basketball for Mitchell/Spray this year and is one of the teams leading scorers.

“He works really hard,” said Mitchell/Spray Head Coach Garey Fischer. “He’s a good kid to coach and probably has more experience than the rest of the kids on the floor.”

What first draws your attention to Schultz on the floor is his quiet confidence, and his ball handling and passing skills.

The 5-10 guard is fearless going to the basket against larger post players, and aggressively goes after rebounds.

It is only after you have watched Schultz play for a few minutes that you begin to see what really sets him apart. Born with one leg missing just below the knee, Shultz plays on a prosthetic leg.

The artificial leg makes it difficult for Schultz to jump off of both legs, and makes it hard for him to drive to his left. Still, Schultz doesn’t want to be known as a one-legged basketball player. Instead he wants to succeed because of his hard work and talent.

“When I first started playing, people would say a person with a prosthetic can’t run or something like that,” Schultz said. “It’s a challenge.”

Schultz explained that he actually has more difficulty with the language barrier at practice than he does because of having a prosthetic leg.

“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I don’t recognize that I have a prosthetic leg anymore. I just play, but some of the other players are hard to understand.”

After an initial adjustment period, he has had little difficulty understanding the coaches in Mitchell and Spray. Instead, it is the other foreign exchange students that he has had difficulty understanding.

There are several other foreign exchange students on the roster, which has led to some challenges blending the team together. Still, in their first year as a co-op team, the Mitchell/Spray basketball team has gotten off to a 3-3 start.

Most of the players currently earning varsity playing time played for either Mitchell or Spray last season. Schultz, as a newcomer, has been a notable exception, averaging more than 20 minutes a game.

“It’s hard to play with these guys when I have never played with them before because I have to get in my rhythm,” he said. “But I think we have pretty good potential for the future.”

In a recent loss to the Crook County High School JV team, Schultz led Mitchell/Spray with 15 points and 8 rebounds. He is averaging just over 10 points a game, and has consistently been one of the team’s top rebounders.

Since Germany does not have school-sanctioned middle or high school teams, Schultz has often had to play against older, more experienced players. That experience has helped him transition to playing high school ball in the United States.

Nevertheless, he found the transition to to be challenging.

“It's way more athletic in the United States than Germany,” he said. “It’s faster and more body contact. I like the difference because in Germany I have to play with older people.”

Perhaps the biggest hurdle that Schultz has had to overcome is that his prosthetic device causes pain when he steps wrong or tries to make a quick cut.

“It makes it difficult because sometimes it hurts a lot when I play and sometimes I can’t have a lot of pressure on it,” he said. “But I’m used to it. It’s just the way it is.”

He added that because he can’t jump off of that leg, it changes how he has to play.

“I have full power in my left leg so I can still jump high, but I just can’t jump from my right leg,” he said. “I need to get into a better position so that I don’t need to jump that high to get my rebounds.

Still, Schultz wouldn’t have it any other way. His goal is to continue playing basketball and to eventually step up to the next level of play.

“I want to either play in the highest league in Germany or to play for a college team or university,” he said.

Schultz realizes that in order to accomplish that, he still has a lot of work to do.

“I need to improve on everything,” he said. “Conditioning, passing, dribbling, shooting.”

Not only does Schultz want to continue to play basketball, he also wants to encourage others who might have some other kind of adversity to play as well.

“Of course I would encourage others to play,” he said. “It’s a great game. If you want to play and are willing to work hard enough, anyone can make it.”