Joe Werner has had an eventful 11 years.
He walked on to the UW-La Crosse men’s basketball team, earned a spot, forced his way into the starting lineup and became an elite WIAC player.
He caught the eye of the Green Bay Packers in a workout, participated in a training camp and ran out onto Lambeau Field for a preseason game.
And he’s played professional basketball all over the world.
“When I graduated college I didn’t think this is what we’d be doing,” Werner said. “I just happened to get lucky, got a chance. It’s been going on from there.”
Werner’s talent on the hardwood will again take him and his family to a foreign land this fall as he gets ready for his second season of playing basketball in the Basketball Japan League.
He has a new team — the Kyoto Hannaryz — and is expecting a second child with wife, former UW-L women’s basketball player Katy Searing.
“This past year I had a pretty good year and the team I was on is actually moving up to a different league,” said the 6-foot-7 Werner, who averaged 19.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game with the Jets. “But we knew that the Kyoto team has been one of the teams that has been on the top in the league.”
Kyoto has reached the semifinals of the league playoffs the past two seasons.
“They’ve played really well and I expect that again this year,” Werner said. “(To) make the playoffs and go far.”
Werner, a Chippewa Falls, Wis., native made the UW-L men’s basketball team as a sophomore and was named WIAC player of the year as a senior, helping the Eagles reach the NCAA tournament. Despite not playing football in college, Werner impressed the Packers to the point where he earned a spot at training camp as a tight end, and even played in a preseason game at Lambeau Field before getting released before the season.
He’s played professionally in Australia, Germany and Austria before signing with the Chiba Jets last season.
Werner will leave at the end of August to begin training with his new team, but he’ll return in mid-September when Katy is due to give birth. He’ll get three days with his wife and new child before going back to Japan for the season. His wife and two children will join him later in the season.
Adjusting to life in urban Japan was challenging at first for Werner and his family.
“It was a lot different, the first couple weeks we didn’t know if we were going to make it but we ended up getting into a routine and stuck with it and we had a good experience with it all,” Werner said.
Another tough aspect to adjust to in Japan was communication. In Japan, Werner’s coaches do not speak English, meaning he needed to help from a translator to overcome the language barrier with his team.
Now a veteran of basketball on four different continents, Werner said he’s learned to be ready for anything whenever he steps onto a basketball court.
“There’s nothing to be expected when you go play (oversees), it’s just different,” Werner said. “So after playing for a few years you’re just ready for anything.”
That’s what makes the international journey that much more exciting for Werner.
“When you’re young and you’ve got the opportunity to do it, you might as well take advantage of it,” Werner said. “We like to travel, so it’s a good chance to do it now. So, why not?”