The flight between Mattersburg, Austria and Winnipeg is approximately 15 hours, but it was a flight former Brandon Bobcat Joey Vickery was only too happy to be on in late October.
Vickery returned to Canada this week to accept one of the highest honours an athlete can achieve in this province – being inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
A gifted athlete, Vickery made the choice in his teens to focus on basketball and never looked back.
“I was 13 years old and I had to really make a decision to play hockey or basketball,” said Vickery. “At that time I was captain of both teams, but there were many weekends where both teams were playing, and it was difficult for me to choose which one I should go to. Basketball seemed like the more realistic sport for me. Hockey seemed a bit over-the-top serious, and costly. And I just loved basketball and the school sports.”
He played the first two years of his college eligibility with the University of Winnipeg Wesmen, but it was his final three years with the Brandon University Bobcats which really set him on his hall of fame path.
While in Brandon, Vickery earned a Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union national championship and an MVP title. He credits the hard sell by then head coach Jerry Hemmings for opting in Brandon.
“I was looking to transfer to UBC (University of British Columbia), but Jerry Hemmings kept in contact with me, and eventually I decided to go to Brandon,” says Vickery. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.
“Jerry is an amazing coach and an amazing person,” added Vickery. “That’s what attracted me to Brandon. He’s genuine, and it really worked out for me.”
Hemmings was also an assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Student Games, and he made sure to give Vickery the opportunity to make the roster. That allowed him to play in the World Student Games on two occasions in Europe, foreshadowing where he would ultimately end up.
“Jerry saw something special in me, and he ends up talking to (national basketball coach) Ken Shields and I made that team,” said Vickery. “The first time was in Dusseldorf, Germany, and we ended up in fourth place. Two years in Sheffield, England, Jerry Hemmings was the head coach of the team and I was the captain, and we ended up winning the silver medal.”
Vickery continued playing in high-level events, such as the 1994 World Championship. That eventually led him to move to Europe to play basketball professionally, something he has done for more than 20 years.
“I just loved to play basketball on any court, but (playing pro) wasn’t something I had really thought about,” he says. “But I ended up moving to Victoria to centralize around Ken Shields in the winter months. I was one of 10 people who did this and we basically played basketball every day.
“We made a huge jump in our basketball conditioning and our game,” he continued. “And in that one year I made the national team and we had many tournaments overseas.”
Vickery said he started to “shine,” and won the MVP title at the Berlin Cup by shooting 17 of 20 three-point shots off the bench. This was on a team which included future NBA stars such as Steve Nash and Rick Fox.
“That’s where I started to think how can I get over here (to play professionally),” he said.
Vickery would go on to play for several teams in France, Spain and Sweden, but he spent the most time with his current club, the Mattersburg Rocks. He made the transition mid-season last year and now coaches the Rocks. He also teaches and works with the local youth program.
“I finished on a high note. I hit the winning shot and beat a team that was in first or second place,” he said.
Moving to Europe also led Vickery to meet his future wife in Austria, where he now lives year-round. They have one daughter.
Vickery will enter the hall this Saturday (Nov. 3) at the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg. The 2018 class includes curler Jeff Stoughton, swimmer Kirby Cote, hockey player Joe Daley, boxer Nieva Embuldeniya, the 1962 women’s golf team of Marg (Kiggins) Homenuik, Heather (Lawrence) Telfer, Anne Tachan, and Merlene (Wach) Netterfield, and Don Brownell for the sport of handball (posthumously).