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Magee Glad to Be Back in the U.S.A. : Basketball: Former UC Irvine standout is ready to enjoy the fruits of his successful 12-year pro career in European leagues.

October 20, 1994|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — How long has it been since Kevin Magee spent an autumn at home in Southern California?

Apparently, a very, very long time.

"This is the most exciting time of my life," said the former UC Irvine All-American who recently retired after 12 years of playing pro basketball in European leagues. "I can't wait to see the leaves turn colors on the trees."

Uh , Kevin, you might be in for a disappointment there. But you can't deter his enthusiasm. He'll settle for watching Buddy Ryan's face turn colors.

"Then Monday Night Football," he said. "Isn't Monday Night Football great?"

Twelve years ago, Magee was deeply disappointed that he wasn't a first-round pick in the NBA, then hurt when the Phoenix Suns didn't offer him a guaranteed contract. He finally decided to take his chances in Verase, Italy.

For 12 years, he fought his crusade in Italy, Spain, Israel and France, and has returned home with a capitalist's version of the Holy Grail--a string of investments that will allow him to live a life of leisure.

Today, Magee is a very wealthy man of 35, sending his children off to school, having lunch with the contractor who is landscaping his new Rancho Santa Margarita home and pondering what to do with his spare time.

Today, Magee smiles a lot.

Twelve years ago, he didn't.

At UC Irvine, Magee was unstoppable, indefatigable and simply incredible. Game after game, he faced special defenses, double- and triple-team schemes and game after game, he foiled them. During his two seasons at Irvine, he twice was a first-team All-American and twice he was in the top 10 nationally in field-goal percentage, scoring and rebounding, a feat never before accomplished.

Regarding Magee's chances to make it in the NBA, Jerry West said, "He's a great rebounder and a tremendous runner and that's what this league is all about." In March, 1982, West predicted Magee would be drafted in the first half of the first round.

Three months and a less-than-inspired performance in an NBA pre-draft camp later, Magee ended up going in the second round, the 39th selection.

"I always counted on playing in the NBA, but I really have no regrets," he said. "At first, I was hurt that they didn't think I was worth a guaranteed contract in the NBA and I thought I got the raw end of the deal.

"But in the NBA, I just would have been another player, another number. In Europe, I was almost like a Michael Jordan. I was voted most valuable player six times in three different leagues. I won eight rebounding titles in 12 years. I had an illustrious career."

Magee made more than $600,000 playing in Paris during his second-to-last season. In the mid-1980s, he signed a four-year, $1.2-million deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv that included a rent-free, five-bedroom home in an upscale suburb, a new car, the hefty tuition for his kids to go to a private American school, travel expenses for his family and a clause that paid all foreign taxes.

Who needs the NBA?

"My wife and kids had the chance to experience different countries and different cultures," he said. "I did what I wanted to do, I had fun and I made a lot of money.

"Now, I wouldn't change nothing about my basketball career."

The money was always guaranteed, but each move was a bit of a gamble nonetheless. Magee usually only had a notion of what he was getting into.

"Israel?" he says, smiling. "I expected nothing but sand and people riding camels."

After a year in Italy, Magee signed a contract with Zaragosa of the Spanish League. He and his wife, Melanie, stayed in a hotel for the first two months.

"Jeremy was 10 months old then," Melanie said, "and we didn't have a refrigerator so we either had to keep the formula in the sink or go to the kitchen downstairs. It was pretty depressing."

Said Kevin: "We weren't used to being overseas, we both were crying like babies all the time. You go to the grocery store, you can't read what anything is. You turn on the TV, you can't tell what anyone is saying.

"I called Dennis (Harwood, Magee's attorney/agent) and said, 'Get me out of this contract. I'll come home and get a job at McDonald's.' I just didn't think I could take it. But Dennis told me to just hang in there because it will get better. I figured it couldn't get worse. And we hung in there . . . we hung in there for 12 years."

Magee's next stop was a stint in Israel where he immediately endeared himself to the Tel Aviv fans by telling reporters how "damned rude" the people were and how bad the food was.

"Kevin's kind of opinionated," Melanie said, smiling. "The journalists were really (angry) when he complained about the food and said the only reason he was in their country was to make money for his family."

Magee tried to explain that "I didn't mean no harm," but his rebounding and ability to flash the numbers on the scoreboard did more to soothe the fans' anger than his semi-retraction.

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