Let’s catch up with Jesper and Eva Gilling, the traveling basketball parents from Denmark. If it’s Thursday, they must be in Nothridge, California, right?
Well, let’s see. They were in Seattle last week to see daughter Mathilde (a junior) and the Washington women’s team. And they were in Tucson, Arizona, on Sunday to see son Jonathan (a senior) and the Arizona State men play at rival Arizona. “So you’ve got a full venue of 15,000 people just hating your kid,” Jesper said. “That’s a nice experience.”
Yep, Thursday is California State Northridge and daughter Caroline (a freshman). The Matadors are hosting UC Davis Thursday.
It’s the annual Gilling holiday tour, where Jesper and Eva jump on a plane in Copenhagen, and head for America to start hop-scotching around the nation like politicians on the campaign trail, trying to catch a glimpse of all their kids playing U.S. college basketball. All four of their children have done it. Imagine the von Trapp family, with jump shots instead of harmony.
This time, it’s 10 games in five cities and three states, in 23 days. From San Diego to Tempe to Seattle, back to Tempe, then Tucson, then Northridge. Seeing each child’s team at least three times. Lots of basketball -- plus one other perk.“Being in the sunshine,” Jesper said. “We have a dark time in Denmark right now.’’
Dark? Back in Rungsted Kyst, night starts to fall by 3:30 p.m. this time of year, so Arizona seems pretty nice. But then, for parents whose children are living nearly 6,000 miles away, any place to see them would be nice. Basketball just happens to be the conduit, even if it was never quite planned that way.
“It hasn’t been a project from the beginning that we would like to produce basketball players,” Jesper said. No, back when the family lived in the Alps in Liechtenstein, the kids could look out their windows at 6,000-foot mountains. They hiked, skied, biked, played tennis. Anything active to make for a healthy body, because that is what the parents believed in. Basketball was just another way to keep fit.
But here’s the thing: Jesper is 6-foot-6. Eva is 6-1. So when they moved to Denmark and opened a dental practice, the kids were getting older -- and taller -- and they happened onto the Horsholm 79ers, a basketball club that had good coaches and a habit of sending players to American colleges. Many young Danes go for team handball. The Gilling children had other ideas. It wasn’t long before Jonathan was sending sway for DVD’s of NBA and college games.
“We just got the feeling that was a good place for our kids,” Jesper said. “They knew all the players who had gone to the States, so the dream came into the children from other players.”
Plenty of U.S. parents know the drill; trying to rush to all the different kids’ youth league games on the same weekend in the suburbs. Jesper and Eva had to do it one time in Stockholm.The rest is Gilling family history. Sofie was first, off to Seminole State College in Florida. She now goes to school back in Denmark. Then Jonathan to Arizona State. He specializes in 3-pointers the way his parents specialize in crown replacements, having 232 of them at last count. He can tell you how things are going in Danish, Swedish, German and English. Then Mathilde left for Washington. And finally Caroline.
“There was a lot of pressure on [Caroline], being the last one, making the choice if she wanted to go to the States,” her father said. “She was a probably a little bit hesitant, wondering if she was good enough.”
Eva sent out an email with game tapes of Caroline to Big West colleges, hoping to attract interest. The story goes that CSUN coach Jason Flowers answered in five minutes.
“That is correct,” Jesper answered.
“Two minutes,” Eva corrected in the background.
“That was a Sunday evening in Denmark, and he was probably just sitting by his computer, and something popped up,” Jesper said. Now Caroline is coming off the bench for the Matadors, averaging 3.8 points per game.
This is the first year that Jesper and Eva have had to work three schools into the itinerary. “Not a problem,” Jesper said. “You just take your credit card and make some clicks on your computer back home, and you’re floating all around.’’
The scheduling gods were with them. Both Mathilde and Caroline happened to play at San Diego State within three days of each other. Jonathan and Mathilde played on consecutive nights in Tucson. In between all that, the entire family gathered in Tempe for Christmas -- all the kids who used to have shooting contests back in Denmark to see who had to wash the dishes.
“It’s important to bring the family together, with everybody so busy at their own destinations,” Jesper said. “As a parent, it’s good to see the world they live in, and be better able to understand what their options are. The great thing is to give them the opportunity to experience another culture in another country and try to suck out all the good things and compare it to the culture they come from back home.”
Through Monday, the parents were 6-2 on their trip. They have two games left in Northridge with Caroline, before returning to Denmark on Jan. 11.
Any souvenirs? “Probably more CSUN gear that we don’t have,” he said. They already have Washington and Arizona State stuff.
Back home, they’ll resume the routine of sometimes going to bed very early, so they can get up in the wee hours of the morning and catch one of the kid’s games on the computer. They look forward to March, like everyone else.
You wonder. Now that he’s seen so many places, where would Jesper choose, if he were being recruited? Arizona, Washington or California?
“I would play for Kentucky,’’ he said. “To win a national championship.”
Obviously, Jesper knows his college basketball.