One of the most charismatic players I have ever seen. He’s got the looks of course but the way he appreciates his fans is the trait which amazes me the most.
In this exclusive tete`-a-tete´ with the American opposite hitter, I had the chance to ask a lot of things like his upcoming wedding with the beautiful Brett, his life in Turkey & thoughts on his current team, the money issues he has/had when playing in Greece last season, his short stay in Korea & where he wants to play again if he could turn back time.
A lot has changed for the Brody Jenner lookalike since he left the USA National Team in 2009.
Ace: The last post about you on Volleywood was your engagement to the beautiful Brett Quirarte. It’s been more than 3 months and how’s life with Brett so far?
Brook: For the first couple months after our engagement our lives were a bit of a whirlwind. We only had the few months of summer to spend with our friends and family at home in California and we wanted to make the most of it. Brett’s mom, Dana Wall, was in town for the engagement and had us looking at a venue the very next day. It was exciting sharing the news with all our friends and family but also very exhausting trying to celebrate with everyone before our trip to Istanbul.
Since living in Istanbul it has been a lot more mellow and back to normal life. We are still doing a lot of wedding planning stuff from here but we have a lot of help from friends and family at home.
I guess to answer the question though…Life with Brett is incredible. She is my rock and when I have a bad day in the gym or whatever I am always so thankful to have her to come home to to cheer me up. I couldn’t imagine life without her now.
Ace: How did you 2 spend your V-day? Your first as an engaged couple.
Brook: Our team has actually been on the road since the 11th for 2 matches in Ankara. I had gotten Brett a little something and hid it at home for her to wake up to. She sent mine to Ankara with a little something in my bag. Its really hard being away from her on special days but its part of the job.
I know Brett spent the majority of her day baking cupcakes and pumpkin bars back home in Istanbul. I can’t tell you how pumped I am to get home to my little family and those treats!
Ace: Don’t’ mean to be very nosy, but how’s the wedding preparations?
Brook: I think we have almost everything covered. We did a lot of the big stuff before we left. We booked Rancho Dos Pueblos in Santa Barbara…a little spot that is special to both Brett and I. Brett’s mom is doing a lot with the organization part of it. Hotels, caterers, decoration, etc… Its been a little stressful with being so far away and relying on the Internet but in the end it will all work out I’m sure.
Ace: Brook, this is your second time playing in Turkey. The first time was in 2008 (?) with Fenerbahce and now you’re playing for İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi. What kind of adjustments did you go through? How did you prepare for your return to Turkey? What made you decide to go back to Turkey? Tell us about the fans?
Brook: Actually its my 3rd time playing in Turkey. I played for a team called Erdimer Spor with Donald Suxho and Gabe Gardner in 2004/2005 where we won the championship. We played in a small city called Eregli on the Black Sea about 3 hours outside of Istanbul.
Coming to IBB was an easy adjustment for me. I hadn’t played with any of these guys before but I know most of them from previous seasons…mainly from when I played in Fenerbahce. I knew it was going to be more of an adjustment for Brett but she had also been to Istanbul when she was only 16 and loved it then.
I will never have anything to say bad about Turkey. I really love living in Istanbul as it has so much to offer. You can never get bored with Istanbul for one because its so big and for two it is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever been to.
IBB does not have the fan base that the big football clubs do. Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce all have a strong fan base that follow all sports. IBB is a younger club and still volleyball is not a big sport in Turkey. I was really happy to see the size of the crowds in Izmir when Kevin Hansen and his team Arkas were competing in Champions League this season. There is support for volleyball in Turkey but the fans are still not coming to all matches.
Ace: If you can also tell me more about your current team (players you played with, location, training schedule and etc).
Brook: This season the league decided to only have a 2 + 1 foreign rule. In previous years Turkey had 3 +1. This means you can have 3 foreigners on the team but only 2 on the court. The league wants to raise the level of the Turkish National team and give the Turkish players more opportunities.
Our team bought a player from Belarus named Sergei Antunovic who can play as both a OH and an Opposite. He is our utility player. Strong young kid that can knock the air out of the ball in attack. We also picked up a guy who had played here for 2 season already from the Netherlands, Jereon Trommel. Trommel is a very technical player who is good at all skills. He won the championship with IBB against my team Fenerbahce. Although I like to say he was the MVP that season because he came under the net and took out our setter in the 2nd match with a severe ankle sprain icon wink Brook Billings (We smashed them 3-0 the first match and then lost every set with our 2nd setter).
Our Turkish players are a mix of very young players and some older guys. We have a lot of players who are 19-23 yrs old that have a lot to learn about the game. The Turkish players make a lot of money in their own country. They live a good life and I feel a lot of them take it for granted…not knowing what it is like to live outside of your own country.
Ace: Last season, you played in Greece for Iraklis. The economic crisis in Greece has affected the pro-leagues, ie volleyball. Some players left their teams unpaid. Some lost a lot of money. As far as I know a couple of teams shut down because they just didn’t have the funds to operate.It was just a mess. From what I know, your former team owes you money.
What actions have you taken to at least get the money you were contracted to get paid for?
Brook: My former team Iraklis in Thessaloniki was full of promise. They were upfront about money issues through the season but always promised that we would get paid. They always came up with enough money to keep us there for another month…With this and the fact that our team was in 1st place almost the entire season was really hard to leave. I didn’t want to leave the guys and trusted the club was going to pay us at the end of the season.
As soon as the season was over and I was out of Greece the club stopped answering emails and my phone calls. I eventually had to hire a lawyer who lives in Thessaloniki but I have still not seen one cent from the club who continued to buy new players, compete in the Greek Championship as well as Champions League this year.
I know its bad for the sport if all the teams were to shut down. But there needs to be some kind of penalty from the the governing body of volleyball for these situations. Something like not allowing them to buy foreign players until their debt is paid and or docking them points in the league. Or even restricting them to compete in the European Cups.
Ace: Straight from the heart, would you ever play in Greece again?
I loved living in Greece and met some really nice people. I loved the guys on the team and enjoyed playing in the league for the most part. I had some really terrible experiences with some of the fans there I.E…getting spit on several times from opposing fans. Fans throwing explosives onto the court and even getting crap emails from our own fans after a loss.
To answer the question though…Not in the current state of the country.
Ace: I don’t mean to take you back to the past but I’m just really curious about how teams in Korea train their pro athletes. From what I’ve read, they go through a lot of training. Hours and hours of physical work each day. If management thinks you’re not meeting their requirements as their foreign player, then they just let you go.
Brook: I don’t mind going back to memories of Korea. I really enjoyed my time there. When I first showed up with my team I weighed about 101 kilos and the team wanted me to be 95k. I haven’t weighed 95 kilos since i was a junior in high school.
For the first week or so they didn’t want me doing much with the ball and only working on weights and running. We trained twice a day for 2 ½ hrs each. May have been 3 in the evening. After weights in the morning the assistant coach had me up at the track running 15 laps under 30 minutes 3 times a week. Then after the evening training they had us running around the court at a high tempo as well.
A bone in my left ankle fractured and I was out for 5 months before the season even started. It was really a bummer cuz I enjoyed the hard trainings and culture.
Ace: How was life in Korea? From the day you got there until the day you left your team?
Brook: I had my own apartment which is something rare in Korea. A lot of the guys have to live with the entire team in a training camp type situation. It was nice to have my freedom but I enjoyed eating lunches with the team at their complex often. They had a chef that cooked for them 3 times a day and the physical therapist who worked on guys constantly.
The level of volleyball was really high. Incredible control but our team did not have high aspirations. I was the first foreigner KEPCO 45 had ever bought and they were adjusting to me as well. They wanted to win 15 matches total for the season.
It was a blessing in disguise being let go from Korea. Brett came to visit me the day I signed to break the contract. While being in Asia we decided to take a week long trip to Bali where our relationship turned into more then dating.
Regarding the managers not being afraid to let go of the players who don’t live up to the potential I think it has more to do with the managers not understanding the volleyball market and buying “whoever”. They have been lucky with a few players I.E Sean Rooney who came right out of college was was already good enough to dominate the league. But a lot of unknown names and players have been taken there and there is a reason they were let go.
Ace: The Korean League is making headlines all over the world with the match fixing scandal. 4 players received a lifetime ban from the sport. While there, were you ever aware of such activity? Coincidentally, the team that’s involved in the scandal was Kepco 45 which was your team back in 2009.
Brook: I actually just heard about this a couple days ago. I honestly had no idea any of this was going on while I was there. Maybe because the only person I could understand was my translator. However I think the actions are fair. I wish someone would place these actions onto teams that don’t pay their players.
Ace: I have one last question before I stop asking about your pro-career. Out of all the teams you’ve played for since becoming pro, if you’re given the chance to play for any of these teams, which team would it be and why?
Brook: This is a difficult question. I hold a special place in my heart for every team and teammates that I’ve ever played with. If you set all the financial obligations aside I would return to AZS Czestochowa in Poland. I played there for 3 straight seasons and I loved the hype of every game. Our gym was almost always electric and the sport is so appreciated.
Ace: The last time you played for Team USA was in 2009 (?), correct? I still remember you guys played in San Jose during the Intercontinental Round of the World League. You guys played against China and won both matches.
Before anything else, I just want to say thank you for being so nice to me knowing what had happened in the past. Also, for being so nice to the other fans asking to take pics with you and for your autograph. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, your charisma is just different. It’s magnetizing. It’s like ET! Hahahaha!
Seriously, you were very nice and you still are and I deeply appreciate it.
So here are my questions…
Why did Brook leave the team?
Brook: I decided not to play on the NT anymore because I felt Alan had a preconceived notion of me from Hugh McCutcheon. Everything that came out of his mouth was something I heard over and over from Hugh. “We love having you in the gym because you work hard and get along great with all the guys”.
And yes, in 2009 was my last summer with the team. As selfish as it may sound, I was tired of not making the roster or making the travel squad and sitting on the bench. I have abilities that could have helped the teams but didn’t have the trust from the coaching staff.
Some of my favorite memories are playing with the NT. I felt I got lost in the mix and it was time for me to enjoy my summers spending time with friends and family as well as a little golf icon smile Brook Billings
Ace: How much do you miss playing for Team USA?
Brook: I miss it from time to time. I miss playing at a really high level and the opportunity to compete for the USA.
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Ace: Do you think there’s a chance that you’d wear your USA jersey again?
Brook: I don’t think so
Ace: Your current thoughts on Team USA?
Brook: My thoughts on the current squad are they really need to find a leader like Lloy Ball and Tom Hoff were/are. I think those two guys had a lot to do with the success of the team in 2008. I would really like to see Donald Suxho back in the mix.
I haven’t been in the gym with them at all in the past few years so I don’t think my opinion matters much. I don’t see the day in and day out of trainings they are going through. But from what I remember of the team in 2008 they had a really good group of guys built to be a TEAM. Seems like the team needs to find the that feeling again.
Ace: Straight from the heart, do you think they have what it takes to win GOLD in London or even medal despite the lack of good results since winning the gold in Beijing 4 yrs ago?
Brook: I definitely think they have what it takes to win the gold in London. There is still a lot of experience and leadership on the team from 2008 not to mention athleticism. They just have to find a way to make every ones talents work together.
brook billings 32 Brook Billings
(image: Brook with his former teammates Lee, Suxho & Touzinsky at a wedding in 2010)
Ace: What’s the best thing about being a volleyball player?
Brook: Traveling the world, making friends, learning languages, and experiencing new cultures.
Out of all the sports you could’ve played, why did you chose volleyball?
Brook: My best sport was always volleyball. I loved the fast pace of the game and the fact that there wasn’t a lot of running involved icon wink Brook Billings
Ace: What has volleyball taught you over the years or the lessons from the sport that have molded you to be the person that you are now?
Brook: I was a jerk to my teammates and opponents in my younger years. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t make a dig, or a kill or a block when I thought it was so easy. I was not a team player by any means. Over the years I’ve learned that this is a TEAM sport and to be a sport and its a lot easier to take the blame then to give the blame. I’ve also learned that the world is big and there is always someone better than you. I’ve been so blessed with this sport but at the same time I’ve been so humbled as well. I try to make volleyball my job and not the only thing people associate to me. I love meeting people and getting to know them for who they are other then what they do. I try to show that side of me to fans and people of the game.
brook billings 41 Brook Billings
Ace: If you wake up tomorrow and just get this surprise text from the volleyball gods saying, “It’s time to stop playing volleyball Brook effective today & we’re not kidding!”.
Are you prepared?
Brook: Yeah, I think so. I wouldn’t be happy about it but life is not always about volleyball. I know I can be successful at whatever I decide to do for work. Volleyball will always be a part of me even if I can’t play it.
Ace: Are you ready for that day to come?
Brook: Am I ready for the day I am done playing volleyball? No, not yet. I have a plan to save up to a certain amount of money before I can retire. I want to have a cushion for my transition into the next step of my life.
Ace: Why or why not?
Brook: I don’t know what I would like to do next yet. And I haven’t reached our financial goals. Plus I have a lot more volleyball in these old legs.
Ace: Fill in the blank, Volleyball is …
Brook: Volleyball is the reason I am where I am today. It got me into one of the best universities in the world (USC) where I met the majority of my best friends, its has taken me around the world (literally), taken me to the greatest sport event in the world (2004 Athens Games), and introduced me to my future wife (Brett).
Ace: Give me the best word to describe Brook Billings as a volleyball player. One word.
Ace: In just a few months, you will become a husband to one of most gorgeous faces I have ever seen, are you excited?
Brook: Its not even here yet and I already know its going to be the best day of my life.
Ace: Straight from the heart, what makes Brett very special?
Brook: She is my soul and makes me a better person everyday. She makes my life richer.
Ace: If you don’t mind sharing, how did you propose?
Brook: Click here to read about it!
Ace: How did the whole “will you marry me?” moment take place? Describe the feeling when she said yes.
Brook: When Brett said yes it was a relief because then I could tell her about all the scheming I was doing behind her back to make the moment perfect.
Ace: Are you ready to be a dad? Oh my gosh! I can’t wait to call you Daddy Brook on Volleywood. Kidding!
Brook: We talk about it everyday. I pray every night for healthy and beautiful babies. I/we are very ready but we are waiting until after the wedding of course.
Ace: How many kids?
Brook: At least 2 maybe 3 but one at a time.
Ace: Straight from my heart, you and Brett really make a great couple. She’s beautiful. You’re handsome. I wish you both the best.
You message to your family, Brett and fans?
Brook: Just that all the love and support that comes from each and everyone of you drives me to work as hard as I can in the gym to be the best that I can. I wouldn’t be where I am today without ALL of you.
Ace: I’m going to end this amazing chat with you 2 questions.
What’s the biggest mistake in your life and what did you do to correct it?
Brook: I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in my life. Without everything that I’ve ever done I wouldn’t be the person that I am today and I am proud of the person I am.
Ace: Finally, the mirror question.
If you were holding a mirror now and be given the chance to talk to yourself as a man, as a fiance, as a soon to be husband, as a friend, as a son…what would you tell yourself?
Brook: I do this everyday. I constantly have to remind myself to life each day to the fullest and not worry so much about the future. You can only control the moment you are living in now. Not the past, not the future but the now.
Brookers, BBills, BB, Bsquared, Bronek (polish), Billups (turkish), Billy (cuban coach in Iraklis), and Boom (our friends baby girl here calls me Boom and its so cute)
What are some words or phrases you use a lot?
Oh YEAH!, Yo!, Buddy, Boom-shaka, doing work!
Reading, golfing, basketball, traveling
What’s the best advice you’ve given or been given?
Brook: “No matter how bad you think life is, wake up each day and be thankful for life. Somewhere someone else is fighting to survive.”
Brook: Not being able to have children or an unhealthy child.
If you could meet one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
Brook: Would be cool to sit down with Ghandi
Brook: Any kind of Mexican cuisine
Brook: Besides Brett my best friend is Beau Rawi.
Favorite volleyball player?
Brook: Lloy Ball is my favorite player.
Favorite actor and actress?
Brook: Jason Segel and Zoey Deschanel probably
Brook: Badfish – Sublime
The sweetest thing a fan has ever done to you?
Brook: Bought me some winter clothes for the cold weather in Japan.
The last time you cried?
Brook: When Brett and I watched “The Descendants”. That’s a sad movie!