Monday, September 27, 2010

Season Opener

On Saturday we had our season opener against the cross-town rivals BSV Wulfen. I guess the whole week our coach had been talking about the rivalry, but his english isn't great, and to me it sounded like he was saying 'river game'. I have learned not to ask to many questions out here so I just went with it and assumed we were crossing the river on the way to the game or something. Before the game the guys were getting really hyped up and one came over and asked me if I had heard of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. I obviously nodded yes and he told me that this was their equivalent. I then put it together to what I thought was river game was actually rivalry game. I have obviously played in a lot of rivalry games before, but this one was different because I didn't have any extra motivation. I obviously wanted to win the  game, but the rivalry really means nothing to me. I couldn't even pronounce, much less spell, the name of the team we were playing, so how could I honestly be apart of a long-standing rivalry between the towns and clubs. This leads to a much bigger point about the effects of having random American's come to these German teams each year that I will get into later.

Thankfully our fans did not have the same indifference to the rivalry that I did, and when we got onto the court they were going crazy. The gym was pretty small, but what the fans lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality. It reminded me of the soccer games I had seen on TV with everyone decked out in scarves, waving banners, banging on drums and blowing those annoying vuvuzelas that were such a hit at the world cup.

A group of traveling fans
They also had a beer garden behind the home bench which no doubt contributed to the fans excitement as well. Sticking with the soccer theme, the home team ran out for introductions holding the hands of young kids in basketball jerseys. 

BSV-Wulfen jumped out to an early ten point lead in the first quarter but we were able to fight our way back into it and actually took a 3-point lead going into the half. My shot finally started to come around and I actually played pretty well in the first half. This was a big relief to me because both the coaches and management had told me how much they and the fans expected out of the Americans and that first impressions were pretty important. The second half was a battle back and forth, but our German big man Hack took control of the boards and we knocked down our freethrows to seal the win. 

In the middle of the third quarter I shot a three and was hit by the defender on the play. I assumed they had called a foul on the defense and so I started to walk to the line for my three freethrows, but when I got there the ref shook his head and said the world technical. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on but I assumed the defender had complained to the ref and been given a technical or something so we would shoot those freethrow first. Wrong. One of the guys on my team came up and explained that I had in fact been given a technical for 'flopping' on my shot. He thought I fell down on purpose and gave me a technical for a dangerous play. I was mad for three reason: one, not only had I never even heard of this rule, but I had clearly been fouled on the play and two, europeans are known for their flopping, how dare they have the audacity to try to penalize me for it, and three, there is a 25 euro fine for getting a technical. I went over to argue with the ref but about 5 seconds into my cursing I remembered I didn't speak any German and wasn't going to get anywhere.

 This call had greater implications than a few freethrows for them. Needless to say I was pretty upset, but not as mad as my coach who squatted down and hit the floor in disgust at the call. When he did that his pants ripped, leaving about a 6X9 inch hole in the seat of his pants. This was more entertaining for us than it was for him and he quickly put on his jacket to cover it up. Of course his jacket wasn't long enough and he made one of the younger guys on the team stand behind him during timeouts so that he wasn't mooning the crowd.

 After the game our fans went crazy. We were at an away gym and they were clearly outnumbered, but they started chanting and singing songs and I followed the guys on our team into the stands where we were serenaded with the 'Olay' song.

Below is a picture from the game. One of our sponsors happens to be Gut. which is a German bank. The placement of the Gut. sponsor logo on our stomachs is pretty ironic, but when I asked the guys on the team about it they had no idea.

Speaking of weird language coincidences, I ordered a schicken pizza last night from a restaurant assuming that it would be chicken. Nope. Apparently schicken is ham. Go figure.

From now on we will play a game every Saturday night and then have Sundays and Mondays off. I have to get in the gym to lift and shoot on my own, but I also want to take advantage of this time to travel. Next weekend we open up at home and everyone in the town seems pretty excited about it. From what I can tell we have about half as many bleachers as Chandler but I think they put up temporary ones behind the baskets for the games and they also have sections that are standing room only. All in all, I think there will be about as many people as at some our of Williams games last year, but the fans are certainly not going back to the library after the games, and they serve beer, so I am expecting them to be a little more rowdy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First Weekend

This weekend we drove down to Wurzburg which is about 3.5 hours West Nowitzki is from Wurzburg and it’s a big bball town with a lot of money, so they had a real nice stadium, 7 foreign players, a hilarious 20 minute introduction segment which included some fireworks and a multiple paragraph analysis of each player.

It was pretty ridiculous but got over the top when they started announcing the 14 year-old players they had on their lower teams that would be sitting on the bench for the game. It was so long we had to have another warm-up when they were done just to get loose again and for the whole first quarter we had to play with a cloud of smoke in the gym.

You can see the smoke in the background!
We played pretty well and actually were only down 3 going into the 4th but we ran out of gas in the 4th.

I am still struggling with my shot, I think I just have to get used to the deep three point line (they just moved it out to NBA this year) and the travel calls (I get about 3 a game) because my go to jab step right, go left move, is apparently a travel in Germany. My turnover:assist ratio has never exactly been my strength, so I definitely need to get this under control as soon as possible. Also, I am so used to spacing myself based on the shorter three-point line that, I will look down when running a play and realize that I am actually standing out of bounds. This must look pretty dumb to everyone on my team. They pay for this guy to fly all the way over from America to help the team and he can’t even run inbounds. Great. 

I did however get my first professional (and maybe life-time) charge taken, and I have proof!

The day of the game we went on a marathon, uphill, hike to the Wurzburg Castle. It was actually pretty sweet but it was a little tiring. It was pretty difficult to learn much about the castle because all the signs were in German, but based on the size of the castle I came to the logical conclusion that whoever lived there was a boss.

Me, Marcus and Basti overlooking the city

Not sure what this is but it looks like whole-fish skewers

Thought this was a funny sign

The Kings view of the City

I am currently looking for things to do to fill my time during the day. Walks around the town are cool, but I don’t think they will keep me entertained all year, especially during winter. I am mildly embarrassed to say that in the last 4 days I have read the first two books of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. I have done some soul searching and think that this is a clear sign I need something to do besides read every article on and stalk all my friends (and even complete strangers) on Facebook. My top two options right now are learning German and Yoga haha. We’ll see how that goes for me. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Random Observations from the Weekend in Wurzburg and the first week:

1) There are a lot of dogs, but none of them bark… I ‘m not sure what this says about Germans, maybe they are better at training their dogs, maybe german dogs are generally more calm, maybe it is a reflection of the over-aggressive American culture? Who knows. I just know that every dog from those annoying little rats to the big golden retriever I just saw at Netto has not produced so much as a whimper.

2) Babies stay in strollers way too long. I will be walking down the street and see these huge kids practically overflowing out of their strollers. Either the babies are just abnormally larger or they are just lazy.

3) The people working at the grocery store check outs either have some sort of pent up aggression, or all are former baseball players. Over here you have to bag your own groceries (with bags you bring from home) and as soon as they scan the item they rocket it over to you. You are expected to literally catch and bag your groceries simultaneously while also trying to figure out how much everything costs and pay. If you don’t do this in world-record time everyone in line gives you nasty looks. The result is me standing with a 20 euro bill in one hand in an athletic stance shoveling all my food into as few bags as possible. I have learned that you have to strategically place foods on the conveyor belt that can be smashed and pray that it ends up on the top of one of your bags.

4) Germans love to drink. We went out on Saturday night to some bar (keep in mind we had a game Sunday) and coach buys the first round of pints of beer for everyone. I was thinking OK one beer (actually probably more than 2 because they were pints) won’t hurt, and then the second and third rounds came around. I went home early but people were still out drinking at 1 and we had an 8:30 wake up call. Needless to say a little different than what I’m used to.

5) Everyone has a portable navigation device and the call it a ‘navi’. This isn’t that exciting its just funny listening to all the huge guys on my team talking about their navi. It reminds me of Avatar.

Tour De Germany

               So here I am over in Germany doing what I have been dreaming about since I was a little kid, playing professional basketball. It is just now hitting me that my only job is to play basketball and people are paying me to do it! Pretty wild. But with that comes a lot of responsibility. If I play bad, have a bad game, go in a shooting slump, it’s not just “oh well, I will get them next time” its “step up or we will fire you”. That puts a little more pressure on you to perform and I have a feeling may make playing basketball a little different then what I am used to. If I have a good game and we win will I get the same joy I used to have with my teammates celebrating everything that we have done together, or will it just be part of the job, a job well done, but still part of the job? I guess I will soon find out. I will get more into that later but right now I want to give a brief intro to the journal and some catch-up on my first week here.

Yesterday I was walking around Herten trying to get my bearings and figure out what exactly I was doing with my life. Here I am walking around some small random town in the middle of Germany with no friends, no real plan, and not a whole lot to do. I decided that I needed to take advantage of this opportunity, no matter how obscure, to learn something about the world and about myself. I feel very blessed to be where I am at right now, I will probably never do anything like this again so I decided to write a journal to document my journey. I think the closest thing I have ever produced to a journal was the caloric in-take log we had to do for Biology of Exercise and Nutrition, and because I basically eat the same thing everyday, this wasn’t a very riveting or thought-provoking piece of work. Needless to say this will be an interesting and challenging process for me. While my journal will definitely include some recounting of my day to day activities, I want it to be more than that. I want to include observations about the culture and people here, things I’m thinking about and how I am feeling, differences between here and America and reflections on any and every topic. I can’t promise that it will be cohesive, grammatically correct, or helpful in anyway, but I just want to give it a shot and see where it goes. I don’t want to look back on my time here and think about how many hours I wasted on facebook or, I want to learn something and do things. Even before I sat down to write, just having the idea of writing a journal about my time here has made me more observant, hopefully this continues and hopefully I stay diligent about entries. I hope  to write at least once a week so please check in regularly and give me some feedback! Here goes nothing.

Friday September 17.

So a few weeks ago I was at home stressing out about a whole lot of things in my life: I had just done very poorly on my first try at the MCAT, my body wasn’t feeling great, and I didn’t have anything working out with bball. Thankfully things started looking up on all accounts the next week when I retook the MCAT, got an email from Boris Kaminski about a potential job in Germany and booked a flight out to Albany to visit school.  I received Boris’s email from Brian in May and I had sent a pretty generic note to him with some of my stats, my basketball resume, and a link to some online film I had. He replied saying that he had worked with a lot of D3 players including Brian and Fletcher Walters from Amherst and that I was “an interesting player” and we should keep in contact. I didn’t think a whole lot of it  and didn’t even realize that he was a coach, but we emailed a few times over the summer (basically just as part of me spam emailing all my contacts telling them I was still available). I hadn’t talked to him for a couple weeks but got an email from him 2 or 3 days before I retook the MCAT saying that they were thinking about getting rid of one of their Americans and were considering me and two other players. I was very happy to hear some good news at this point but was very hesitant to get my hopes up. It wasn’t certain they were going to get rid of the other guy, I didn’t know if I was their top choice, and there is so much uncertainty with the European leagues. I didn’t want to jinx it so I didn’t even tell my agent or my parents for a few days.

            I took the MCAT and packed my bags for Williamstown, not knowing if I would be headed home in two weeks or off to somewhere in Europe. It was great to see everyone at school, but I wouldn’t recommend walking around Williamstown during first days the year after you graduate. Everyone seemed happy to see me but I can’t even begin to say how many, “What the heck is this guy doing here? Doesn’t he have anything better to do?” looks. This is especially bad when you don’t have a response to the “So what are you doing with your life now?” question. I ended up just saying I was visiting some friends and left it at that.

 Things started to look better and better with Boris when he told me they had decided to let Norris go and he started giving me information about how much money they were offering and logistics on flights. I was still very paranoid about counting my chickens before they hatched and didn’t even tell anyone what was going on.

It wasn’t until I got a copy of the contract that I finally relaxed. Of all the possible scenarios I had played through my head, finding out that I was going to be a professional basketball player in paresky (I got the email while having lunch with nicole) and signing my contract in Schow, never crossed my mind, but hey, ill take it.

I signed the contract on Tuesday and Boris wanted me to come out on Thursday but that was a little too quick, so I pushed it back until Monday Sept 13. With the contract I am sharing an apartment with the other American. We have the whole third floor, a.k.a the penthouse suite.

My address is 69 Schulstrabe, Herten, Germany 45699 if anyone wants to send me something.

We also share a car:

Just kidding, they gave us a little white Volvo. I had an interesting time learning stick with the impatient German drivers.

Coach also told me that if I played well (whatever that means) they will help out with my flights home for Christmas. I’m already starting to feel the differences between school and pro ball. Another big difference is the try-out period. At school I worried about playing time and all of that, but I was never concerned that I wouldn’t even make the team. I have 4 weeks to prove myself or I’ll be packing my bags and coming home. A blog about sitting around my house in California probably won’t be nearly as insightful, so for this reason only I will try to make the team.

I was very excited to get going but saying goodbye was very hard. Didn’t sleep much the night before which didn’t help with the ride to the train station, the 2.5 hour train to Penn Station, the 45 min cab to JFK and then the 8 hour flight to Dusseldorf. There wasn’t a lot of time between when I found out about the deal and when I left, so I was really flying in blind. I had no idea where Dusseldorf was, how Herten was or what I was getting myself into. While information from wikipedia has helped me through many school assignments, I wasn’t too comfortable basing the next year of my life on the three sentence blurb it offered on Herten, Germany. I often get myself in trouble by not asking enough questions, but I was diving in head first and just going for it. I landed at the airport and was met by Kiki, the back-up point guard and Stefano, a guy on the second team. I was surprised at how well they both spoke English and even more surprised as Emininen’s new song Cinderella Man started blasting on the radio as we all crammed into Kiki’s small European car. 

They didn’t waste anytime showing me what Germany was all about as we jumped straight onto the Autobahn and were being passed on all sides by fancy Audi’s and BMW as KiKi’s little car puckered down the road. I got to my apartment at about 8:30 AM and had to wake Marcus up to let us in.  It was pretty obvious that 8:30 wasn’t Marcus’s usual wake up time and the initial introduction wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I was worn out and just wanted a little sleep.  I was trying to plug my computer in so I could email my parents to let them know I was safe when I heard a girl’s voice. Apparently Marcus’s girlfriend was living with us too, this could get interesting.  I finally laid down in my new bed, not even bothering to change the sheets, for a badly needed power nap.

That night I went to my first practice on 3 hours sleep in the last two days, but it went better than I expected. They had given me a list of plays to memorize before I got there and I actually did pretty well with them. Marcus was sick so he and I shot a lot while the others went through drills. Overall, my first professional practice was less exciting then I imagined. The weirdest part was the first five minutes while everyone was planning travel arrangements for our upcoming trip. The guys were going back and forth in German for about 5 minutes while Marcus and I just stood there watching. They all speak English, but I guess it is still easier for them to communicate in German. Besides when Coach Maker first tried to introduce his offense to us, I haven’t had to worry about a language barrier on the basketball court, this could be a little different. The most entertaining thing about practice was the list of potential fines we have. Check out the last 4.

When we got back from practice Amber had some delicious tacos ready for us. I had just started thinking that I could get used to this when I found out she was actually leaving to go back to the US for an interview the next day. Shoot, looks like it might be a lot of pasta and peanut butter for me, if I can find that here…

Random observations from the first day:

Germans love to swear in English. I don’t know why but when someone makes a mistake or a bad play they will say something in German then immediately drop the F-bomb or some other four letter word in English. Not sure if it is for emphasis or what but it’s pretty entertaining.