Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Coffee Shops and Massages

     We got back on the wagon this weekend with a win over Wolfenbüttel and are currently tied for second. Wolfenbüttel is where Jägermeister was invented, but from what I saw, that is about all they had going for them. I had hurt my shoulder earlier in the week and was unable to practice. I tried to play a little in the first half but I couldn't move my right arm above my shoulder, which is pretty devastating for a right-handed shooter. Coach made me sit the second half so that I didn't do anything stupid. At the end of the first quarter we were down 12, but we ended up pulling out a ten-point win. After the game Coach said he was proud of us "for pushing our asses into the dirt." I think he was trying to say something along the lines of "digging our asses out of a hole," but he seemed pretty proud of himself, so Marcus and I just let it slide. Fun Fact: Wolfenbüttel was the first team to start putting advertisements on their jerseys in the 1960's. They were called sell-outs then, but now it is more common than not in Europe and is starting to creep into U.S. sports as well.

They haven't put up pictures from the game yet but here is one from last game. Check out the raggedy net. After four years with the Williams Athletics’ budget I am used to the hurdles you have to jump through just to get new nets, so I figured they were just very old. It turns out that these are brand new and that they pay extra for these because they think dirty long thread hanging from the hoop looks cool. Whatever.

Our game was on Friday so we had Saturday and Sunday off and planned a trip to Amsterdam.  When I say 'planned', I mean we put the address for the Flying Pig Hostel into our GPS, filled the tank with gas, and took off. For some reason, getting a hostel room before we left, checking the weather, or looking for parking options didn't cross any of our minds. I also forgot to charge my camera, but I guess that just means there is less documentation of our failed trip. We got there and it was pouring rain, no hostels had room, and all the overnight parking was $70. Great. We ended up walking around in the rain for most of the afternoon and driving back that night, but it was still a good time. 

Carnival in Dam Square

The trip was not a total failure; we did explore the Red Light District and wandered into a few coffee shops. Both of these are unlike anything I have ever seen before and it might be good that my camera had run out of battery by the time we got here. We also gave into our innate American tourist pull and bought T-shirts at the Hard Rock Cafe. Marijuana is legal in Amsterdam, and walking around the city you could tell the groups of teenage tourists who had come to the city to take advantage of this. We had a good time asking these guys complicated directions in a mix of English and German and listening to their confused responses.

The club finally came through getting me another job coaching a little kids bball team. I was under the impression that I would be an assistant coach and just help out with drills during practice, but once again, I was very wrong. They brought me to the practice, introduced me to the seven 10 year-olds that were there on time, and then told me they would be back in 2 hours to pick me up. None of the kids speak English and my limited German (corny pick-up lines and counting) was not very useful. The first couple of minutes were like the start to those really awkward blind dates you see on TV. These little ten-year olds and I were just kind of standing there, looking at each other, not sure what to do. Then one of them tried to read the back of my Williams Bball shirt: "eets a greet dey to bi en eph". What an icebreaker. From there things got rolling. We did a serious European warm-up and then played a marathon session of "bump" (their version of knock-out) for the next 30 minutes. We then had a serious scrimmage and did some dribble relays. There weren’t a whole lot of fundamentals being taught, but if I was ten, I think I would have enjoyed it. After practice, the organizer told me he would forward me the emails about coordinating tournaments with other clubs. I really hope they all get cancelled.

My shoulder is still pretty sore, and I haven't been able to practice all week, which is very frustrating. Even if our practices aren't the most thrilling thing in the world, sitting out is ten times worse. However, my coach has set up massages for me everyday the rest of the week to try to loosen up my shoulder. There is always a silver lining. 
My parents are flying in Friday and I am very excited to visit and travel with them this weekend!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Frikadelle and Fair Weather Fans

      We took our first loss of the season on Saturday night. We were 18-56 as a team and, as bad as that is, I certainly didn't help the percentage. Schwelm had a solid rotation of big 4 and 5 men that killed us on the boards, especially in our 1-3-1 defense. They were also a good 3-point shooting team and it seemed that every time they happened to miss, they would just get the rebound and kick it out for another try. Marcus, who is really a 3 man that is forced to play in the post because he is tall (man I am glad I don't have to do that anymore), has an understandably hard time with big 4 men, and once we go to the bench there is even more problems. This is something we will definitely have to figure out. It also didn't help that they had 7 'und einer' (and 1's) and two goal-tending calls on us.
       The worst part about losing is that we have to wait a whole week for our next game. In college, we played at least two games a week, so it was easier to forget about a tough loss, but now I have plenty of time to sit and think about what went wrong, and from what I have seen so far, the fans don't plan on letting us forget either.  After the celebrations and toasts following our victories the last few weeks I was surprised to see the gym clear out before the game was even over.  The few fans that were still around after we had showered didn't seem very pleased with our preformance, and instead of the usual smiles, I was greeted with solemn faces and the shaking of heads. I was talking to a teammate's wife after the game and she said she can't sit near most of the fans during the games, because if things start going badly, they start viciously taunting the players, especially the Americans, who they expect so much from. The fact that we can't understand what they are saying anyway no doubt encourages their taunts.  I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by the fickle nature of the fans in a soccer-crazed country, especially after repeatedly hearing the story of Andres Escobar (the Columbian soccer player who was killed by fans after he scored an own-goal) from my teammates.
       Looking on the bring side, we get to make up for this weekend on Friday against Wolfenbuttel who is 1-3, and more importantly,  I guess since we lost I don't have to embarrass myself playing soccer at practice tomorrow and we don't have to add a sprint onto our conditioning!
       Marcus and I started German lessons this week with our tutor Anna. We started with the essentials like 'you are beautiful' (du bist wundershon) , 'i like your eyes' (ich mag diena augen), and 'how old are you' (wie alt bist du?), and then finished the lesson with some more trivial material such as numbers and the pronunciation of letters.  Anna also taught me how to order smoked turkey from the deli; unfortunately my execution was beyond poor. After three attempts, and three awkward looks from the butcher and the other customers in line, I dejectedly handed over the piece of paper that Anna had written on. I ended up getting the smoked turkey that I came in for (i think), but my confidence was shot.         Anna also took us shopping on Monday and taught us how to make  Frikadelle, which is bascially a big German meatball. We put it on some fresh bread from the bakery and had us some good old fashioned German Hamburgers. It was a welcome break from my usual rotation of chicken and frozen pizza and lasagna.
Managed to dice the onion without shedding a tear

       Earlier this week I was asked to do my first public relations gig. Hack, our affectionately named big man,was going to the Volvo dealership to pick up his new team car and they wanted one of the Americans to tag along and get in some pictures. I had already read every new story on, and even, so i volunteered myself for the job.
    I basically just stood there while Hack and the owners made small talk and smiled and nodded whenever they looked at me. They kept doing the universal sign for basketball, where you pretend to shoot a jump shot but hold your follow through about shoulder height, so I figured they were reliving their glory days with Hack. I kept myself amused by imagining Hack driving around town in a car with giant paw prints all over it. As if a 6'8" basketball player wanted anymore attention drawn to him while trying to squeeze into a tiny european car. I guess that made it all worth it.

        I wrapped my week up with a haircut in the town center. I snagged a picture of myself with a decent looking haircut off facebook and brought it on my ipod to show the haridresser; she thought this was hilarious (thanks mom).  She started asking me all these questions in German and I just kept saying kein Duetsch (no german) until some little twelve-year old boy came to my rescue. He asked if I needed help and then if I wanted him to tell the lady to cut my hair like his. I didn't have the heart to tell him that, although I too had a pointy flat top in 4th grade, that I didn't think I could pull it off anymore, so I just nodded sure but motioned that I wanted it a little rounder. Needless to say I was pretty nervous for the results. It only cost 8 euros, and that is about how good it looks, but it got the job done and I avoided a flat top, so overall I was pleased.
        It seems like my parents have been the only ones to seize the opportunity to send me a package...yet. I have been learning a lot about patience out here so I am holding out hope. My address is 69 SchulstaBe (yes capital B), Herten, Germany 45699. Among other things, the package included a Buster Posey T-shirt which I will be proudly wearing to support my Giants quest for a World Series!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Soccer and Lion Taming

      Last weekend I was messing around and discovered that there is a gadget that allows people to subscribe to my blog and they will get email updates whenever I post. If you want to be a part of this just enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. I also put up a viewer counter that, as the name implies, counts the number of views to the page. There are over 500 views so far, and even though half of them are probably from me checking to see if the view counter has gone up, and the other half are from my dad checking to see if I have any recent updates, it at least looks cool to the ignorant observer.
       This weekend we traveled to Braunschweig to play the Spot Up Medien Lions (no joke that is their actual name).  Thankfully, there wasn't a whole lot of spotting up by the home team and we pulled out a 20 point victory. I strained a few of my toes last weekend and was limited in practice this week but luckily we were up most of the game so Coach gave me a little break. Our team Doctor also happens to own the team (in the US I think we call this a conflict of interest) and he says nothing is broken and a little rest should do the trick.  One of the players, who is aware of my restless nature, suggested I start drinking at lunch so that I can pass out in the afternoon and stay off my feet (and I think he was only half-kidding), but I think I will just stick to my own rehab plan.
        I was pretty dissapointed that Spot Up Medien had the same mascot as us; is there any other leagues in the country that have two teams with the exact same mascot? I mean a purple cow isn't exactly intimidating, but at least its original.
The Fearsome Herten Lion Can Be Seen in the Top Right . 
    I took the liberty of researching the other mascots in our league: there are two or three Giants, the aforementioned lions, the even more unoriginal Baskets and a few others of little note. There is however the Vechta Rasta. I am not sure if this is a reference to the Rastafarian movement or not, but they are located near Amsterdam so you never know.
     Because we won last weekend we played soccer, excuse me futbol, for a warm-up before practice on Tuesday; I have never felt so out of place on the basketball court in my life. Everyone on our team was better than any soccer player I had ever played with, even our 6'8" center was trapping the ball on his chest and weaving through defenders with grace that he certainly never displays with a basketball. I did however manage to score the 1st (and 2nd) goal ever scored in one of these games by an American. After the first goal I thought it would be appropriate to do my best Brandi Chastain impression, but my teammates were not impressed. I think part of the problem was that it is nearly impossible to quickly take off a sweaty practice jersey. This was compounded by the fact that sliding on a basketball court is not nearly as painless as sliding on grass. If anyone has an easier goal celebration that would impress my teammates, please let me know.
     Looking back on my goals I think, actually I know, that they were a result of the quantity of shots I took, not the quality. Being obviously overmatched, I decided to do what I do best: shoot (a lot). This meant that I stayed blatantly offsides, didn't play any defense, and recklessly shot every time I touched the ball. For everyone out there thinking that this sounds familiar, remember that this is my blog, not yours, so keep your thoughts to yourself :) One of the goals was with Marcus in goal so that doesn't really count, but I was proud of the goal I snuck by one of the Germans.

     Unfortunately they haven't put the pictures up from the game this weekend, but I managed to find some more amusing ones from last week.
        Here is the fog that we have to run through during introductions. Running blindly through a thick cloud of fog in a dark building with loud drums and obscure crowd noises is way less glamorous than I thought it would be.

I was pretty impressed with this flexibility, I guess the yoga sessions have been paying off. I might use this move as a transition into a bicycle kick in warm-ups on Tuesday.

     This last picture was added at the request of a viewer, who will remain anonymous, that asked to see more cheerleader shots. Here you go Chris...

       The team we play next weekend is the only other undefeated team in the league so it should be a good game. They are a big money club and have four Americans on their team. The rule in our league is that only two Americans can be on the court at the same time, so most clubs just pay for two Americans and keep them on the floor longer. It will be interesting to see how this team handles it. 
      I start German lessons tomorrow so hopefully soon enough I will be able to argue with the refs over the outrageous foul calls I have been getting lately. Until then, chüs.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Herten Castle and Home Opener

             After our first league win last weekend we had a a good week of practice filled with running, running, and more running. When we got to practice on Tuesday and Coach declared that it would be a 'pain day'. I was not too excited but figured that since we only played once a week, Tuesday would be a good day to test the legs and get up and down the floor a little. Unfortunately, most of 'pain day' had nothing to do with basketball drills and focused instead on full court sprints and an absurd amount of defensive slides. We also have this rule that for every game we win, we go through an EXTRA set of the final conditioning drill. Even with my Economic degree from Williams I have not been able to understand this perverse incentive structure.

             Though without the title, pain day carried over to Wednesday and Thursday's practices as well. I can honestly say I did more conditioning in season this week than I have in the last two years at Williams. We may not know our plays or talk on defense, but at least we won't be tired.

            Despite dead legs we won our home opener last night in front of a pretty good home crowd. We have a pretty funny introduction where we all start out in this small room and then come out to a green strobe light through some fake smog and run through a tunnel of cheerleaders. This would have been fine if they didn't leave the door to the team room open when they were testing the fog machine. The team room filled with smoke and I had to hold my breath until they called my name. 
           We jumped out to an early lead and were up 20 by the end of the first. We more or less kept that lead the rest of game. It was pretty physical, but I managed not to get any technicals or any other obscure fines so I was pretty happy (the team cut my fine for the technical last week in half because of the absurdity of the call but i still have to pay $15).  I did however catch the ball standing out of bounds on the wing twice, so there is still room for improvement. Marcus was on fire and had 33. I chipped in 21 and our big man Hack cleaned up the glass. The other team ran a bunch of screen plays for non-shooters, which didn't make too much sense to me, but I wasn't complaining. 

our cheerleaders in action

definitely missed this one
                After the game the whole team had to go to the press conference to introduce ourselves and what not. As we were walking up to the press conference, still sweating and in our jerseys, we were handed a beer to help rejuvenate our bodies. Again, a little different then what I am used to, but Charlie informed me that there were some studies that beer, in moderation of course, was the best sports recovery drink. Maybe these Germans are on to something.

      After the long week we had a much needed two days off. The game was pretty physical and I was very soar, especially after the whip lash I suffered on this play, check out the sequence of events. The defenders knee tuck and wrist positioning in the second picture is my favorite. The part where the other guys hip goes into my neck and the other guys knee goes into my back is my least favorite.

everything is going well so far
then it starts to get ugly
the wort part was the foul was on the ground so I didn't even get to shoot freethrows
               Earlier in the week I was able to fit a visit to the Herten Castle into my busy schedule. The only parking that I could find near the castle was in a nearby furniture shop. There were customer only parking signs everywhere (well what I guessed that they were customer parking only signs because I can't really read German) so I decided to take a stroll through the store and at least pretend to be a customer. As I was making the rounds and making sure that store employees noticed me in case I got a ticket, I stumbled upon this awesome bunk bed. If i had this bed when I was younger (in blue of course), I might be blogging from the NBA instead of from Germany.

    The castle itself doesn't compare in size to the one I visited earlier in Wurzburg, but it was still pretty cool. It is crazy to imagine that these castles are nearly a thousand years older than the entire US. The castle is in the middle of the city, but it is surrounded by a forest on all sides and you don't know it's there until you are right up on it. Some of the guys on my team who live here didn't even know it existed.

         Surrounding the castle is a bunch of farmland and lakes which were cool to walk around. There wasn't anything too exciting about this cow except that I managed to beat her in a staring contest.

      I also went over to one of my teammate's apartment and helped him to do some painting. The first painting session was postponed when he realized (after I had driven over there and changed) that he was out of paint, but we took care of business the next day.

Check out the impeccable form
      I have never been very artistic and I guess that carries over to general apartment painting skills as well. I wasn't the best, but I was trying. One might say I shouldn't quit my day job, but I don't really have one so that isn't a problem. In addition to getting the room painted, I also exposed my teammate to country music. He says he likes slow songs by female country artists, odd taste for a 6'7 German, but I guess you have to start somewhere.

     I also had my first professional interview with a city paper this week. It was a pretty standard interview except for the whole language barrier thing and the fact that there was a photographer standing directly over the interviewers shoulder taking pictures of me for 40 minutes. Oh and there was also the the part where he kept commenting on my white teeth and asking me if my parents were strange or had 'strange minds' because of the names they gave my brothers and me.

      The Ryder Cup has inspired my golf game and my desire to represent the U.S. on the links. One of the guys on the team works at a golf course so I am trying to get out there. Unfortunately, the weather here is pretty similar to Wales so I have to find a good day to get out there.

      Our Coach has also promised to set Marcus and me up with a young female German tutor. I think he was kidding about the young female part, but I'm excited to get started either way.

Random observations:
Germans don't do the courtesy head-nod when you walk by strangers. In the States when you make eye contact with someone as you are walking by them you usually give a slight head-nod or smile, but every time I do that here I am just greeted with a straight faced mean mug or a look of surprise.

In the same vein, Germans love to cut in line. Every time I am at the grocery store, if I so much as turn away from the check-out line, some old German man immediately cuts me. It's like clock-work.