Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Speeding Tickets and Concentration Camps

   We made the four hour trip to Liepzig this weekend and scraped out with another ugly win. We missed 11 freethrows and the stat crew was generous in only giving us 21 turnovers, but we still managed to rally back from 10 points down in the 4th. They missed a potential game winning three at the end and made our bus ride home a lot more bearable. 

If there was a frame-by-frame documentation of this action, it would show that the use of the knee is the best way to get a defenders hands down.

This encounter made me feel like Happy Gilmore, except the  placement of the signature was not nearly as exciting.
I celebrated my 23rd birthday last Friday, but as is usually the case for basketball players with November birthdays, it was pretty uneventful. We had practice until 10pm, and then had to meet at the gym at 9am the next morning to leave for our game, so I just grabbed a calzone and watched a movie. I received two birthday presents, the first being this beautiful handmade card and some chocolate from one of the little kids I coach.
The dunk in this card is my first of the year but hopefully a sign of things to come.

The second gift was from my coach, a bottle of detergent spray for my feet; the message was clear.
      I also recieved my first speeding ticket for driving to fast on the autobahn of all places. Who knew that was even possible? Apparently parts of it do in fact have speed limits. On the drive home we were making great time, until one of my teammates driving the team van experienced the same blinding red light of one of the cameras along the highway used to catch speeders . I joined in the cheering and taunting of everyone else in the van until the driver told me that because he was going so fast, he might get his license taken away. He then casually informed me that as an American, if I were caught with the same offense, they could still fine me, but they couldn't take my license away. I saw his grin in the rearview mirror and I and quickly put two and two together. Due to the slight difference in skin pigmentation, it would be hard to pass Marcus off as the driver, so it seems like I may be taking the hit for this one as well. Happy Birthday Blake!

      On Sunday, the clouds and rain took the day off, so I decided to drive up to a former concentration camp in Vught, Netherlands. It was about a two-hour drive, but was very scenic, and with all of the changing leaves and windy roads, it was eerily similar to the drive from Williams to Amherst (no pun intended). Vught was not considered an extermination camp, but still had some very horrible stories and conditions. Ironically, part of the camp now serves as a prison; with their cell windows overlooking the former Nazi camp, it must be hard for any of the current prisoners to complain about their situation.

There were 24 of these towers manned by ruthless guards who received payment and vacation days for any prisoner they shot near the fence.

Due to overcrowding there were often 2-3 people per bed and only the lucky ones had pillows and blankets.
Thanksgiving tomorrow won't be the same without my family and the Dallas Cowboys game, but I picked up some smoked turkey from the Deli and my mom sent me some rolls in a box to pop in the oven, so I will make do. Still a lot to be thankful for out here!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Defeat of the Rastas and U.S. Stereotypes

    Going into the weekend there was a 4-way tie for first that included us and the team we were playing, Rasta Vechta. We shot 62% from the field and 50% from three and were able to fend off a late rally to seal the win. I had my season highs in points and threes so it was definitely a good bounce-back from my performance last weekend. Going into the game we knew that Rasta would press for most of the game, so Coach decided we would give them some of their own medicine, so we started the game in a press as well. This was actually pretty effective for about two minutes until everyone was gassed. I think Coach realized that with a 7-man rotation this was not a sustainable pace, so we took the press off, much to Marcus's and my delight. Unfortunately, the other two teams tied for first won as well so we are not just in a three-way tie.
     Rasta is from Berlin, so they didn't bring too many fans, but the ones they did bring were all dressed up in 80's wigs and costumes (you can see their backs in the picture below).

          I am not sure if this was a tribute to the Rasta movement or was random, but either way. it was entertaining. Sticking true to his word, Coach replaced our post-game talk with a gym cleaning session.  This seems to be an interesting long-run strategy if our goal is to get better at basketball; I think they just don't want to pay the clean-up crew. We better not lose anymore easy games or the towels and water bottles might mysteriously disappear next.

Not sure why this keeps happening to me, my pump fake is not that good.

    Things are progressing well with the little team I am coaching. I have added an assistant Coach who speaks German, so that has been all positive, well except when he told me that one of the kids was referring to me as 'the Russian'.  I really don't know what to think about this but I am pretty sure it is an insult.  I don't see how he could see me as controlling considering all we do is play knock-out and scrimmage, but I guess you can't win them all. On Monday, we only had 9 players but we scrimmaged for 30 minutes 5 vs. 4 and they didn't even notice; I guess we need to work on court awareness more.

My man in the Spurs uniform has come with a different full NBA jersey/short combo to every practice. If he just got rid of the rec-specs he would be the best dressed by far.
   This morning I went to the school I might start teaching at and sat in on some classes. There was time for a little Q & A at the end of class. The first few questions were: Does everyone in the U.S. do drugs? Are the high schools like in Mean Girls? Doesn't everyone own a gun? Do you eat fast food everyday? Are the house parties like in the movies? Do you surf? Looks like we are doing a good job promoting a positive image of the U.S. overseas.  I also got: Do you break dance? Why don't you break dance? How do people live in Hollywood with all the gangs? and Why aren't you married?
  However, I did get a little revenge when I asked them why there weren't wearing leather shorts, suspenders with a flowing white shirt, and a top hat, and if they served liters of beer in the cafeteria.

Williams basketball has their first game this weekend, can't tell you how much I would love to be sitting in Chandler gym on Friday night!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Fall of the Wall

     We traveled to Berlin (opposite side of Germany) for our game this weekend. We had practice until 10pm on Friday night and then met in the gym parking lot at 5:30 am on Saturday to leave (and we used to complain about quick turnarounds in the NESCAC). Our Coach is paranoid about being late, so we left extra early for the 5 hour drive. We were so early that we stopped at a truck stop for 2 hours to kill time so that we wouldn't be sitting around the gym for 3 hours before the game. The ride was long, but OK because I drank 'hella' water...

and the jokes my teammates told weren't quite as corny as my pre-game snack.

Coach decided to only bring eight players on the trip, which was great for leg-room on the bus, but not quite as cool when four players fouled out and we had to finish the game with four guys (this is literally unheard of except in 4th grade basketball). The game itself was worse than the 5 am wake-up. We shot 2-19 from three and missed 17 freethrows and were still somehow in it at the end. The loss dropped us down to 5-2, but the other team tied for first lost as well, so we are still at the top. At practice yesterday Coach informed us that after the next home game we will have to help clean the gym up after the game. He said it is completely unrelated to our dismal preformance, but I highly doubt it.
      The captain of the team, Nic, grew up in Berlin and the plan was to stay at his dad's house through the weekend. After the game we drove around the city sightseeing  and stopped at the Brandenburg Gate.

          The chariot up top is driven by Victoria, the goddess of victory. This is the only remaining gate through which Berlin used to be entered, and is one of the most important monuments in Germany and apparently all of Europe. After the last war, we rebuilt the American Embassy right next to the gate (you can see the corner of it in the left hand side of this picture) which created a lot of controversy because the Germans didn't like the idea of having the American Embassy right next to their most important historical structure. However, I don't think the Germans had a whole lot of say in this decision.
       It has been very strange talking about German history with my teammates because so much of it was shaped by the U.S. At first I was hesitant to talk about WWII, but the guys bring it up all the time and it certainly couldn't be avoided when touring Berlin. There doesn't seem to be any open resentment towards the U.S., in fact I get a sense that a lot of the younger generation is embarrassed about the what happened and thankful for help the U.S. provided. Even if this is an exaggeration, it is clear that they love Kennedy for the support he gave Western Germany and his "I am a Berliner Speech" during the cold war: they have streets, schools and parks named after him throughout Berlin.

After WWII, the allies split Germany into four sections, with the U.S., Britain, France and the Soviet Unin all getting a piece. When Germany was split into East and West, the Soviet section was considered East and the rest was the West.

As you can see,  Berlin is actually on the East Side of East-West Germany division, but it was itself partitioned in two because neither side was willing to give it up.

Where the wall used to be in Berlin. I am on the Communist East side and Marcus is in the Democratic West
   We had a great night out in Berlin and the next day did some more touring of the city, starting with the East Wall Gallery which is one of the few parts of the wall that remains standing. The wall itself is much less intimidating than I imagined, but I guess the addition of guard towers, a warning track, search lights, and the threat of being shot would add to the intensity. On the wall now are painted various murals from artists around the world.

This is a famous mural of the Trabant which was the only car made available in East Germany.
There was a 15 year wait-list for this modern day equivalent of a Ford Pinto!

This was my favorite mural. The caption translates to, "This isn't the only wall the needs to be torn down."

This handcuffed thumb represents the oppression of the East Germans and how they were forced to always give the "thumbs up" despite horrible conditions.

Israeli flag super-imposed over the British Flag

     We concluded our touring at 'Checkpoint Charlie', the only way to get from the Western side of Berlin to the Eastern side. This was the scene of many standoffs between the Soviets and where many East Berliners tried their luck in getting over to the West side.

     Despite the loss and the long drive, the trip was well worth it. The Wall, and the murals on it, may be my favorite thing I have seen so far. We go back to Berlin in a few weeks so hopefully I will get to see some more.  In the meantime I am have plans to visit the zoo and a concentration camp. I'm sure my experiences will be dramatically different at these places, but I am excited for both.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Parents Weekend

First of all, want to congratulate the SF Giants for bringing a championship to the Bay Area, I made one of the guys on the younger team stay up until 5 am to watch the final game with me; he doesn't like baseball, but he has ESPN America so I don't feel bad for him.

We got ourselves a win this weekend as well against Rasta Vetcha in front of a sub par home crowd (local home soccer match). We did however have the support of some pretty intimidating cheerleaders and, most importantly my parents, who came out to visit this weekend. I am positive that no one has ever traveled further to see a Herten Lions Basketball game, so I was glad we got to put on a good show for them.

 This picture gives you a good idea of what celebrating Halloween in Germany is like: not very much fun and a little scary. If I were a little kid I would be terrified of these girls jumping around and forming pyramids on the court.

As you can see my Dad stayed with his game day tradition of the purple Williams Underarmor, but it was significantly easier to pick him out of the crowd now that my team's colors are red and black.

I wasn't able to shoot or do a full practice until Friday, but with the help of a few massages and some interesting tape jobs, ( I got that kinesio tape from Japan that was so popular in the Olympics) I was able to play on Saturday. I shot surprisingly well, had my season-high in points, and most importantly, only had one travel call. I didn't start, but obviously still managed to get in foul trouble and so was limited in the second half, but it felt very good to get back out there again.

We do a little dance after wins to thank the fans, it is basically just us doing the wave over and over again.

One of the best things about having my parents in town was that I didn't have to worry about being the most obvious foreigner in the room. This point was made clear when we went out to dinner the first night: my mom tried to order something is English, which obviously didn't work, but then instead of using her hands to point, or asking me how to say it in German, she switched to Spanish. The waiter was now even more confused, but secretly I was very happy. We also got to do some serious sightseeing in their short visit.  On Saturday before the game we drove to Köln (pronounced Cologne) and saw the amazing Roman Cathedral there.

It was definitely one of the most impressive feats of architecture in the world, but what was even more amazing was that despite the decimation of Köln during the war, the Catherdral was literally untouched.  The Köln Dom has the largest facade of any church in the world, which I guess makes sense because it took over 600 years to build (1248-1880).

On Sunday we took the three hour trek south down to Heidelberg which is easily the most beautiful city I have seen. It was a great time to visit because all of the leaves are changing color now (it looks exactly like New England) and we had great weather. One of my teammates told me that during the American invasion in WWII, the Americans picked Heidelburg for their headquarters because of its beauty, saving the city, and its buildings, from bombing raids.

 We took a tram to the top of the mountain and got an amazing view of the city.
 Part way up the mountain was the Heidelberg Castle. These guys really knew how to do it right with their castles.

This is where they kept all of their wine. Judging by the size of the container, and the fact that we saw three of them, it is clear that these guys were having a good time.

Our last stop was Frankfurt. The city was less touristy than the others and was mostly focused on the financial sector. We did however see some cools sights in the Old Town and got ourselves some real live German Bratwurst.

Though their trip was short, it was great to see my parents and I am already looking forward to getting home for xmas.

Earlier in the week, a couple of the guys and I had to go to a Career Fair event for High School students in the city. In all the career fairs I have been to, there has never been a professional athlete booth, but I have learned not to be surprised by anything out here. When we arrived, we saw all the normal booths for jobs like banking and teaching, and then we saw our station: they had set up a basketball hoop and key in the middle of the fair. They told us that we were supposed to give the kids advice on following their dreams and what it takes to be successful and all that, but we ended up giving more tips on proper shooting form and being begged to dunk for two hours.

We have a three o'clock game in Berlin on Saturday and for some reason we are making the 5 hour drive Saturday morning. Because we are traveling in vans and Coach is paranoid about hitting traffic, we are leaving at 5 am. Our legs should be fresh and ready to go by tip-off...