Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Oger, Elimination and Goodbye

    All good things come to an end, as does my time here in Herten after being eliminated from the playoffs. After a tough loss in the first game of the semi-final round, we traveled to Nuremberg and had our hopes dashed in heartbreaking fashion. We lost both games by 2 points, missing threes at the buzzer in both attempts.
    Nuremberg is one of the big money teams (i.e. they have some high-paying sponsors who pump a lot of money into their team in hopes of winning the league and moving up divisions), and has some big players (literally).

This guy is 7'3"! That is bigger than Shaq. Hack, the guy guarding him is 6'9" and it looks like he is playing against his older brother who is just bullying him in the post.

His shaggy beard only adds to his oger mystique.

But despite the money and physical size, we definitely should have won both games. We were up in the 4th quarter in both games, by as much as 11 in the second game, but collapsed both times at the end. Our defense was great, keeping them under 70 in both contests, but we couldn't hit a shot from outside and missed way to many free throws for playoff basketball.

Unfortunately I got hurt the night before the first game and couldn't do anything but support the team from the bench. This was literally the first time I had missed a game since before high school. With plans for med school in the future, this is likely the end of my organized basketball career (hello Men's Adult Rec League!). 

Knowing this going into the last game made watching from the sidelines all the more painful and frustrating.

While this wasn't how I imagined my career ending, I have few complaints about the where basketball has taken me.  While I never really learned German and the NBA isn't knocking on my door, I have literally seen the world, met my best friends and created some memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to everyone who has helped me over the years: teachers, coaches friends and of course my family. None of this would have been possible without you.

I am leaving Germany on Thursday to fly to Cape Town. There I will be volunteering at the Desmond Tutu HIV clinic for a few months before returning home. I don't think I will continue the blog down there except to post some pictures for the family, so thanks again to everyone who has been keeping up with me these 7 months; I enjoyed writing and talking to you all about my experiences more than I ever thought I would.

Bis bald und nochmals vielen Dank für all eure Unterstützung!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

USSR, Carnival and Purple Cows

     On Saturday we hopped in our team vans and trekked 5 hours south for the second game against Breitengüssbach. Whether it was overconfidence, fatigue, or just our general knack for playing poorly on the road, things did not go as planned.  Despite some poor shooting (especially from me) and some foul trouble (also me), we were up 4 with under a minute to go. We then proceeded to make 1-4 freethrows, give them an open three, and then get a ridiculous foul called on a made off-balance floater with 3 seconds to go. 
    With the game tied, their best player missed the free throw.  Marcus got the rebound and was pushed out of bounds, but instead of calling a foul, the ref gave the other team the ball and ANOTHER chance to win the game. Now I know how team USA felt at the 1972 Olympics against the USSR. They ended up missing the final shot but beating us in overtime. Not only did this make the ride home miserable, but the twenty extra minutes that we wasted in overtime made me miss the end of Williams-Amherst Elite 8 game. Talk about a double-whammy.
     Thankfully the ephs didn't need me huddled over my computer screen nervously pressing the refresh button on my internet to speed up the buffering of the webcast to get the job done.  The only disappointment is that I won't be able to make it to Salem to cheer them on in person. Go Ephs!
       We played again last night and pulled through in the do-or-die game, winning the series and guaranteeing at least two more weeks of playoffs!

After the game a reporter gave me a newspaper clip with a picture after one of the games my parents went to. I have no idea what the article says, but at least the picture looks good (I'm pretty sure I remember Parker being to the left of me in this picture-sorry big guy guess you didn't make the editor's cut).

     Similar to Mardi Gras in the U.S. and Carnival in Brazil, the Germans celebrate Karnival right before lent. The festivals start at 11:11 am on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and concludes on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) with parades and floats. Similar to our Halloween, everyone dresses up in random costumes and the little kids bring bags to collect candy in. Here are some of my favorite costumes:

Even our cheerleaders got in on the fun for the game.

While these costumes definitely could have used some work, they were much better than the Halloween outfits they had on. Flashback...

For whatever reason I noticed a surprising number of cows...

...and girls dressed like pippi longstockings. The cow epidemic was obviously related to the global support of Williams quest for a National Championship, but the pippi longstocking observation was a little more tricky until I realized the surprising connection between that and stereotypical German Fraulein.

Minus the beverages, I think the resemblance is pretty clear.
The coolest part of the parade were the people on the floats throwing candy. Everyone would just yell "Haaallllllloooo" and wave and then get pelted with assorted sweets and popcorn. My height was an advantage in collecting the most candy, but it also made me an easy target; I saw more then a few kids delighting in successfully hitting me in the head with lollipops from moving floats.

They also had some cool marching bands:

In other news, I have created the perfect NCAA bracket and therefore expect to win the ESPN bracket challenge. With the money from that, and the $20 I will win from my family pool (I can finally officially bet on NCAA games!), I am thinking about bringing a Chipotle chain to Germany. These people desperately need to be made aware of the wonders of mexican food.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Berlin, Boot Testing and Beat Downs

        I want to first apologize to those of you loyal readers (probably just my parents) who have been holding their breath, sitting on the edge of their chairs, and filling with anxiety/worry/anticipation since I missed my first blog update last week. I promise to make up for this absence with some interesting cheerleader shots and other pictures for the next two weeks.
        Going into our final regular season game we had some pressure to win to help our playoff seeding. For the third time this year we made the trek to Berlin, this time to play last-place Bernau. In our first two trips we had four players foul out of each game and were so short on players one game we had to finish the game short-handed. Not surprisingly, we lost both games. Taking the importance of the game and our seeming proclivity to foul in Berlin, the decision was made to take a whopping 8 players with a no-fouling game plan....
      Luckily the referees swallowed their whistles for most of the game, and despite some interesting basketball tactics from the opposing team...

... and a late comeback run, we sealed a 4 point victory and clinched second place in the Northern division.

    I was able to spend the night in Berlin with my family and Nicole who was able to make quick visit. On Sunday we revisited the East Side Gallery to see the graffiti on what remains of the Berlin wall and then crossed Berlin to see the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Museum.

        Sachsenhausen was primarily used for political prisoners and acted as the headquarters for German efforts to undermine the American and English economies through counterfeiting and distributing large amounts of U.S. dollars and British pounds. Part of the plan included dropping millions of pounds over Britain to weaken the British currency. I wish that there was a similar plan for a drop over Herten in the next few days.
        Similar to the camp I went to in Vught, the perimeter of Sachsenhausen was lined with two fences and a gravel 'neutral zone' where prison guards were instructed to, and rewarded for, shooting any prisoner who stepped on the gravel.

         This memorial commemorates the liberation of the camp by Soviet soldiers. It was apparently redone multiple times to eliminate the sense of the prisoners as victims and the Soviets as heros, instead making prisoners in front look more like brothers in arms against a common force with the Soviet soldier in the back. 

       This seemed slightly ironic when I learned that after the war, the Soviet secret service, the NKVD, used the camp to house their own prisoners. Of the 60,000 prisoners detained there over the camp's five year existence, most had ties to the Nazi party or were arrested for hindering the establishment of Stalinism.  These camps were kept hidden from the Western world.

       One of the most interesting things we saw at the camp was the boot testing track the Nazi's installed. There was a semi-circular path in the main yard made up of six or seven different surfaces ranging from dirt/mud to rocks and tar that were used to test the durability of different German army boot prototypes. The camp commanders strapped 40 pound packs on the prisoners to simulate the load a soldier would carry and had prisoners walk back and forth along the path for up to 20 miles a day. In between laps, the prisoners had to do various calisthenics to mimic the actions of German soldiers.

     Also made a return trip to Cologne, this time to check the Cathedral out at night. I think the picture speaks for itself.

        On Friday we hosted the first round of playoffs and rewarded a sold out crowd with a 22-0 start. Our quick start earned 2 thumbs up and proved to be insurmountable for Breitengüssbach. 

Our league splits Germany in half, with 12 teams in both the North and the South.  The playoffs pit the top 8 teams in the North against our southern counterparts in best of 3 series. On Saturday we will travel down to Breitengüssbach to hopefully sweep the first round. Despite our easy win last weekend, we have seen that anything can happen on the road in this league so we definitely aren't taking anything for granted.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Little sleep, Lots of points and the Louvre

       My jet-lagged parents and brother Parker arrived early Saturday morning to the coldest weather we have had since before Christmas. Unfortunately Reid couldn't make it, but knowing him he probably had his nose buried in a book in some nook of the library all weekend anyway. Despite the cold weather and the 9-hour time difference, they made it to the game and inspired the best statistical game of my career (37 pts, 10 rebs, 5 assts, 3 stls) and witnessed my first professional dunk. It was awesome to get to play so well with them there and we won the game with little resistance. We head into our final regular season game against last place Bernau all the way in Berlin this weekend, and will finish either second or third in the North when it is all said and done heading into playoffs.

Thank goodness they got this on camera because it doesn't happen very often!

Believe it or not me and Hack plan these little 'shoe tying' events to get a few extra seconds rest. The photographer must be onto us. I guess we need to start timing them better to maximize our collective break time and avoid future suspicion.

After the game we auctioned off our jerseys. I am not sure what kind of favors the auctioneer had to promise to sell mine, but I was told afterward that is was the top seller!

On Sunday the family and I flew to Paris to get a little culture; what better place to start than the Louvre. Though some of us showed more enthusiasm for the world-renowned art than others...

I think everyone was glad we went.
Parker and I trying to look the part of a Roman Emperor
Basically exact replicas just with modern fashion
I kind of steal the show in this picture, but in the background is the slightly more famous but somewhat disappointing, Mona Lisa.

A few of the other highlights of the trip included a night tour of the Eiffel Tower...

A view from the top of the tower
... and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Despite the cold weather and Reid's absence, the trip was a blast and it was great to see the family. I am looking forward to reuniting with them in Berlin this weekend and finishing off the regular season.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

100th Point, Valentines Day & Gynecology

We got back on track with a win Saturday in front of a good home crowd. The game started off pretty ugly and we were down by 16 midway through the second quarter but somehow we sparked a 19-0 run, capped by a banked three at the buzzer, to get us up 3 heading into the locker room. There was some back and forth in the second half but we pulled away in the 4th quarter and ended up cruising to a 20 point win. The only thing out of the ordinary was the last possession of the game.

        Up 98:79 with 19 seconds left, the winning team usually just runs the shot clock out, but when our point guard got the rebound, he immediately kicked the ball out to me and yelled at me to go off a ball screen and shoot. Now you don't have to tell me to shoot twice, usually this is music to my ears, but this is the first time he had told me that all year (unfortunately) and I knew that the fat lady had been singing for a few minutes, so yes, I turned down a shot, and pulled the ball out.

        It wasn't until after we had showered when team President came up to me and asked me if I didn't like beer, that I started to figure out what had happened.  I was pondering the variety of ways I could answer his question and the various repercussions my response could have on my contract, when he interrupted and reminded me that whoever scores the 100th point has to buy beer for the team. I gave a sigh of relief that I avoided the question, and then immediately went to confront my point guard, who readily admitted that the only reason he had called a ball screen for me was so I would have to pay for his drinks. At least he is honest and has good game-situation awareness.
Our point guard getting what he deserves for trying to trick me into buying his drinks

      On Monday I took a break from orthopedics at the hospital and went to shadow the gynecology department-it was Valentine's Day after all. The first surgery I saw was the hysterectomy of a legal dwarf, and it didn't get much better after that. Because they can't stop the blood flow to the reproductive organs like they can to a wrist or foot, the surgeries were a lot more bloody than in orthopedics, and because of the nature of the surgeries, they seemed a little more gruesome. Needless to say, it was a slightly less romantic V-day then I am used to, but definitely one I will never forget.

     Back in orthopedics the Chief told me he wanted me to do a surgery before I left... "nothing big-just taking a plate out of an ankle or something like that." I couldn't read the facial expression behind his surgical mask so I am not completely sure that he was joking...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rasta, US Consulate and Super Bowl Monday

On Saturday we traveled to play Rasta Vechta who was part of our three-way tie for second place. The gym was sold out and a surprisingly large contingent of lion fans made the 2 hour trip. Vechta easily has the best mascot in the league...

It was a great game the whole way through. We were tied at halftime and then back and forth throughout the second half. We took a 6 point lead towards the end of the 3rd quarter, but unfortunately we just couldn't stay on our feet and seal the win... 

With three regular season games left, we need to pick it up if we want to secure home court advantage for the playoffs. 

While we don't know how the season will end, it is clear that we will be in good shape for the finale. In an effort to get us to concentrate more during the second half of the season, Coach declared that for every euro someone on our team was fined (for being late, forgetting their ball, peeing in the shower, etc.) the team would have to run a suicide. This went well for all of about seven days, but has recently spiraled out of control. Last weekend a player forget their jersey and got a technical foul. Boom, 50 suicides. This weekend another player forgot their jersey and was 30 minutes late. Boom, 70 suicides. Since we only practice 4 days a week and we like to have a somewhat light practice the day before a game, we will have to run these 70 suicides over the course of 3 days. I guess it worked in the movie 'Coach Carter', but I have my doubts how it will work out for us.

Last Friday was Rosa Parks birthday, and because the gym we played at is randomly named Rosa Parks Schule, they had a birthday celebration that I was invited to. Also in attendance was the US Vice-Consulate from Dusseldorf. Being that he was a big basketball fan from Texas, we immidiately hit it off and he asked me to work with the MeetUS program that American Embassies run. I will basically go into local schools, talk about what I am doing in Germany and American culture and society, and then field questions from the kids. Based on my past experiences with kids out here and the perception of the US, and California specifically, I will be fielding a lot of questions about guns, movie stars, fast food and surfing, none of which I know much about.  I was also told part of the job required me to friend the U.S. Consulate-Dusseldorf on Facebook and spread the good word. Consider this my plug.

Thanks to the NFL network I was able to enjoy Super Bowl Monday (the game didn't start until after midnight here) with a few of my American football loving friends. Unfortunately there was no pizza or hot wings, but I was able to scrounge up some BBQ chips and some mediocore cheese dip to help keep me up so I can't complain.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Second Chances and Switzerland

I am not sure if it was the fact that we got to play with 5 players the entire game, or that we didn't have to leave at 5 am to drive across Germany to play, but the second time around with Alba Berlin went much better than the first. I personally had an off shooting night, but the rest of the team definitely picked up the slack.  But for a few acrobatics, the game was not too exciting and we came away with an easy win.  

The victory bumped us up in the standings into a 3 way tie for second place with 4 regular season games left (2 of which are against the teams we are tied with). We need to get a few wins to secure home court advantage for as much of the playoffs as possible.

Because we played on Friday night, I had a long weekend break and headed south to Geneva for a few days. For the first time since I have been out here, I wished it had been a little colder when a planned hike in the Alps was cancelled due to a lack of snow! Besides that minor set back, and the fact that Geneva is the 9th most expensive city in the world, the trip was a blast. 

We started off with a day trip to Lausanne, a city of 100,000 located on Lake Geneva and famous for its Cathedral.

The second day we bused across the border into France and took a gondola up Mont Saleve. The ride only took 5 minutes, but by the time we were dropped off the temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees and we were literally in the clouds. The visibility was about 10 feet and the only saving grace was a little hot dog and hot chocolate stand.

For some reason we decided to keep hiking up the mountain, but this turned out to be the best decision of the day. After about 15 minutes, we got up out of the clouds and had an amazing view of the Alps.

On the last day of the trip I explored the city of Geneva itself, seeing the famous Jet d'eau which shoots 143 gallons of water per second over 400 feet high...

As well as the slightly anti-clamatic, but still cool, Flower Clock of Geneva.

Although my wallet is happy to be back in Germany, the trip was a lot of fun and I am excited for my parents to get out here in a couple weeks to do some more traveling!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

German Bongo Bands and Paul the Octopus

       We made the four hour drive to Hamburg worth the effort, coming up with a nice road win Sunday night. We jumped out to a 14 point lead at the end of the first quarter, but then started to play down to the competition and ended up only leading by 1 going into the half. After an emotional half-time speech by Coach Borris, we turned things around in the second half and won by 13. I couldn't hit a three to save my life, but I got to the charity stripe 13 times. Unless your name is Shaquille O'Neal, or you shoot your freethrows with your eyes closed (or both), 13 freethrow attempts always helps the stat line. 
       The clear highlight of the game was the 20+ member bongo drum band that played for 23 consecutive minutes from introductions through the ENTIRETY of the 1st quarter-including freethrows and time outs. A loud crowd is one thing, but the methodical, repititious beats of a german bongo band composed primarily of 40+ year-old women is a whole nother monster (if there was one picture I need to complete my blog this is surely it)!
       At the hospital I have been stitching up a few more patients. Dr. Hoffman even went so far as to call me a professional. I thought about asking if that meant I should be getting paid...but didn't want to push my luck.
       I also made it out to the Oberhausen aquarium the supposed home of Paul the Octopus. Paul gained world fame this summer by correctly predicting the outcome of Germany's seven World Cup games. 

    Unfortuntaley it seems all of the fame had taken its toll on Paul and he moved on to Octopus Heaven (where I am guessing they don't serve calamari) a few months ago. Although I was extremely disappointed that I was not able to meet Paul, I was able to pay my respects at his grave site.

I guess if you can predict soccer games in Europe your ashes are forever enshrined in a gold statue of yourself.

I was also able to find Nemo...

And found an intimidating outfit...

So all and all it was a successful day.

We have a quick turnaround this week, playing at home on Friday with the chance to get revenge on Alba Berlin. Hopefully this time we finish the game with more than four players on the court...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Victory, Green Bees and European Haircuts

   After blowing a late lead in our midweek game we lost our second game in a row for the first time all season. Needless to say this led to some frustration...

...but after getting a few more practices under our belt, we were able to right the ship and take an easy victory on Sunday night. We finally started to shoot the ball well-hopefully a sign that our Christmas rust is rubbing off. 

       A less likely, but still plausible root for a regained shooting accuracy could have been the inspiration of our new mascot.

    It is unclear how this gumby-bumblebee hybrid resembles anything close to a lion, but nonetheless, we are undefeated in his presence so no one is complaining.

    During warm-ups before our last game, one of my teammates brought me over to half court and started pointing towards the opposing team. I thought he was going to talk about a particular part of the scouting report or defensive assignments, but instead he bluntly informed me that I barely lost the competition for worst haircut in the gym to this guy:

    Oh the Germans and their sense of humor!  With this, I decided that my new euro look needed to at least be shaped up a little and I built up the courage to brave the German hair salon. I brought in a picture of Tom Brady and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, as I suppose is usually the case with this particular strategy, it didn't work. Once the barber started to cut my flowing locks there was little I could say (literally) or do to stop him. I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

At the hospital I stitched up my first patient! It was just 6 stitches on the wrist but it was still pretty cool. For having learned how to stitch on youtube they were pretty straight and clean...