Friday 9/19

First of all, Thank God I made it to Lithuania safely, we flew on one of those tiny 50 people planes and the last 20 minutes of the flight was so sketch, but like they say in Hawaii between islands, “Alllllllllllriiiiiiiiiggggggggggggggtttttttttttt we made it”. I could not believe how beautiful Lithuania was! As we flew in I was looking out the window at big buildings that looked like they were very old, but in beautiful condition, it kind of reminded me of South Carolina. Then out the other window was huge trees and pretty flat land, but the deepest forest green color you could imagine. When we drove from the airport to the hotel you could tell that Lithuania was much more Americanized than Ukraine. The hotel I am staying in is very tiny and pretty bad, but it is in a beautiful location. There is either or a lake or river, not sure that looks like pure glass, unreal for wakeboarding or skiing, but they use it for rowing. I am staying in Trakai which is 20 minutes from the capital (Vilnos) of Lithuania. It is known for its rowing I guess because there are people training at our hotel and rowing really early every morning.
We got a new player this week, he is a point guard from Slovenia. He speaks English , is 28, and is a smart point guard. He has played around Europe for a long time and was telling me that I would probably love playing in Portugal. He played there for a little and loved it because it was like 80 degrees year round. That is what I like to hear!!! It’s nice to have another guy on the team who speaks good English. Its funny though in about 1 month of being around some of the Ukrainian guys, they are already speaking much better English. In our first scrimmage this week in Lithuania, I played pretty well. I was able to start the game on an ally-oop layup and then hit a 3 to start the game with a quick 5 points. We were able to jump out to a big lead and keep it the entire game, never letting the other team get within 8 points. I finished up with 14 points and 10 or 11 rebounds, so a double-double! I was 3 of 6 from 2 point range, getting my points off left hand layups and ally-oop and was 1 for 2 from 3 point range. I was able to get to the free throw line and shoot 5 of 6 from there…probably even should have gone at least 2 more times, but since we were up a lot they didn’t give me some calls at the end. We ended up winning by 13 points and our coach still said their were to many mistakes, but we were able to take care of the ball and that was the biggest difference this game.
Our second scrimmage this week we played a Euro League team called Zalgiris, which means they are top level competition in all over Europe, and they won the Euro League championship in 2001. Their facility was beautiful when we walked in, brand spanking new. You could tell how professional this team was and they are owned by former Euro legend and NBA big man Arvydas Sabonis from the Portland trailblazers.
The game went pretty well for our team, we were able to stay close the entire game and ended up losing by 6, but we also didn’t have two players due to injury. However, this game was not a good one for me. I was not seeing eye to eye with my coach and therefore didn’t get to play that much because he blamed our defensive mistakes on me. I ended up with only 4 points and 4 rebounds in about 20 minutes of play, but felt very frustrated most of the game because I feel like our coach holds me and the other Americans to a much higher standard than everyone else. That was not my problem, but during halftime the way he singled me and the other American out for the same mistakes everyone had been making, I felt it was uncalled for. We were working hard and trying our best to understand what he wants us to do, but its like a trainer giving a young puppy a leash and letting the puppy run until he does something wrong and then pulling the leash. Well today I felt like my leash was 3 feet long, and I wasn’t able to run. Whether I was confused on a defensive assignment for a big man on a screen and roll, or I was confused on help and recover, or I was confused on how we were supposed to front the post when we get no help from a guard on a backpack because they had good shooters, or how if there was an offensive rebound that wasn’t my man, it was put on me. It was frustrating sitting and watching our team play pretty well, but not being able to get past a 6 or 7 point barrier. I guess I am just going to try to take this as a learning process, go back to work, keep my confidence high, and keep grinding.
The next scrimmage did not go much better. We lost to a team that was not that good. However, it was very weird because our coach was not yelling and screaming and did not seem to care that much. We had 3 guys sitting out and we also played a lot of our younger guys or are on the second team, but we still should have beaten this pretty weak opponent. I didn’t even get much of a chance to play this game. I tried to make the most of my opportunities and I got in the last 2 minutes of the first quarter and got to the free throw line twice and shot 3 for 4 and grabbed 2 rebounds. After that though I didn’t get much action, only played the last 2 or 3 minutes of every period and never got into the rhythm of the game. It was one of the slowest games I have ever played in though because the lights keep shutting off on the court, and the scoreboard kept going out, so it was more like a practice than even a scrimmage. I have been super frustrated that last two days with how things have been going on basketball wise and also the ticket for Jake to come out has been taking forever, and we still haven’t heard the exact date and I am getting so bored because I am in this tiny hotel that I have been at for 8 days and it’s the same thing over and over every day and there is lots of downtime where I have watched so many movies and football games. I just can’t wait to get back to the big U aka Ukraine! The one nice thing was that we got to play in this beautiful arena that probably holds 7 to 8 thousand people and it reminded me a college arena, except that it was empty and it was very odd playing with absolutely no noise. One positive out of this trip as well is we got to stay at a unbelievable hotel. The food was amazing, I finally got a steak! It was a 4 or 5 star hotel and it was about 1,000 times better than the one we stayed at the entire 10 days. The bad news was it was only for one dinner, one night, and one breakfast, so it was the biggest tease ever!
Our next scrimmage all the guys who played a lot of minutes yesterday, like 6 or 7 guys, sat out and we played some young team from Lithuania, like 17 and 18 year olds. He made me play for whatever reason and I kind of took that as disrespect, none the less I went out and had like 25 and 15 or whatever, I lost count after 20 and 10 but it was frustrating that he made me play in that game, but the good news is that I took it out on the young kids, I had probably the best tip dunk of my life, I got fouled and made the tip dunk and jumped onto a 6’3” guy and as I hung on the rim my legs wrapped around his neck. I definitely poster-ized the poor dude and even his teammates were laughing at him.
When I got finished playing the game I came back to my room to find my teammate Jerel in a ton of pain. He had been out for about 8 or 9 days with what was diagnosed as a Charlie horse or deep bruise. He had been getting shots and all kinds of medication and was saying he was only a day away from getting back to full practice. However, after 20 minutes of getting his last shot, his leg began to swell instantly and you could actually see his quad expanding and getting bigger by the second. He went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a torn muscle and will be out 2 months now. It is unreal how what was thought to be a simple bruise turned into a 2 month injury. Luckily, he will stay here and rehab and try to get back as fast as possible and not sent home for good. Supposedly, we are going to have a replacement come in for 2 months to fill his spot. We are just praying for a speedy because we need him badly.
We had our last scrimmage versus another Euro league powerhouse called Lieutuvos Rytas. They have also won the Euro league championship and have had players like former Laker, Kareem Rush play for them 2 years ago. They even had fellow pac-10 player Aron Baynes on the team now, for those who don’t know who that is, he is a huge Australian center from Washington State. I started this game, played about 2 minutes and then subbed out for the rest of the game. I am not quite sure what the coach is trying to do now because Kevin didn’t play that much either. A little more than me, but he literally had a 13 second stretch in the 2nd half and then was pulled. We couldn’t really do anything but laugh about it on the bus. We got smoked by a very good team, but we didn’t play that well and its tough watching your team struggle from the sidelines. Just waiting to see next week at practice what the lesson from all this was.
I am so ready to get back to Ukraine! I didn’t think that sentence would ever come out of my mouth, but after being in this tiny hotel room for the last 9 days, eating and doing the same thing, it is time to get out of here! I have been extremely bored the last couple of days and have watched almost too much TV and too many movies. I have been watching this new season of Nitro Circus (Travis Pastrana is a wild man and has the biggest wavos of any man ever and lives life to the edge more than anyone who has ever lived. Back flipping a motorcycle across two building structures over 10 stories high is insane) and Fantasy Factory (It is sad to see Rob without Big, but he still is hilarious and lives the most ridiculous/fun life ever. If I could spend a day with anybody in the entire world, he would definitely be up there because he lives the life, always doing something so fun). I was lucky enough to meet the Nitro Circus and Fantasy Factory crew and go to the final episode shoot of season 1 because of my boy Mike McNamara who records with the girl Chanel who is the receptionist on Fantasy Factory. Check him out on MySpace, you heard it hear first, Mike Mac is going to be the next big time producer, my dude is on his grind and putting in mad work, if you don’t believe me, check it out.
Another thing that has been interesting is that the food has been much better here! Everything is pretty normal and I have actually really enjoyed the food. The only problem is we eat 3 times a day 8:30 am, 1:00pm, and 8:00pm and it is not buffet. So if you know me I am starving all day long!!! I eat like a wild beast who you think has been starving and only getting one plate of food 3 times a day for someone as big as me and who is working as much as I am, not even close to enough.
Also, on Sunday night everyone thought something bad happened to me as I was jumping around screaming like a mad man in my room. I was watching the Broncos game on my Slingbox in my hotel room and as I saw Carson drive the Bengals down to the goal and score with 20 seconds left I was so mad because the Denver Broncos are the only Pro franchise in any sport I actually really care about. I don’t know if it is because I was born in Denver, or because John Elway is my hero, or because my dream job is being the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, but I literally get more nervous watching Broncos games than doing anything else because I feel like I am a part of the team and I have no control when I am sitting back watching. But, as I was just about to slam my laptop with frustration because I didn’t want to watch the last painful 20 seconds of the game of the desperation act of trying to drive 87 yards with no timeouts I laid back in my bed and rolled my eyes. Then I saw a ball thrown to Brandon Marshall who was tripled covered get tipped and somehow land into Brandon Stokely’s hands with no one between him and the goaline. I literally thought I was daydreaming, until they played the replay, and I rubbed my eyes and watched closely to make sure I was not imaging this miracle ending and once I realized it had actually happened I started yelling and screaming like I had won the lottery. A win is a win and I will take it for week 1 baby!
I was able to watch so many movies as well because I had so much free time in Lithuania and watched The Goods, thanks for free movies online, and then It’s A Sure Thing, Dan In Real Life, and hands down the best Keanu Reeves movie ever, Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure, it was so bodacious. I literally think the movie is so bad that you can not laugh the entire time, kind of like Surfer Dude with Mathew McConaughey…you would think it’s a joke or parody because of how bad the acting is, but none the less I find it so entertaining!
Finally, I was able to return home Thursday night really late and again Thank God I made it because we flew on the oldest plane ever back. It had no air conditioning or lights or oxygen masks above the seats. It was a model I have never heard of in my entire life and the plane shook the entire time, not from turbulence, but from the propeller on the wing looking like it was not attached tight enough! I am just glad to be back in Ukraine and out of the boring hotel!

Sunday 9/6

This week I have gotten a dose of reality and how professional basketball is a business. There are no scholarships, it’s not a 4 year free ride like college anymore, it is perform or we will find someone who will. One of my teammates was released because they didn’t think he cut it and they are looking for someone else to fill his position. He is a 25 year old guy who is from Ukraine and played the 3. He is married and has a 14 month old baby girl. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to go home to his wife and tell her that they have to move already and find a new place to play. He had moved up from the 2nd division last year from a city in West Ukraine, and this was his first year in the Superleague. He was here no longer than 1 month and probably collected one months pay and now has to start the process all over of finding a new team, learning the system, getting to know his teammates, and moving his family, or give up basketball. It makes me thankful for everything that I have and motivates me to work that much harder because I know one day when I have a wife and kids, one thing I want to never do, or do as little as possible is to tell them I lost my job.
On a lighter note, this week has gone by fast. I am starting to get more and more comfortable and the days are getting shorter and shorter. I am on the same routine so I am starting to feel very settled and comfortable. I am able to watch a lot of television and movies between practices because I have about 5 hours where I want to do nothing but kick my feet up and relax. I have been able to watch Ray, an unbelievably good movie and great performance by Jamie Fox, that man is talented! He can sing, act, dance, and is a hilarious stand up comedian. The movie is great because it goes through all the ups and downs of a courageous mans life. It’s wild how we take things like our vision or hearing for granted daily, but this movie really makes you appreciate what God has blessed each of us with. It also gave me a great appreciation for Ray Charles was able to accomplish with his never give up, don’t let anything stand in his way, no matter how many obstacles there may be attitude. I have also watched Season 1 and 2 of the OC. The show is so bad, but so good at the same time. There is way too much drama and it is so fake just like most of the acting, Marissa and Johnny are terrible, but it’s so addicting. I love Seth and Summer’s relationship too, its classic, and they use every dynamic which makes it fun to watch the rollercoaster ride of an oddly great relationship. Although the show the OC is nothing like the real OC, it is hilarious to watch and reminds me of the good old days of high school! That was 8 years ago that I was starting my freshman year, time goes by way too fast!
We had our first scrimmage versus another team today that is in our league. We left at 1:30 took a 3 hour bus ride, again bumpy as hell; I am already way over the roads here in Ukraine. We ending up losing by 3 to a team we are better than, but we started the game horribly and we were all just trying to feel one another out and coach was playing different lineups to see who played well with one another. We played much better in the second half and even had a chance to win it, however free throws were missed. It was great to finally play a real opponent and not our second team, because we were able to see the areas we need to work on and that is taking care of the ball. Way too many wild and careless passes led to what must have been at least 25 or more turnovers. The game seemed very long though, because 4 quarters, 10 minutes in length and a stopping clock is much longer than college.
Personally, I played pretty well for my first scrimmage and real look at the Euro game. I had 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 0 assists in around 25-28 minutes of play. It could have been much better if I was able to hit some open threes that I had. I was 2-2 from the free throw line and 6-11 from the field 0 for 3 from 3 point range, 6-8 from 2 point range. Most of my points came off of layups in transition or drive and dishes. I had two face up jumpers in the post as well. Overall, I have a ton of room for improvement, just learning what I can and cant get away with, I was called for a travel which I definitely disagreed with, but they call it tighter over here and they don’t call fouls when you jump into someone, instead on tacky reaching or bump fouls. Also, our team has a ton of room to grow, we have most of the components, and just need to learn how to play together, but that will come with time. Going to Lithuania and playing 7 or 8 games in 10 days will be very beneficial to our growth as a team. I am excited I get to see another country because of basketball so that will make it 5 different countries in exactly a month that I have been here, not bad!
I’m about to jump on the bus and head to Lithuania, peace!