Emotions are a funny thing. Some people wear them on their sleeve, while others keep them bottled up and hidden from view. Everyone has their own way of displaying emotion and personally, I think I fit somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I definitely don’t put my emotions on for display, but I enjoy life and that tends to be reflected through my body language and outgoing personality. I’m not afraid to admit that I tear up at sappy movies, sentimental TV moments or even at well written magazine articles - but showing frustration on the court is something I work hard to keep hidden. There are certain things I never want the opposition to see and this emotion is definitely one of them.
Any competitive athlete knows how important emotions are both on and off the court. How you display emotion during competition not only affects performance and mindset, but also affects the way you interact with teammates, opponents and fans. It’s a huge part of the game many people take for granted and more often than not has a direct effect on the outcome.
As I’ve grown older and matured as both a player and person, I’ve realized how much of an effect emotions have had on my game. I’m a completely different player now than I was in high school and college. As a professional, I like to think that I’ve learned from past mistakes and have changed the way I react on the court in certain situations. This isn’t to say I never slip up – of course I’ve thrown a dirty look at a ref or told a cheap player give it a rest, but I’m nowhere near the hot head I was in high school. In college I quickly learned to tame these emotions - or else I'd be riding the pine. It took some effort, but when you’re playing in the über-physical Pac-10 conference facing menacing 6’3”+ post players every night, constant taunts from opposing fans and officials that don’t blow their whistle unless someone draws blood - you better learn to keep yourself in check or success won’t come easily.
Conversely, each time I return to Europe for another season I find myself mentally preparing for the emotion, or rather lack of emotion I will face that year. This isn’t to say I don’t play with passion over here, but it’s a different kind of passion. The college atmosphere is so completely different than the one in Europe and the change can be quite startling. Abroad, you have to really dig deep to pump yourself up and get excited about little victories on the court. You can’t depend on others like you did in college to get you through the tough times. It’s a total adjustment and making it can be quite lonely.
This is not to knock European basketball, but there’s something about playing in front of 3,500+ purple clad fans supporting your every move on the court. Cheerleaders are on the sidelines pumping up the crowd, the band is playing their heart out to “Hey Baby” and “Bow Down to Washington” and you can actually hear your friends and family (my mother!) screaming at the top of their lungs. This type of environment is hard to top. (Well, maybe it's equal to playing in front of a rival school’s hostile fans whose only desire is to see you fail. There’s nothing like silencing the opposing crowd with a great play or sunk free throw. Talk about adrenaline!) In college I remember fist pumping after and 1’s, roaring with pride after a teammate took a charge and running down the bench for high fives after swished 3 pointers. Our crowd would be on their feet, often making so much noise you could barely hear the referee’s whistle! These types of moments brought out my raw emotion and passion – something I never want to conceal. Fans in the stands saw us play with reckless abandon – leaving everything we had on the court. There’s nothing like being a part of a hard fought basketball game; the emotions you experience are indescribable and are some of the best feelings in the world.
After experiencing the highest of highs (and the many lows) of college basketball, I’ve noticed that Europe isn’t for everyone. Some players can’t do it. If you don’t have the inner drive to get yourself going – good luck succeeding over here. You’re literally on an island. And in some cases, you’re the only North American on your team – making it even tougher because there is no one to relate to. You have to find what gets you going, because there is no band, cheerleaders or family members in the crowd to lift you up. It’s just you and the hardwood. Of course you have teammates who are supportive to an extent, but they will never be able to duplicate the camaraderie of college basketball. University gives you 4 years with the same girls, same system, same coaching staff and same environment. You develop passion and loyalty for the program. I bleed purple and gold and nothing will ever change that. In Europe I’ve played for 3 teams in 2 years – so it’s very hard to develop that same sense of loyalty each time you put on a new jersey.
That being said, for the first time in my 2 years overseas I felt some of that emotion I experienced in college come out on Sunday. In my previous post I wrote about how we were facing the 2 strongest teams on Saturday and Sunday. These were 2 HUGE games, as they would determine first place. Playing on 2 very sore achilles and with a new teammate who had arrived Thursday before the game, it was going to be a tough, tough weekend. On Saturday vs. Vagos (a team we lost to earlier in the season) we played a solid game and pulled off an 8-point win. It was a big victory for us and a great way to start the weekend. Having not practiced the previous week and a half because of my injury, I sucked it up for the game and took the court. It was hard to get comfortable, as each step I took felt like fire was shooting through my ankles. However, I was needed on the court and gave everything I had (10pts 7rbs). My shooting was off, but I thought I did pretty good considering I was playing at about 70% of what I’m capable of. Our new American (Casey Nash) did great for having learned all our plays and defensive systems just 2 nights before. She’s really going to help us out. Casey is one of those players that has intangibles. She has a knack for the ball – it seems to find her on the court and she knows what to do with it. I’m excited to be her teammate for the rest of the season. Pac-10 baby!
After icing my achilles constantly that evening, Case and I went over the game plan to prepare for Olivais the next day. Olivais is the most talented team in the league, with WNBA draft pick Ambrosia Anderson leading the charge. Somewhat revitalized, I gingerly took the court for the second time in 24 hours. Feeling the effects from the previous game, I hoped I would be able to assist enough for a win. A horrible 1st half saw us down by 15 at the break and me as cold as ice. I’m pretty sure I was 0-for-Februrary in the opening stanza! After some positive self talk in the locker room at half and Casey and I pumping each other up, I took the court ready for battle. Our miniscule (but dedicated) crowd started to get loud, singing songs, banging drums and cheering made baskets. All of a sudden we went on a 15-2 run and cut the lead to a single possession. Pressing full court, we forced multiple turnovers and started to fight our way back into the game. The gym was loud, the team was pumped and I finally found my touch. Down 2 with 3 minutes to play I hit a 3 from the top of the key to take our first lead of the game. Running back on ‘D’ I let out a “yeaaaaaaaah, let’s go!” and started to feel that emotion from college that I had missed so much. We were going to win this game! Trading baskets the next few possessions, I collected an offensive board and put up a shot – getting fouled in the process. The layup rolled in and once again I roared with happiness and fist pumped the air. After knocking down the following free throw we were once again up by 1. Two defensive stops and a steal by Casey had us holding the final possession. A quick foul put Case on the line with 20 seconds left. The cool lefty calmly knocked down 2 free throws to push our lead at 3. Two missed shots by Olivais players had the buzzer sounding and my teammates and I embracing. Yes! A hard fought victory filled me with the emotion I had been missing since college.
Currently we’re sitting on top of the league and can hold the position outright by winning our 5 remaining games. It’s definitely do-able. This Sunday we face a 2nd division team in a cup game (doesn’t count for league), so hopefully I’ll once again be able to rest my aching feet. I’m getting worried, as my achilles problem isn't any better. I’m still in quite a bit of pain when I run and jump. I need the team to be patient, but that doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary. I know we need to win games and I’m being paid to play, but I have to look out for myself as this could turn in to a chronic situation. Fingers crossed for magic healing powers…