I’m going to mix it up a bit, with this weeks post being somewhat of a journal entry detailing a typical day/roadtrip in the life of a professional basketball player. Here’s a taste…enjoy!
Friday March 13, 10:00am
This morning at practice I was really tired. Even though it was light with a lot of shooting and half court drills, my legs were heavy and I felt as though I was using all my energy to get up and down the floor. I’m not sure why I was so exhausted, but this past week my muscles were really sore and my body felt run down. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was getting over a cold and our late night practices (9-11pm) which are followed by morning workouts only 11 hours later (10am) were making it tough for my body to completely recover. I’ve been sleeping fine, but sometimes you need time to rest. A lot of people have knocked my profession, suggesting that it’s easy to only play basketball as a job. But what they don’t realize is that even though I only ‘work’ 4 hours a day, every single ounce of energy I have in me is expended during that short period of time. I’m the type of person that gives everything I have in whatever I do. There’s no coffee break here, just 100% effort put out and left on the floor. Some days are tougher than others, but you find a way to make it through.
While eating lunch as a team at the gym's café, I made sure to sit in the sun and soak up its warm rays - deciding it was easily one of the most beautiful afternoons I’ve experienced on Madeira. Too bad we left for the Azores a few hours later...After lunch we hopped in the van and headed for the airport. With no direct flight from Funchal to Terceira, this was going to be the longest road trip of the season. We left Funchal at 2pm for Lisbon, after a 2 hour layover caught the Lisbon to Terceira flight and finally landed on the Azores at 7:30pm - gaining an hour in the process. Tired, sore and hungry, Casey and I collapsed in our hotel room and played cards for almost 2 hours before the scheduled 9pm team dinner. Ahhh, how I love European travel itinerary…
Fun fact: Terceira is closer to the USA than it is to Lisbon.
Saturday, March 14, 9:30am
Happy Birthday to me! Today I’m 24 and feel as though I’m 30! Seriously, I didn’t sleep a wink last night - which probably had a lot to do with the fact that our hotel room reeked of mold. It was disgusting! Opening the windows didn't help, as the smell was embedded in the pillows, sheets and towels. Even grosser? Casey’s sheets were damp. Sick! Apparently Terceira is known to have a lot of mold problems because of its humidity and dampness. The combination of these two is not a good one, thus, the nose crinkling smell of mold is everywhere. Ugh!
Heading down to breakfast I expected at least a happy birthday from one of my teammates. Nope, just bom dia’s (good morning) all round. I was kind of crushed, but Casey had made me stay up the night before until midnight Madeira time (11pm on Terceira) to wish me happy birthday and give me a hug. At almost the same time I received a phone call from Jason (one of our men’s players) and a couple text messages from friends not on the trip with us. It was nice and made my day. After breakfast Case and I caught a couple more hours of sleep before heading to team lunch. Still no birthday wishes – sad. Ah well, I’ll live. After eating, Casey and I wandered around downtown to take pictures and explore a bit of the historical city. Terceira is very unique, lined with old buildings and cobblestone streets. Some stores were painted bright colors while others barely clung to their old brick foundations. One of my favorite parts of playing pro ball is experiencing and walking around random unique cities - places I would never dream of visiting or knew existed had I not decided to play professional basketball. I know I say this all the time, but I’m so thankful for what basketball has given me.
Near the end of our walking tour we came across a store called Loja Americana. Low and behold, it was a grocery store that sold only imported American food. From Ritz Crackers to Pop Tarts to Betty Crocker cakes – a little slice of home was all right there. Both of us were ecstatic to grab a taste of home and pulled on the door handle only to find out it was locked. Just our luck! It had closed at 1pm and it was 1:30pm. Talk about bad timing. Oogling at the goodies inside, we managed to tear ourselves away, trudging back to the hotel.
Once we returned to our room we changed into our jerseys and cranked the music to get pumped up. Casey and I were ready to face Boa Viagem (4th place team we had lost to earlier in the season) in the last game of the regular season. With the gym only 2 blocks from our hotel, we headed into battle on foot. Upon entering the gym, I immediately started coughing. If I thought the hotel had a moldy smell, it was nothing compared to the gym. Wondering how I was going to get enough oxygen to my lungs from the stagnant arena air, I thought positive thoughts and tried to acclimate as quickly as possible.
Starting the first quarter strong, CAB raced out to a 5-point lead. However, that quickly diminished and we found ourselves down by 10 for most of the game. BV’s American player is much bigger and stronger than me and I had a tough time defending her myself. Switching to a ¾ front with the double coming from the weak side, Casey and I were able to contain her much better; but with no rotation on the pass out, the two of us became extremely frustrated because BV seemed to be scoring at will. After throwing in some junk defense and playing tougher ‘D’ on the help side, we were able to stay in the game. With most my shots rolling out in the first half, I quickly found my rhythm in the second and rattled off 6 straight points. Tighter defense on their American led to her collecting a frustration foul on offense. She didn’t like the call, or our guard who boxed her out and quickly turned her direction and punched her in the neck! No joke! Thank goodness for the ref being in the right place at the right time. He immediately issued her a intentional foul and she was out of the game. Crazy. I was so proud of our young player who caught her breath, collected herself and knocked down both free throws. Not bad for 17! This was the momentum change we needed and we started playing with a passion and energy we lacked in the first. Though the game was close the rest of the way, I had a feeling we were going to pull this one out. Down 5 with a minute 30 to go, I rebounded an offensive board and threw it out to our wing who buried an open 3. Next possession we created a turnover and our PG hit 1 of 2 FT. With 13 seconds left in the game and us down by 1, coach drew up a play for Casey who had hit her last 2 shots. The set broke down on offense and their guard doubled down on Casey. Reacting, I quickly sealed my player inside. Our PG immediately saw the opening and passed me the ball inside. Making a quick move middle and spinning the other way, I banked a hook shot off the glass – up and in!!! Timeout Boa Viagem with 7 seconds left to play. Hype after gaining our first lead since the first quarter, we were all pumped to play some sticky ‘D’. Receiving our assignments - it was now or never. Once the ball was in play Carla, our best defensive player, locked up their best guard and she turned the ball over! We quickly in bounded the ball and ran out the time – victory!!! A great win and huge character builder for our team heading into playoffs. Phew! We all embraced at half court and quickly shook hands with the other team. As we walked back to our bench the girls surrounded me and sang happy birthday in Portuguese at the top of their lungs. I couldn’t stop smiling and decided to do an impromptu dance inside the circle. What a great birthday gift!
After showering and changing clothes, we were off to dinner, where the lights were dimmed and happy birthday was sang once again with cake. The girls explained that they knew it was my birthday, but wanted to get the ‘W’ and surprise me at dinner. Thank goodness we won…
Returning to our hotel room in high spirits around 10pm, Casey and I decided we didn’t want the night to end quite yet. Since I had just turned the big 24, we asked Juca (our coach) if it was ok if we could go to a local bar and hang out for the rest of the evening. He told us to be smart and make sure we were at breakfast at 8:30am. No prob. After chatting with the guy at the front desk, we learned about of couple of the hot spots and chose one to test out. Catching a cab we were off, with our destination being an indoor/outdoor bar on the water. It was awesome. Here we were sitting on a dock, looking out onto the ocean while house music thumped in the background. It was pretty amazing and a nice way to take in the atmosphere. Casey and I had a great time people watching, viewing passing ships and admiring the old buildings surrounding the scene. I don’t know how many times we said to each other “look where we are right now! How many people get to experience this?” Of course on such a small island, it should be no surprise that we bumped into 2 American men who played on Terceira team. We spent most of the evening talking to them about home and our experiences abroad. They were nice guys and it was a great way to spend the last hours of my birthday.
Fun fact: cows outnumber people living on the island of Terceira.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Up bright and early for our jaunt back to Funchal, the girls and I couldn’t wait to get home (Madeira.) After surviving layovers and flight transfers we finally arrived in Funchal at 5:30pm. I couldn’t wait to get to the house, relax and grab some dinner. However, Casey had other plans. After jumping out of the shower, my awesome roommate had another b-day surprise planned. Who walks in but our 3 men’s players with a bunch of groceries. Imagine my surprise when they announced they were cooking dinner for my 24th and that all I had to do was sit back, relax and just be the DJ. A dinner of fried chicken, home made mac and cheese and sweet potatoes was topped off with ice cream and a couple of gifts! Wow, what great people I have surrounding me this year. I couldn’t believe the generosity of my North American counterparts and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. We closed out the evening at our favorite bar full of transplants from all over the world. New Zealand, England, South Africa, Sweden and so on. It’s a great place with good people and we love going there to just hang out. This is a birthday I won’t forget. What a fabulous weekend, thanks Casey – you’re the best!
Fun Fact: Terceira is home to Lajes U.S. Air Base, which is strategically located between North America and Europe in the North Atlantic Ocean. Lajes provides support to 15,000 aircraft, including fighters from the US and 20 other allied nations each year. The geographic position has made this airbase very important to both America's and NATO's war fighting capability.
Sidenote: My brother’s university (UBC – University of British Columbia) made the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) National Championship final Sunday night in Ottawa. While Casey and the guys were cooking we all watched the broadcast online. After dominating the first half and leading by 5 into the break, they played an uninspired second and ended up losing by 10. It was disappointing, especially because they were clearly the better team. Number 2 in Canada is nothing to scoff at, but it’s hard losing a close game like that. I’m proud of you bro!