It’s that time of year again - the time when every basketball player’s hopes and dreams are within reach. For most, March Madness turns into April Sadness – as late playoff pushes and early round exits are inevitable. This third month of every year harbors a wide range of emotions for many athletes. From joy to despair, anger to frustration and nervousness to desperation – everything a passionate ball player has is left on the court. It may sound cliché, but blood, sweat and tears fall like rain thoughout the Northwest during post-season play. Every team is in search of one thing and one thing only - being crowned National Champion.
After experiencing the highs of college basketball and twice playing in the NCAA tournament, post-season in Europe just doesn’t have the same feel. Sure it’s exciting and the goal remains the same – but the hype, atmosphere and environment pales in comparison. I’m sure this can’t be said for everywhere in Europe – but in my 2 seasons of play abroad, I often find myself thinking about what once was and the emotions college players are feeling this time of year. I miss it.
On the other side of the ocean in a completely different basketball world, my team has entered it’s own playoffs. Finishing 2nd in the Portuguese league has us with a favorable post-season draw. First round we’re playing the 7th place team, a team we beat handily twice this year. However, as every seasoned basketball player knows, that means nothing in post-season. Post-season is a new season, with every team starting at zero and underdogs being fan favorites. The biggest mistake a higher seeded team can make is to underestimate the little guy. Anything can happen with a fresh start and emotions running high. That’s what makes sport so wonderful.
The playoff format for the Liga Feminina is a best of 3 series until the final, which is a best of 5. As I touched upon earlier, our first round match up is Povoa. Last weekend we defeated them 94-63 in Porto. But it wasn’t without a fight. Though the score looks like it was blowout, it was one of those games that was a battle from start to finish. We started out flat - lacking energy, emotion and passion. Going into halftime we were only up 2. I don’t like blaming performance on outside factors, but the fact that we were up at 4:30am to travel and to play at 6:30pm on the very same day had a lot to do with our heavy legs and blank stares in the first 20 minutes. I still can’t wrap my head around how clubs expect you to perform to the best of your ability on lack of sleep, extended travel and spending 6 hours killing time in a mall or hotel lobby. We were never given the chance to rest or take a nap. Can we get a hotel room please? It was madness! Nevertheless, we were able to get the job done and head home with a ‘W.’
Playing on the road can be tough, but is always made easier when you spot a familiar face or hear a recognizable voice cheering for you in the crowd. Amidst the boos, shouts and whistles (which is a boo here in Europe) I was able to distinguish two familiar voices. Two of our American friends from FC Porto made the 30-minute drive to Povoa to come out and support Casey and I on the hardwood. It was great to see them in the crowd and helped provide that much-needed boost. Catching up with the guys after the game was fun and sadly our visiting time was cut too short. Thanks for the love Marcus and Marcio!
Winning on the road means we need one more next weekend (at home) to capture the series. If we lose, we play the very next day on our home court. It’s a strange playoff format that sees the higher seed playing the first game on the road and the next two (if necessary) at home. I almost feel as though it’s a disadvantage for having a successful season. For example, if everything goes according to plan and we make the finals, as does Olivais (the 1st place team and our rivals), we would play 2 games on our home court before going away to their gym for the next 3. So, if we win the first two at home, we only have to win 1 on the road! This definitely plays to our benefit, so hopefully it works out that way.
Oddly, this weekend was a free weekend for us, as there was a National basketball festival on the mainland for high schoolers. Since most of the league refs were officiating the tournament Saturday and Sunday, both the women’s and men’s leagues were put on hold. It was strange to have a break between playoff games, but nice to be able to rest my body and nagging Achilles. Hopefully these couple of days gave them the break they needed. Casey and I spent most of the weekend hanging out with the guys and enjoying the weather. Friday morning the two of us went to the Deserted Islands on a Navy ship with some Navy guys we know. It was fun despite the long day and chilly weather. Next weeks post will be all about it.