|It's Been Too Long
||[Sep. 24th, 2006|12:54 pm]
Sorry for the delay, folks, but this is Italy, which is more or less a Third World country when it comes to technology, and this is the first time I've had to post to the Journal. Below is a compilation of the last three weeks of my activities.|
September 9, 2006 Romania Game
Following a heartbreaking loss to Switzerland, we used this week to regroup as a team, to correct mistakes we made in the game in the hope that our fate in today’s game would be different. We practiced well for the most part, and we had high hopes going into today’s game. On Thursday of this week my coach pulled another player and me aside and told us that he thought we were the future of Irish basketball. I had to wonder to myself how I felt about that statement. I mean, obviously it’s nice to hear that I will be an important part of the team for years to come, but what is the state of Irish basketball when that title is partially placed on a guy that played in six different countries in his first year of being a professional? I guess I’ll just go with it, and do everything I can to make this program successful.
Tonight we played Romania, a tough, experienced team that is known for their dirty play. We had extra incentive to play well tonight, as this game was nationally televised on the main sports network. This is the Irish equivalent of the World Series of Duck Pin Bowling being shown on NBC in prime time. Irish basketball just does not get this kind of exposure. On a list of public appreciation or knowledge, basketball comes in no better than seventh in popularity, and that’s being generous. It pales in comparison to soccer, rugby, Gaelic football (the national sport), hurling (a sport that was once described to me by a local as a cross between field hockey, lacrosse, and ax murdering), golf, and cricket. Yes, cricket gets more respect and recognition than basketball in Ireland. But today we had a chance to change all of that. We had been given a national forum, with possible viewership reaching into the tens or even hundreds of thousands. We were excited, and hoped to put Irish basketball on the map.
Unfortunately, we came out flat for the second consecutive game. Our passes weren’t crisp, our shots weren’t falling, and our defense was lax. We soon found ourselves on the wrong side of a one-sided game. My play in the first half was limited, but productive. I entered the game with 1:37 left in the first quarter, and grabbed an offensive rebound on my first possession, then got fouled going up for a layup off of a beautiful interior pass from a teammate on the second. I hit both free throws, and was subbed out with 29 seconds left on the clock. I wasn’t sure why at the time this move would be made, but I went with it.
The second quarter was one of the worst I have ever seen. Down ten after one quarter, I felt like we would come out firing in the second period, determined to not let the Romanians push us around on our home court. But it was not to be. During one stretch, we committed five consecutive turnovers. They converted each time, and by halftime we found ourselves down by twenty.
Second verse, same as the first was the theme for the second half. We couldn’t do anything right, and at one point found ourselves down 29 points. Now, Romania is good; but they’re not that good. They were dominating every facet of the game. We had but one bright sequence in the fourth quarter, when we cut the lead to twelve, but we ultimately lost the game by nineteen.
Embarrassment was the only feeling that each of the team members felt after the game. Collectively we had one of those “what the hell just happened” moments, and everyone just shook their head. Our coach stated verbally what everyone in the locker room felt, as nary a word was spoken between the players before his post-game speech. Afterwards, our deer-in-the-headlights expressions faded, and we were able to talk about what was wrong. Basically, everything. We didn’t execute, we didn’t communicate; we were soft. Personally, I only played a minute and a half, as I got into the game late in the third quarter. So much for the future of Irish basketball.
The one good thing that came out of the game was that we all vowed never to be beaten like that again, especially on our home floor. We had embarrassed ourselves, our program, our fans, and our heritage. That may sound melodramatic, but it’s the truth. And that’s how everyone felt. Some of our biggest supporters were unable to look us in the eyes after the game. Normally I would attribute that to them being fair weather fans, but there hasn’t always been fair weather in Irish basketball, yet they have been there through and through. Tonight, though, no words of condolence were deserved, and none were given.
We knew that the only people that could fix the situation was the players. A trip to the countryside made by a few players was cancelled, as they felt that time would be better spent working out the kinks in our game. We know that our game against Cyprus is a must-win if we are to have any hopes of winning our pool. We would go out tonight and try to drown our embarrassment in a few pints of Guinness, but tomorrow we would try to regain our spirits, and start rebuilding the team.
We hung out at the hotel bar tonight, listening to the resident lounge singer belt out Rat Pack tunes as we dissected tonight’s game and planned for next week’s. There was a wedding going on in our hotel at the time, and some of the guests were in and out of the bar during the course of the night. They were also in and out of the bathroom, as we would later find out they were snorting lines off the toilet seats like Chevy Chase during his more outlandish snow blowing days.
Just after midnight, after this group of wedding-goers entered the double-digit hour mark of partying (an unofficial bender), one of the women in the group asked one of my teammates to buy her and her friends a round of drinks. His response, taken from the movie “Barbershop 2”, went like this: “Sure, so let me get this straight. That’ll be three orders of hell no, two sides of ask yo mamma, and a large cup of Negro please.” Apparently this Irish lass has never seen this Oscar-worthy movie, and went on a rampage, yelling expletives at him, and acting in a generally unlady-like manner.
Turns out this girl had a Napoleon-esque boyfriend who happened to be into the bathroom blow sessions, and he came up to my teammate demanding an apology. He brought with him four of his friends, as small guys with chips on their shoulders often do. Now, I’m watching this from about fifteen feet away, and it doesn’t look good. So, I did what any teammate would do, and grabbed two of my guys and went to diffuse the situation. What basically happened was that I maneuvered my way in between the boyfriend and my comically-inclined teammate, and parted the two groups like Moses with my seven-plus foot wingspan. Only one move was made by the opposition, as a belligerently drunk and high guy tried to push my teammate. I gave him a stiff-arm, though, and stopped him in his tracks. I think this helped to diffuse the situation, as they backed off not long after. I’m just glad that I had a few large teammates there to help out with the situation, as even coked-out, Napoleon-complexed guys do have a few fleeting moments of common sense during their highs which tell them they are in the wrong.
A fitting ending to a terrible night, I guess. The only way it could have gotten worse was if we had gotten into a legitimate fight. I’m guessing we need to spend a little less time at the pub and a little more time on the court if we aer going to turn this thing around. And this week, that’s what we’ll have to do.
September 16, 2006 Cyprus Game
Must win. Do or die. All or nothing. We’ve all heard these sports clichés meant to motivate us into giving it our all for the good of the team. Tonight, though, these sayings rang true. If we lost this game, we might as well not even show up next summer for the remainder of the competition. There would be no point, as we would not be able to move on.
After our game against Romania last week, we were given three days off. Normally, after a loss like that, a team would be practicing the next day. We could have just partied on these days off, and worried about getting ready for the game come our first official practice on Wednesday. But as professionals, we couldn’t do that. On Sunday, the majority of the team went to the local fitness center to get in a workout. We didn’t pick up a ball until Monday, when we spent two hours in the gym playing half and full court 3-on-3. It was as much about getting back to just playing as it was about getting in better shape. During our first two games, we looked like robots on offense. You could tell that we were consciously thinking about the plays we were running, which is never a good thing when you are playing. So on Monday and Tuesday, we just played. Played like we were kids in the park, trying out different things, being creative, having fun. Basketball in its purest form- just a bunch of guys picking sides, throwing the ball up and going toe-to-toe in a game where the only thing you’re playing for is pride in yourself and in your makeshift team.
We needed those days to get into a mindset of positive thinking. Our practices this week were better than they’ve been at any time during this process. Everyone felt good about our chances tonight, and everyone knew that we needed a result in our favor.
I saw the Cyprus team this morning after our shootaround. We had watched them on film during the week, but seeing them in person made me laugh. Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea that is physically close to Turkey and Lebanon, but is culturally similar to Greece. The reason I laughed when I saw them was that the entire team embodied every negative stereotype one thinks about when he thinks about a Greek. Mullets…everywhere. Greasy guys with greasy smiles, this team looked like a group of slimy used car salesmen. I probably shouldn’t say such things, as Cyprus has a league on its island that can be lucrative to play in, but I have to be honest. They were hilarious, and I’m sure they thought equally as bad things about me. But I digress.
Tonight’s game was not televised (surprise surprise) but there were still quite a few fans in the arena, in fact it seemed close to capacity. We even got off to a good start, gaining a small lead early in the game. I got into the game with four minutes left in the first quarter, and played pretty badly. I missed a 12-foot face-up jumper off a post feed, one I should not have shot but rather taken strong to the hoop. I was working hard, but I was not efficient. I even dove incorrectly trying to save a ball that was going out of bounds. Not a good start for me. It seemed as though my inadequacy as spreading to my teammates as well, as we finished the quarter down by ten.
Tempers started to flare, and there was some yelling during the intermission. We had given up 26 points in the first quarter, and knew that was unacceptable. We would have to limit their offensive production, though at this point this was easier said than done. The Cypriots seemed to be hitting every shot they took- fadeaway threes, Kareem-esque skyhooks, double clutch runners in traffic; it was incredible. Most shots didn’t even hit the rim; they just fell through the net. But we knew this production couldn’t last. As long as we kept playing hard-nosed defense, we would be OK. The second quarter was a stalemate, with neither team giving way, and their lead remained at eight as we headed into the locker room for halftime.
With only twenty minutes left for us to save any chance of moving past this round of competition, we knew it was go time. We came out in the second half like a bat out of hell. We had given up 44 points in the first half, which wasn’t bad considering we gave up 26 in the first quarter, but it still was a poor display. In the pivotal third quarter, we conceded only ten points, while we went off for 27. Our defense was swarming all over the court, stifling their offensive efforts. The circus shots they made in the first half were no longer dropping, while we were moving the ball well, getting good looks, and hitting them (including a 17-footer from yours truly, which I celebrated by running down the floor fist pumping-which I believe is the first time in my career I’ve done such a thing on a basketball court). The arena was electric with excitement. The crowd we had disappointed during the first six quarters of our homestand were on their feet, cheering wildly for a team that had snapped out of its coma and had come to play.
Though there was a minor scare in the fourth quarter when Cyprus cut our lead to two, the game was won in the third quarter. You could see it in their eyes- the gleam that was there in the first half when they were whupping us was replaced by the glum recognition of their soon-to-be 0-3 record in pool play. We finished the game up seven, and afterwards signed autographs for little kids whose faith in their players was rekindled with the victory.
After the game we celebrated in the hotel bar (we don’t get out much) with our favorite lounge singer. Tomorrow, I have an 8 AM flight, but that didn’t stop me from hanging out until 3 AM, nor did it stop the other players with similar schedules. Most of us won’t see each other for 10 months. During this short period of time I think we bonded as a team, and I know that it was an extremely enjoyable experience for me. The guys are all great- friendly and funny; not a bad apple in the bunch. Our last night consisted of countless pints of Guinness and an impromptu a capella karaoke performance which lasted all night. Irish folk that were in the bar with us joined in the festivities, and we all had a blast. I knew it was getting a little late when I sang a song and people actually said they thought it was a pretty good performance. Seriously, though, could you even imagine a basketball team sitting around drinking and singing songs together? I mean, we aren’t the Provincetown Players over here. This is a team of virile guys, merrily singing the night away. It was quite the scene, but it’s one reason that I had so much fun playing, and a big reason I’ll be back next year. Everybody just wants to have fun, and I’m all for that. And next year, if we play like we played tonight, we’ll have our fair share of victories to celebrate, in complete karaoke style.
September 17, 2006 Reality Check
I awoke in a daze this morning to my alarm clock going off at 6 AM. Had I really gotten into bed less than three hours earlier? Was I still drunk? Yes and yes. Thankfully I had packed all my gear up the night before, so I was set to go when I called a cab five minutes after rolling out of bed. With an 8:30 flight out of Dublin, and a 30 minute ride to the airport, I didn’t have much time to spare.
I made it onto the plane with no problems, and quickly fell asleep before takeoff, waking up only when the plane touched down in London, where I would have a six-hour layover before boarding a plane for my final destination, Bologna. I stumbled into Gatwick airport, and had the odd realization that this was the first time in my life that I’d woken up drunk twice in one day. That’s probably a good thing.
London, as anyone who hasn’t lived under a rock for the last six weeks knows, recently had a terrorist threat at one of its airports. So now security is tighter than…well…let’s just say it’s tight. But is it really? I was kicked out of the security line because I had two carry-on items, my backpack and laptop. Technically, I shouldn’t have been allowed to bring either on with me, as even my laptop bag was too big for what they normally allow. The dimensions of one’s carry-on item is about the equivalent of one-and-a-half Oreos laid side-by-side. I don’t know what government bureaucrat thought up this awesome idea, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, I have two bags. Yes, they are both bigger than what you allow. So what? In explosives at that level, it’s not the size that matters, it’s the motion in the ocean. A bomb the size of a cell phone could take a plane down. Look at Richard Reid. The guy had explosives in his shoes. They could have fit in your carry-on dimension criteria. But the benign objects in my backpack don’t make the cut? I don’t get it. If you want more security, check all the carry-on items before you let them on the plane. Yes, it’s a hassle, but so is waiting by the luggage carousel and not seeing your bag come out; the bag that you used to be able to carry on (foreshadowing?). The bottom line is that I had to check my backpack, and carry-on just my laptop. Thank you British Airways.
Still pretty intoxicated, I made my way over to a bench, set my alarm for a half hour before boarding for my flight began, and made good use of my layover time. I had sweet dreams of owning a private jet and being able to carry on a U-Haul trailer full of stuff.
I woke up sorer than Peter McNeely after his 39 second fight with Mike Tyson, as the bench I chose to sleep on had slightly less padding on it than the concrete floor it rested on. Groggy, I figured I would grab some food before my flight. I chose what looked like an English diner, and sat down. I settled on an omelet and baked potato combo meal, then looked at the price. It was 5.95. But that price was in British pounds, which means that I just paid $11 for an omelet meal. I wouldn’t even pay that price at Denny’s in the US at 4 AM after being out all night. But my stomach was growling, and I wasn’t going to argue with it, so I begrudgingly made my order.
I had to run to my gate after eating, as I had lost track of time. In doing so, I left the book I was reading behind (a book that would have been inside my backpack had I been able to carry it on, thank you very much British Airways). When I made it to my gate, I found that the flight was delayed indefinitely, but that I shouldn’t go anywhere because it could arrive anywhere between 5 and 75 minutes from now. Nice ballpark figure. So I sat and waited. And waited. Until 90 minutes later, when I had finally boarded and we were set to take off.
I made it to Bologna 90 minutes late, and stepped out into a pouring rainstorm. Now, the last time I came to Italy, I had been on time, but my ride had been four hours late. Now I was the late one, so how would this work out? With no phone numbers for anybody related to the team, I had to rest my hopes on the competence and patience of the organization.
I made it through passport control without any problems, got to the luggage carousel, and, wait for it, big surprise, my backpack wasn’t there! I should have reported it to the lost baggage department even before I walked to get my other bags. The lady behind the desk was nice, though, and she told me that my stuff would arrive tomorrow, as it was placed on a later flight today. So we’ll see how that works out.
I walked out into the lobby of the airport, and, what do you know, my ride was there. A rush of relief ran through my body as I shook hands with Mario, who is a fan of the team and drives players to and from the airport. I got into his car and we drove to my apartment, where I found everything to be in order. I even have a car on the first day, so it seems like this team has it’s stuff together. I went out to dinner with the general manager, who seemed like a nice guy. It’s his first year in that role, as for the past three he was the team’s coach. The reason I’m actually here is because my Swiss coach from last year is friends with this guy, and he let him know about my skills (or lack thereof). We had an interesting conversation in which he told me that this team is very young, and the main goal of the season is to not finish in the bottom two places. Way to aim high. But I can see where he is coming from. I’m a virtually unknown commodity, we have two young Americans that haven’t played at this high of a level yet in their careers, and a former NBA player who from what I’m told has not played for a while. I’m not really sure about the details of that story, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. I am not one to think lowly about myself or others, though, so I think the goal should be to finish in the playoffs, then see what happens.
Basketball aside for a second, the moment I walked into my apartment after finishing dinner with the GM, the reality of the situation sunk in. This will be my home (hopefully) for the next nine months. I felt a wave of nausea come over me. I felt alone, and really sad. In Ireland I had been happy, as I was surrounded by a great group of guys that I really connected with. But walking into this apartment, all of the negative emotions and memories I thought I had forgotten from my experience in Roseto came rushing back to me. Would this be another situation like that? How will I feel tomorrow when I meet the guys for the first time? I feel like I’m a kindergartener on the eve of the first day of school. And at the same time, I feel an emptiness in the pit of my stomach thinking about everything and everybody that I leave behind every time I go to play basketball overseas. Some guys love this lifestyle. I don’t really know if it suits me. Some guys need to play, as they have no other opportunities. I don’t need basketball; I play because I love it, because I feel I’m still improving, because I love the competition every time I step out on the floor on game day. Up until now that feeling has made all the negatives that go along with this lifestyle bearable. But as time marches on, I wonder how long that will remain true. I know I can’t play forever. I don’t want to. And it’s days like this when I question whether I want to play now. Don’t get me wrong, playing basketball is the best job in the world. I’m just not always sure it’s for me.
September 18, 2006 Relative Problems
Without reconciling so many of the negative feelings swirling through my body last night after arriving in Italy, I woke up this morning emotionally unchanged, still depressed with the fact that I will, in a best case scenario, remain in this place for the next nine months. Sulking, I called my dad, who is probably the last person in the world one should go to for sympathy, but I wasn’t looking for that; I was looking for an honest opinion, and for those that know him, he doesn’t mince words. He’s pretty much the politically correct anti-Christ.
But as I began to spin my tale of woes, he interjected and said he had great news. His grandson and my step-nephew Andrew, who is on his second tour of duty in Iraq, is on his way home. He has been there the better part of a year, and has seen heavy action virtually the whole time he has been there. I was told that the shower he took yesterday was his first in a month. A handful of his close friends have been killed right in front of his eyes; such is life in the armed forces. He has seen death on a daily basis, and yet the guy is not yet old enough to have a beer in a local bar. But now he is coming home, hopefully for good.
During this story, I felt worse and worse. Not about my situation, but because I had felt so badly for myself. Yeah, this lifestyle sucks sometimes. But while I’m shooting jumpers, dodging picks and picking up loose balls, he’s shooting an automatic rifle, dodging enemy bullets, and picking up the carnage that the war has left in its wake. In comparison, I live like a king. And so for the second time in two days, a wave of nausea overtook my body. But unlike last night, when it was caused by self-pity, this was because of self-loathing.
At the end of the story, my dad asked me what I had wanted to talk about. At this point I was just ashamed of myself, and contemplated telling him that I had forgot my original reason for calling. But I told him, prefacing the statement with the fact that I now felt like an asshole for even calling. After listening to what I had to say, my dad asserted the fact that I was indeed not an asshole, but that I was just being a normal human being. He said that as an adult, sometimes you have to put away these emotions to get whatever job you have done. Sounds like a nice little recipe for a heart attack at age 42, but I could see his point. So while Andrew had to fear for his life every day, for me there is nothing to fear but fear itself. He also reminded me that the opportunity I have is one that is wanted by many but attained by few. I had to agree with him.
So I will proceed like I did last year, cognizant of the opportunity presented to me, mindful of the drawbacks of the lifestyle, but appreciative that I’m still able to make a living playing a game that the vast majority of people play for fun. It’s like my college coach said- if you take your absolute worst problems, they still don’t even compare to the problems of about five billion people on this earth. I don’t even have to look that far to know this is the truth.
September 18, 2006 Let’s Get It Started
After shaking off this morning’s emotions, this afternoon I officially began my play for this year. Earlier in the day I had my team physical with a local doctor. I arrived at his office in khaki shorts and a t-shirt, expecting to do the usual blood pressure exam, turn to the side and cough; heck, I thought I might even walk out of there with a lollipop. But this was not the case. He told me to take my shirt off, and he proceeded to attach a dozen or so suction cups all over my check. He told me that this would be to check the quality of my heart. I had a similar test done in Roseto last year, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal. He then told me to get on a stationary bike he had sitting in his office. I protested a little, saying that I was not dressed for the occasion. He said, “It is OK. You need anyways. You are not too thin.” Thanks doc.
So I got on the bike, and began peddling hard. After four minutes I felt the first signs of perspiration. After seven minutes a thin film of water had formed on my skin. After ten minutes, I was sweating like a pig. This is when he stopped me, and told me that everything looked good. I supposed he was talking about my tests, as the khakis I were wearing were soaked. Worse still, this was my first stop of the day; I would have to walk around town for the next two hours looking like I needed some adult diapers. At least I was cleared to play, and now I could get started.
I arrived at practice that day at 5 PM, after a thirty minute drive to the gym. This is to become my twice-a-day commute. So roughly two hours of driving a day to get to and from practice. That’s like commuting to just outside Boston everyday from where I live in Connecticut. Not an appealing task. But just another small annoyance that one has to put up in. It’s not really a big thing.
I got to the gym and noticed that there were seven kids wearing the same practice uniform that I was. I thought maybe they were a high school team from the area. But no, these were my teammates. At least part of the squad. Here’s the deal with this year’s team: we have five native-born Americans; two who play as Americans, me who plays as an European from an outside country, and two who play as Italians because they have Italian passports. The five Americans will likely be averaging about 35 minutes per game. There is only one Italian on our team over twenty.
This brings up two serious problems. One is inexperience. The Americans only have eight total years of overseas experience between us. Many of the young Italians have none. This will present problems, as older, more experienced teams may be able to beat us during the season with wily veterans who just know the game. A second problem is depth. If somebody gets injured, we are screwed. It’s a long season, and injuries are part of the game. We need everyone to stay healthy if we are to have a chance this year. I hope that we do.
So that’s our situation. We’ve got talent, but no depth. Other teams have succeeded in this way, and I guess so can we. During this summer I told Harold to find me a job where I could play 15 minutes a game off the bench, and be an energy player, which I think suits me the best. But here I’ll have to play at least 30. And that’s OK. It’s not really what I wanted, but it will give me a chance to prove that I can play at a high level, and be successful doing it. And that’s why I’m still playing this game.
September 20, 2006 Model Behavior
Tonight, on my third official day in Italy, we had a game against a team from the Italian third division (my team, Imola, is in the second division). Though it may sound like a low level, in fact some of the better players in Italy, even some of the national team members, play in this league, so it is very competitive. Our opponents tonight were Ozzano, and it would be the second time my team would play them in the preseason. Oh yeah, they beat us the first time, though we were playing without me and one of our Americans. We knew it would not be an easy victory.
One thing I knew for sure was that I did not have my game legs. To play basketball at this level, one has to be in great cardiovascular shape. Seeing how my main exercise in Ireland was 12-ounce curls, I find myself at this point in less-than-desirable basketball shape. But with two-a-day practice sessions from now until the season ends, that problem will be remedied in no time. But for tonight, I would have to try to push myself to my physical limits to keep up with those who had been in training camp for a month; not an easy task.
I got off to quite a bad start in the game, though at least I was starting at the center spot. My first few minutes I was nervous, and fumbled the ball a few times when I should have had a firm grasp. I had to consciously think about all the plays I had learned in the previous two days, so I was quite robotic in my movements on offense. And on defense, my guy was running all over the court, so it was difficult for me to play my usual help defense (a.k.a. sit in the middle of the lane and take up space). I came out of the game with three minutes left in the quarter without accomplishing a whole lot.
The second quarter was a different story. I came out and rebounded well, scored nine points, and recorded my first block of the preseason, after which I yelled, “get that s*** outta here”, and after that I stopped in my tracks and slapped myself in the face for saying something like that. And even though my legs were tired, I was running the court well and staying with the pace of the game. I even picked up a rebound, and unable to find an outlet man, dribbled the length of the court and found a teammate for an open jumper. I was very Steve Nash-like. In reality, probably more like Steve Urkel, though.
By the end of the game, I had tallied 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks, and we had won. Everyone seemed happy with the effort, and though we will face stiffer competition in the future, I believe that we have the opportunity to have a good year.
After the game, we proceeded to our official team presentation at a local restaurant. Every year around this time the local media gathers around and the team is introduced to the public. This year, though, we were being presented simultaneously with a local fashion designer’s fall collection. The guy’s name is Germano Zama, and if you haven’t heard of him, don’t feel bad. If you are presenting your fall line to the public at a presentation for a second division basketball team, you’re not really a big deal. But then again, any publicity is good publicity, right?
Two weeks ago, while I was in Ireland, the team sent me a fax requesting my measurements, as in, for clothing. I thought that they wanted to have these so they could fit me for my uniform, practice gear, etc. But today I was presented with a legitimate suit, to be worn at the presentation. Last year in Roseto, by contrast, we wore polo shirts that would be too short for Mini-me, sweatpants that looked more like the bottom half of a wetsuit, and large red shoes that Ronald McDonald would scoff at. So what I’m saying is that this year’s team seems to be a bit classier of an operation. Then again, Stalin was a bit classier than Hitler, so my jury is still out on the professionalism of this team. But I digress. So we get the suits, to be worn at the presentation.
At this point I realize I have a problem. I have no black shoes with me, and no belt. The black shoes don’t really present that much of a problem to me, as I have no shame wearing my sandals with any outfit, including this one. But not having a belt does present a problem. I gave them a slightly incorrect measurement on my waist size, so much so that I would have to gain roughly 25 pounds to fit into my pants. So what does one do in this situation? Ask and ye shall receive.
Five minutes after we arrived at the restaurant, I found the model’s changing area. And no, there were no models changing at the time, but this was the area where they would be changing outfits during the show. I spotted a model and motioned her over, just so as to not stumble onto anything not meant for my eyes. It turns out she spoke a little English, and I asked her if there was a belt around. She said she would go check, and a minute later she came back with a belt about four inches in width, much too wide to fit my pants. Now, I mentioned before how this designer couldn’t be a very big deal on the fashion scene, but what about these models? How low on the totem pole were they to be doing this show? Was this the Italian equivalent of modeling for WalMart? One step up from the strip club circuit?
Anyways, at that moment, a sun-bronzed man with a pony tail came over in my direction and began speaking to me in Italian. I told him I spoke only a little of the language, and asked the model to translate. She told me that this was, in fact, Germano Zama, the fashion designer whose show we were about to see. I looked the guy up and down, as he was dressed in a black button-down shirt, black pants, and…Chuck Taylor All-Stars? I mean, don’t get me wrong, that was my shoe of choice in the late 90s, but I am a dingy kid from the country. This is a designer in a nation considered one of the leaders in the fashion world. And he’s wearing Chuck Taylor’s? Probably why his show is where it is.
But he turned out to be a really nice guy. I actually told him (through the model) that I used to wear the same shoes, and he seemed to get a kick out of this. He asked me what I needed, and I said I needed a belt. So the guy just took off his own belt, and handed it to me. Quite a nice gesture, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on him. He’s just trying to make it.
So now I was ready to go. Ready to stand up in front of the crowd and the cameras. But there’s always a twist. We would not just be presented tonight. Each player would have to individually walk a model down the runway. Now, I had never shaken my little toosh on the catwalk, and it’s something I thought I would get through life without doing. But I considered the circumstances. One, I had not eaten in almost ten hours, as the last food I had ingested was my pre-game meal and it was now approaching 10 PM. Two, I am flat-chested as well as lacking in the derriere region, so my body type fits that of a runway model. And three, I am in an industry where you’re always in front of a crowd, so it’s no big deal. Hell, throw in an 8-ball of cocaine and there would be no discernable difference between me and a runway model.
So when my name was called, I strutted my stuff around the floor, flashing my best Zoolander face to the crowd, and laughing at the insanity of the situation I was currently involved in. I then took my position next to my coach as he said a few words about me to the crowd. Beside me there was a big screen that showed what signal was being sent to the television stations, and when I looked up the cameras were pointed directly at my feet, so I did a little shuffle, letting them know I was not self-conscious about my lack of quality footwear.
The night ended after all had been introduced, and all in all, it was a good evening. Just one more thing about Italy that I do not now, nor ever will, understand.
September 22, 2006 That’s Right…It’s Everywhere
When one has practice for a total of four-plus hours a day, he usually just wants to go home and relax, unwind, and rest the muscles that he has just pushed to the limit for more time in one day than most Americans do in a month. Usually this relaxation comes in the form of a book, a drink, or a program on television; sometimes all three. What he doesn’t want to come home to is a problem. I know that everyone has problems that they must deal with on a daily basis. But when you are in a foreign country, especially when you’ve only been here a few days, problems become magnified and complicated.
Last night I came home after practice to a sink that had filled up with water. Well, not exactly water, as this liquid smelled like old, stale chicken soup, and had the same appearance. Since I am a quasi-expert in all things that have to do with home plumbing due to my three summers of work at Skip’s and one at Wastewater Services, LLC, I thought I could fix the inconvenience. Most people view such things as disgusting, dirty, and disturbing. When they occur in other people’s homes in the US, I view them as dollar signs. But I am in Italy, and this is my home, so I saw this as an annoyance.
I began my repair by baling the fluid out of the sink with my spaghetti pot and throwing it off my balcony. I do live on the first floor, but why I did not just flush it down the toilet I don’t know. Seemed a good idea a the time. But anyways, after this I took apart the plumbing under the sink, and found that there was no blockage in my apartment. I deduced that there was one further on down in the system. I reattached the plumbing, and by this time it was 11 PM; too late to call anyone to fix the problem. I would wait until the morning.
This morning I left for my first practice, and my sink was clear. I thought that maybe someone else had had a problem, and they had fixed it. When I returned, though, I knew that the problem still existed. My sink had once again filled with the fluid. I called a team representative, who told me he would have it looked at. I waited around for a large portion of the afternoon, but nobody showed up. Finally, as I was leaving for my second practice of the day, the team rep and what appeared to be the building’s handyman showed up at my door, and said they would fix the problem. Great. So when I get home, everything will be OK, right?
Wrong. The first sound I heard when I walked into my apartment tonight was the dripping of water out of my sink. Though I dreaded what I was about to see, I flipped on my lights, and stared at the scene in front of me. There was shit…everywhere. I dropped my bags on my couch, walked out my front door, and called the GM. I wasn’t a happy camper, but I kept my cool, and kindly asked him to get somebody out there to fix the problem. And not like the last attempt at “fixing” it. Now I don’t know if the men who tried to fix the situation the first time left as the problem worsened, or if the trouble escalated after they left. Either way, it didn’t matter to me. There was shit everywhere.
I called a few teammates who were headed out to dinner. I joined them, and told them my story. They laughed, with the consensus being that Italy was one step above a Third World country. I sat through dinner wondering if I would come home to a toxic waste area.
When I returned home, there were about 10 people outside my building. Only two of them were actually workers who had been called to fix the problem. Basically my sewage problem had become a car wreck, and everyone wanted to see what was going on. I saw a pump truck similar to the ones I’ve seen in America, and after viewing the scene for five seconds, knew what was going on.
I thought all of Italy ran on sewer lines. Apparently not, as my building has a septic system. One that hadn’t been pumped in four years. Now, at Wastewater Services, we recommend residential home owners to have their tanks pumped every 1-3 years depending on a few circumstances. I know that this tank should be pumped more than once every four years. But I’m sure that someone wanted to cut costs, and unfortunately, I bore the brunt of their bottom line.
I actually talked to the septic guys when they were doing their work. I let them know that I have experience in the field, and I took photos of their truck and some of their tools, as I had not seen some of their stuff before, and thought it might come in handy back in the States. They, like most septic guys, were nice, even though they were giving up their night to come do this work. When they had finished, I thanked them profusely, and they seemed appreciative. Maybe I can get them work visas to the US.
So I went back to my apartment, which had, for the most part, been cleaned up. But for safety’s sake, I went over my whole kitchen with an antibacterial cleanser. Afterward, I thought it kind of ironic that a problem I could easily solve, even capitalize on in the US, had given me so much trouble. And let’s just say that I’ll be staying away from chicken soup for a long, long time.
September 24 Road Trip with Rimini
Today we play Rimini, a team in our division. It’s a road game, for both teams, actually. It seems that every year Imola and Rimini play each other in a town that is basketball crazy but without a basketball team. It’s like when the Celtics used to play in Hartford, before the Uconn women’s team started winning games and people started showing up claiming to be lifetime fans. Had they been born in 1994, this may be the case, as I remember when I was 12 showing up five minutes late to a Big East rivalry game and sitting in the fifth row after buying a ticket for…$1. Wait, where was I?
Oh yes, my game. Now, Europeans love exhibition games. They are called “friendly” games over here, as no one really cares who wins and loses. Since teams only play once a week in their country’s league, some teams actually schedule these exhibitions during the year, to the player’s chagrin. Most guys only give half-hearted efforts during these games, and they are not to be taken very seriously. Take last year for instance. I played in 13 friendly games with Roseto, winning 12. That team went on to win ten games the entire year. As you can see, these games are not a very good barometer of a team’s quality.
It’s really hard to judge how good a team will be until the season starts. Especially with this team, as it is hard to get competitive scrimmages going because we have so many young players. These guys will be good, but they aren’t there just yet. And that doesn’t help us out for this season. It does help to have these young guys (not like I’m an old bastard, but some of these players are still in high school, which allows me to refer to them as kids. Strike that, I am an old bastard) around though, as it brings levity to a lot of situations. Take yesterday, for instance. One of our players had brought a soccer ball with him to practice. Soccer is like a religion over here, except more popular. These people live and die for the sport. The Italian World Cup championship team walks around like the second coming, and are treated as such. So anyways, for our warmup, we decided to play a soccer game. And to make it interesting, we drew teams based on ethnic lines. Oh yeah, Americans versus Italians. With a total of one year of junior varsity experience (coming from yours truly) on our team, we stood little chance of victory. But we had our national pride, and veteran wile. Plus we were bigger and stronger than the kids we were playing against.
The game would be for 15 minutes, to be played on the hardwood. The structures holding up the hoops would serve as the goals. Game on. I scored the first goal in the fifth minute, devastating the Italians bravado. They were yelling at each other as we celebrated soccer style, as in we danced around a little less than heterosexually as we got back on defense. A minute later, they tied the score, but with two minutes left, one of our guys put one in, and we won the game.
It really looked like some of the Italians were going to cry. How had this group of American idiots just beaten them at their own game? They began pointing fingers, making excuses, and generally acting like spoiled sports. Even in the locker room after practice, they were talking about the loss. I am proud to be an American.
Back to the game. We traveled to the game in a vehicle that cannot be called a bus. It was more the size of the short bus some kids used to ride in elementary school. A little more high class than that, but the same size nonetheless. We all piled in and buckled up. Apparently the last time this team had an away game, their bus driver fell asleep at the wheel, and woke up only when he hit the rumble strip on the side of the highway. And he did this twice. No one was taking any chances on another such performance.
We got to the game, with most guys tired from the hard week of practice and ready to get going with the season. We warmed up, came out and looked pretty good in the first quarter, giving a strong defensive effort. But like what I fear will happen during the season, as the game went on we slowly went downhill. Most of the guys on the bench are just too young to play, but they do because we don’t have any other options. Hopefully they will mature as the season goes on. Especially in this game though, our weakness in this area was shown. One of our Americans got in foul trouble, with four in the first half, and another American with Italian citizenship got injured. Our bench was forced to play big minutes, and they weren’t always productive. It’s hard because I know they will be good someday, but their time isn’t now.
We ended up losing by four points. Not really that big of a deal, as it was only an exhibition. I think that during the season we will beat this team, but then again, you never know. They also could have taken the lacksidasical approach. I still think we’ll beat them, though.
After the game, we had dinner. With the other team. Brings new meaning to the term “friendly game”. It was quite the odd situation, as usually two teams that play one another want to get as far away from each other as possible after games. But there was no bad blood here, and the teams intermingled a little bit, though the coaches, for the most part, stayed away from one another. The winning coaches seemed to be a little arrogant (though that may be just them being Italian), while our coaches seemed a slightly despondent. But we had a good meal, and all in all it was a good trip. The biggest thing is that this was our last test run. Now we will prepare for the regular season. Though many do not have high hopes for us, I think we have a chance to do some good things. And as anyone can tell you, losing makes for a much longer season (that is, if you don’t get cut first), and that’s not really something I’m interested in.