Published Tue, Nov 1, 2011 12:53 pm Dateline
For the first time in my life, I experienced homesickness. The entire time I was at OU I had surrounded myself with people that I enjoyed being around and spending time with. OU was my home away from home and my teammates and friends became my second family. Being in England was much different than being a few hours away from home in Ohio. The time difference (5 hours) was the first thing that I had to get used to. When I had time to talk to people from the states, they were either still asleep or in the middle of school or work. I found myself staying up late at night in order to talk to the people that had been in my corner throughout my time at OU. It wasn't one event that had made me miss home. It was the culmination of a series of events happening within a short period of time. I had hurt my hip the previous week and because I was compensating for it while lifting lower body, the inside of my leg began to ache. During the afternoon practice time we did our normal shooting routine. My main man Sherrad Prezzie-Blue (Twitter: @itspblue) and I had spent the practice competing against each other as we often did over who could make the most jump shots. I found myself talking to him about the normal day-to-day occurrences and something that most guys talk to each other about, girls. It felt good to get some things out in the open and even greater was that Prez could relate and give me some guidance. In between our afternoon and evening sessions Prez and I made our usual walk to town which took about 20 minutes. We had got in the routine of making this walk and swapping stories and sharing many of our life experiences that we had shared with few others. This particular day the subject was family. Although we had been teammates for only a month somehow we seemed to click. Our humor was the same and we had each others' backs. After the we went to town battling the icy wind that penetrated our sweats, we went our separate ways to make lunch and rest before our evening practice. That evening I had a terrible practice and was on the verge of a breakdown. We broke the team huddle and I threw on my sweats as quickly as possible as I felt the tears gathering in my eyes. I strolled out of the gym and began to walk home. It was a 30-minute walk but when I had bad days or was just in a bad mood I had found that I just start walking. I'm not too sure when I started this but I had been known to do this from time to time in college as well. I wished nothing more than to be in Muncie or Athens curled up on the couch watching a movie being around the people that I loved. It was a short-lived thought as my legs grew tired from the walk and I realized that I had seven months before I even needed to start thinking about returning to the states. I was chasing my dreams and waking up each morning doing something that I loved. This is what I've wanted to do and worked so hard to do my entire life.
As we prepared for our next game not only did we have the challenge of playing on the road in a tough environment, we had a six-hour trip up to Glasgow. We stopped once for about 45 minutes to grab only the most healthy food for the professional athletes that we are. Among the team's purchases were hot chocolate, gummy candies, cheddar chips and Twix bars. On the way to Glasgow I spent my time reading the book that I had purchased on the way to our game against Plymouth a week earlier, "The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz," and staring out the window admiring the vast landscape that sprawled out beside the highway. We arrived in Glasgow to a cold wind and drizzling rain as Prezzy, Richie, Courtney, and I set out to find some pre-game grub. We settled on a walk-in takeaway chippy that served fries, battered sausages, and fish. All four of us purchased fries as none of us had ate all days except the snacks we had bought at the rest area earlier. We walked back to the arena and retired to our dressing room where we put on our kits and laced up our sneakers. We took the court to go through a thorough warm-up to regain some feeling in our legs after the long journey. The game started and it took a while for us to get going. We stayed close with them and went into halftime only trailing by two. We knew that if we started hitting shots and getting some stops on defense that there was no reason the game could not end in our favor. We chipped away at their lead and strung together a series of stops in the 4th quarter to build a 12-point lead. A series of missed opportunities allowed them to claw their way back in the game. We missed six free-throws in a row at one juncture and the Rocks closed the gap to as little as three points with just under 10 seconds remaining. When the final buzzer sounded, we had won the game by five points. We were happy to steal the win on the road. I was disappointed in my performance. I had played only 15 minutes because I had not been effective whatsoever. I had missed all my shots from the field and began to doubt myself. My biggest contribution on the night was the cheerleading that I was doing while watching my teammates execute the 2-3 zone just as well as we played it in practice. We showered quickly and were back on the road within 30 minutes. Stopping briefly before we left town everyone grabbed some food for the long journey back to Worcester. I listened to my iPod and watched "A Knight's Tale" on my personal DVD player that I had brought from home. Much of the time I was distracted though as I reflected on the game and was disgusted at how little I had helped the team. We arrived in Worcester at 3:30 in the morning and my butt was sore from sitting all night. I had left that morning with the thought that the bus ride there and back would be why I was sore. However, sitting on the pine for the majority of the game didn't help my case. I went to bed determined to get in the gym and get my shot back to where it needed to be in order to perform the role that coach had brought me to Worcester to perform.
The weekend was much needed. I spent my time playing Call of Duty and watching my fantasy football team pull off an upset that I did not think was possible. I relaxed and recovered from the long week. While watching football I received some bad news. My Grandma Dee had passed away from complications with her Alzheimer's. She had battled it for nearly 10 years. I recall when I was younger, traveling to Sun City, Arizona to visit her and my Grandpa Lenny. It was a large retirement community that had a recreation center, three different swimming pools, a putt-putt course, and horse shoe pits. I would wake up early each morning when we visited and walk down to throw horse shoes against 80- and 90-year-old men. I learned the correct techniques and found it relaxing but also something that I could compete in when getting in the gym was not an option. Our family had made the decision once my Grandpa passed away that it would be best to move her back to Indiana into assisted living about seven years prior. It was nice having her close to home so we could see her and spend the time with her that we had missed with her being so far away. She was a funny person in general and the Alzheimer's made her even funnier. By the end of movies she would forget what happened at the beginning leaving her with no idea what the film had been about. The best benefit of having her so close was spending the holidays with her. She was Polish and at Christmas it as tradition to cook homemade pirogues. I picture her bony hands kneading the dough over and over then cutting the circles to fold the filling into. Before I left for England I took time to visit her in the nursing home as her health had been declining in recent months. We spent an hour watching TV and trying to explain to her that I would be going away for a few months to play basketball. I am so glad that I spent that time with her and gave her one last hug and kiss before I left. I have no regrets. She was a great woman and the time that we spent together are moments that I will never forget. The laughter that she provided outweighs the tears. While she will be missed she is now in a better place and with my Grandpa and Mom.
Being away from home is hard enough without events like this happening. Sometimes what fans don't understand are all the things that we have to give up to pursue our dreams. Fans see us 30-40 times per year at our games. They do not see the countless hours that we spend lifting weights, conditioning, going through skill work outs, and trying to find our way through life in a foreign place. This is no knock on fans; this is simply me saying that just like them we are people also. We have lives outside of basketball just as they do. We have problems just as they do. Yeah being a pro basketball player is a nice lifestyle. The team takes care of you and you get attention that most regular Joes would not get. But with that attention comes great responsibility. Each player must remember that their actions speak for not only themselves and their families but for the team they are apart of.
Our next two games were against the Guildford Heat. The first was on Wednesday and was the final game of our trophy group. It was a meaningless game because even if we won Plymouth would still win advance to the trophy semifinals due to the fact they had the tiebreaker with us on points. However, we wanted to keep the momentum going and keep our win streak alive. We arrived at the gym and I admired the olympic size swimming pool, rock wall, racquetball courts, and the other facilities that were part of the complex. We went through our warm-ups and it was game time. We started the game playing very well and found ourselves with a 10 point lead after the first quarter. The second quarter belonged to the Heat. They established their big men and went on a furious run to take a seven-point lead into the locker room. At half we regrouped and discussed the changes needed to be made in the 2nd half in order to send us back to Worcester with a 4-1 start to the season. We opened the 3rd frame on an 11-0 run which helped put the pressure back on them. They were desperate for their first win of the season and we knew that we had to make plays down the stretch in order to secure the road victory. Lapses in their composure led to two technical fouls. I stepped to the line and made good of all four attempts. When the final buzzer rang we found ourselves leading by seven. I finished with 22 points going 10/10 from the free throw line. I had still not found my touch from outside and it was beginning to really frustrate me. Most of all I was happy that we kept our winning ways going. We showered and crowded on the minibus for our ride home. We had decided to stop for KFC to celebrate the victory. With a little taste of home we cruised home with full stomachs.
Leading up to our next contest against Guilford once again on Saturday we had light practices on Thursday and Friday. Guildford was a physical team and we were all sore from the game and then the minibus ride after. Saturday's game was an important one. It was our first game of the cup. In the cup, four out of the 12 BBL teams receive byes to the quarterfinals. We knew that if we beat Guildford that we would face the Mersey Tigers on November 11. I had not slept well the night before and I woke up tired but knew I had to get up to go to shoot around. We had an hour on the court and then I knew I could come back and climb back into bed. I was running low on groceries and did not have the desire to walk to town and then carry my groceries all the way home. I settled for two pieces of toast with butter and strawberry jam for breakfast. My dad gave me a call via Skype and I discussed the game on Wednesday and also the one that was to come that night. I spoke with him and then fell back asleep for about three hours. I woke up and was starving. I walked to Subway where I bought a footlong Italian BMT. I ate half of it and placed the other half in the fridge for later. (Just remembered that I did that. Snack time!!!!!!!!) It was time to head to the gym and get ready for the game. We went through our warm ups and noticed I had a spring in my step. I was dunking in warmups which was a rare feat for a skinny, not-so-muscular Indiana farm boy. The team started off slow allowing the Heat to build their lead to double digits before clawing our way back to narrow the deficit to four points at the end of the first. We were limited in our attack inside because our big man, Richie, had picked up four fouls in the first half. We were forced to settle for jump shots and fell back into a 2-3 zone until we could afford to get the big man back on the court. We kept grinding and the zone was affective against the Heat. Although we had not played that well we had a three-point halftime lead. Personally, I had a slow first half. They stuck to me like glue, which allowed driving lanes our some of our other guards. I went into half with five points and making good of my only two attempts from the field. We came out to start the 2nd half and again had to play without Richie as coach decided to save him for the 4th when we would be in need of him most. By the end of the 3rd quarter the Heat had tied the score and it would be the final period that decided the outcome. With Richie's presence in the 4th we were able to have an inside out threat. Coach had got on me to look for my shot and be more aggressive. I did and scored eight quick points. We built a double digit lead and dropped back into the zone once again. We were active and forcing turnovers which were leading to easy baskets at the other end. We had secured our 4th straight win and I had finished with 18 points. It was a great feeling knowing that we were going into the break with a win under our belt.
Our next contest will be in the quarterfinals of the cup against the Mersey Tigers. We will have two days off then practice Tuesday-Friday. We will then have two more days off. In my free time I am exploring some different options of going to Birmingham or London and going shopping for some new clothes and basketball shoes. I've also found a store in town that buys and sells DVDs and video games for very cheap. I will spend most of my time watching the new DVDs that I purchased this week, paying attention to how my fantasy football players perform on Sunday, or playing Call of Duty. I have already promised Richie and Prez that I will make sloppy joes for all of us for tomorrow's dinner. I am thinking about also making some chili soon as well. My go to meal however has been breakfast. Three eggs sunny side up with three strips of juicy back bacon and two slices of buttered toast. Pretty good if I say so myself but it could just be that I want my cooking to be good so I believe it is.
Hope you enjoyed this latest installment of my blog. I appreciate the feedback that everyone had from last month's. If any of you have particular questions about anything over here I would love for you to write them in the comment section and I will write about them in my next blog. Until next time take care of yourselves.