Published Thu, Dec 22, 2011 7:20 pm Dateline
Leading up to the Milton Keynes game we had discussed our need to put teams away when we had them down. Finishing games and owning the fourth quarter would be a goal that we needed to master in order to achieve the goals we had set out for ourselves. "Barber Town" had expressed interest in sponsoring the team. All of the guys went down to the shop the day before the game and received our free haircuts so we looked sharp for our first televised game of the season. Being the joker that I am, I asked for the Friar Tuck hairdo. Buzzed in the middle on top and left long on the sides. It took 10 minutes to talk my barber into giving me the hairstyle that I requested. The entire team and the barbers had fun with it and I accomplished my goal of getting as many laughs as I could. The highlight was when I walked into the gym to shoot and the University team was practicing. Everyone just seemed to stop and gawk at my hair almost in disbelief of what they were seeing. The look on Coach James' face the first time he saw it was priceless. It was worth the embarrassment simply to see that look on coach's face. Later during practice we decided that it needed to go. I hadn't been shooting well and I didn't need to put any extra pressure on myself.
We traveled to Milton Keynes eager to see the Lions and the league's leading scorer, Demarius Bolds. Arriving to their gym with plenty of time until tip we carried in our advertising signs. We had stored them in the aisle of the minibus on our ride there. The already cramped minibus became unbearable almost due to the fact that we could not hang out legs in the aisle like we usually did. Unable to stretch my legs, my knee began to ache. This had started to become a routine on road trips. I would fall asleep and the pain from my knee would wake me. It felt as if someone was stabbing me directly in my knee cap. I had been receiving massage therapy in the muscles surrounding my knee in an attempt to ease the pain. I had also started taking medication in order to take some of the swelling down. The best advice the message therapists could offer me was to quit landing on it. I attempted to explain that this was part of my game. That was the same as telling me not to shoot the ball. The pain subsided as I walked around on the court once we arrived at the gym. Their facility was an old warehouse. It was a large wide open area with industrial pipes running along the walls. SKY sports had scaffolding set up for their television cameras. They conducted interviews with each coach and spoke to a few of the guys prior to tip. We retired to the locker room to prepare for the upcoming game.
Bolds came out living up to the hype. He was jumping passing lanes and single-handedly attempting to jump start the Lions offensive attack. Their role players were having an effect on the game as well. The bigs were hammering the offensive boards and scoring garbage buckets. We quickly found ourselves behind while we were unable to knock down open shots. Coach set us into a zone in attempt to force them to beat us by shooting jumpers. With Bolds and his right hand man, Stefan Gill, they knocked down shots from beyond the arc. We found ourselves down by double digits at the break. We would not erase the deficit with a home run play. We had to chip away a little at a time and had 20 minutes left to do so. With just seconds left in the third, we had gained a two-point lead and had the momentum going into the fourth. A long inbounds pass beyond half court and a heave by Pedrosa hit the backboard and banked directly through the cylinder. We were down one going into the final period. From that point on the game changed. They were the team that was playing with all the confidence, knocking down shot after shot while we came up blank at the other end. A few poor decisions and bad shots from us and the game was over. They handed us a double digit loss that would be shown on TV. Needless to say, coach was unhappy with the performance. He had not won a TV game the previous year and this game was an ugly one for us. The ride home was not fun at all. We stopped at McDonald's to order some food and headed straight back to Worcester after. Coach had scheduled an off day for the following day. However, after what we had displayed there was no way that we would not practice. We got back to going hard at each other and the physicality of practices was noticeably raised. This resulted in me getting an elbow to the head in a defensive rebounding drill. I instantly became dizzy and felt nauseous. I took the evening off from practice and recovered to be ready to go the next day. Our game aired on Thursday and Richie, Tin, Callum, and I walked down to the local pub to watch the game on TV. We picked up on some changes we could make in order to right the ship. The fourth quarter was where we struggled and watching the game afterwards helped us to see the mistakes we were making.
We had Mersey and Guildford over the weekend and I was anxious to get back on the court in order to forget about the Milton Keynes game. Mersey was just the medicine that we needed in order to forget about our recent struggles and two game losing streak. This time for the first time in three meetings they were coming to our place. We started off the game hot. I hit the first three pointer of the game and ended the first quarter with 10 points. We built the lead to 20 points and coach wanted to give some of the other guys some time to show him what they could do. They entered the game and it looked discombobulated. Very little offense was being run by the second unit and we were getting beat down the floor in transition and giving Mersey easy baskets. Coach had seen enough and put the starters back on the floor. The lead had been cut to single digits and the rest of the game we could never pull away. We ended up winning the game by only nine points. I had tied my career high with 30 points and done so fairly efficiently from the field. That is one gripe that I have with the BBL is that the stats are not always accurate. Often times assists and rebounds will not be counted and even points will be given to different players. The worst part of it is when our team makes a highlight video and shows you giving more assists or scoring more points than the official statistics have for you. It is what it is, as they say. As long as we were getting the wins it didn't matter much to me. We had a quick turnaround and had to be ready for our next game against Guildford who we had already beat three times early in the season. They were an entirely different team now however. They had released some players and brought in some experienced guys. They had also had a month off and during that time they practiced with their new acquisitions and became used to playing with one another. Once again the SKY TV cameras were set up in the Surrey Sports Park arena. I was interviewed prior to the game and they asked how I was finding England so far and also how I was adjusting to the playing style of the BBL. It was a much better Heat team and at the entire game was close. There were a number of lead changes. Their perimeter shooting is what kept them in the game. They now had multiple players that could hurt you from outside along with their inside players that they had played with the whole season. A bus full of Worcester fans had traveled to the game and were behind us every step of the way. When the final buzzer rang we had registered our fourth win over the Heat. We won the game by five points and coach was pleased with the effort that we had given over the weekend. We were balanced which was a good feeling. Prezzie led us with 24 points and Richie and I each added 23. We once again walked down to the pub a few days later to catch the game and relive some of the more memorable moments.
The next week a buzz surrounded Worcester and practices. It was the team's first visit to the Cup Semifinals and we faced a familiar foe in the Plymouth Raiders. The semifinal consisted of two legs. The first would be at our arena and then the following day we would travel to Plymouth. The team with the highest aggregate score would advance to the cup final on January 15th at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena. I had ordered a pair of customized Kobe Bryant sneakers a day before my birthday and they were due to arrive any day. They arrived two days prior to the first leg of the semifinal and I was eager to see how they looked with our jerseys. They were camouflaged blue with an orange tongue and sole. They definitely made me feel like I could run faster and jump higher. There were a series of interviews that the newspaper and radio did with coach and guys from the team. It was time for the first leg of the semifinal and the game started out living up to the hype. We exchanged the lead and the first quarter came out tied. However, the second and third quarters were very different stories. Plymouth hammered us in every aspect of the game. They put their stamp on the game and for the remainder we simply tried to cut the lead down as much as we could in order to give us a chance to make up the point difference on the following afternoon. We couldn't even do that. We ended up with a deficit of 28 points to attempt to erase the following afternoon. The Raiders were hitting on all cylinders. They shoot 56 percent from the field and 52 percent from 3. All we could do now was to put it on the court and see what happened down at their place. I had broke my career high and finished with 31, although I had to work very hard against the Plymouth defense to get my shot going. It was a small consolation because we had lost so badly and stood very little chance of making up the point difference. We woke early and again crowded onto the bus with the advertising boards. The game did not even have the feeling of being a real game. There was very little intensity throughout the game. They once again shot lights out and did what they needed to do in order to keep the lead which they had earned the night before. Richie ended with 34 points for us and we won the game by seven points. We were happy to get the win but knew that they would be advancing the Cup Final. We had to pick ourselves up and get ready for arguably our toughest weekend of basketball with games at league leading Newcastle on Friday and Glasgow which was third on Saturday at home.
It was a short week with massage therapy being the only item on our agenda for Monday then Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to practice before we traveled up to Newcastle. Newcastle is the perennial powerhouse of the league. They have the highest paid players and the most funds at their disposal. Leading their team was Joe Chapman. He had won the league MVP two seasons prior and was a part of the 2003 Marquette team with Dwayne Wade that took down Kentucky to make it to the Final Four in New Orleans. We set out at 10:30 for the four-hour trip and our 7:30 p.m. tip. There was supposed to be snow in certain parts of the country and because of the oncoming weather coach wanted to get a head start in case anything went wrong. This turned out to be a great decision by coach. A lorry (semi) had tipped over on the M1 (interstate highway) and spilled it's load of paper all over the road. Authorities had shut down the road in both directions. We were forced to divert our route to rural roads that were now packed with traffic that were in the same dilemma as us. The ride turned into a 6 hour journey and my butt felt as if I were sitting on pins and needles by the time we arrived. It was still an hour and a half until tip and we took our time to stretch our legs while we watched some youngsters shoot around on the court. Championship banners hung from their walls displaying the years they had won Trophy, Cup, and BBL Championship titles. We changed and then began to go through our warm-up routine. Halfway through it however we were informed that the referees were stuck in traffic and still some distance away. 7:30 came and went. It was pushing eight o'clock and they were still an hour away. A call was made to some local refs and they began the game until the BBL referees arrived at halftime. Richie and I quickly got into foul trouble each picking up three in the first quarter. Coach sat us each for about three minutes and took a gamble and put us back in there. Apart from the three free throws I knocked down at on the very first possession I could not find my stroke from the outside. I started 0-6 and came to the locker room at half with a measly three points. The third quarter did not show much promise either as I missed my only three-point attempt and only hit two free throws and a lay up to go to seven with just 10 minutes left. We trailed by 14 and hope was quickly fading of handing the Eagles their first Championship loss of the season. Then the unthinkable happened. I hit a three in the corner and once I saw that ball arc through the net my killer instinct came out. Four three pointers in four possessions and 17 points in three and a half minutes. I had never done that before. I had never got that hot that quick I don't know what came over me. We paired this with a 2-1-2 press that we threw at the Eagles that was causing them havoc. We had finally gained the lead halfway through the quarter and now had all the momentum. We rode this until the final horn as we stepped up to knock down our free throws and ice the game. In all I finished with a new career high, 33 points, and 26 points in the final 10 minutes. What was even more remarkable was that our team scored 43 points in the final stanza when we had only scored 51 in the first three quarters. We celebrated on the ride home and by the time we arrived back in Worcester around 3:30 AM we were already thinking about the Glasgow game that we had just 16 hours later.
No one in our apartment woke before 2 p.m. the next day as we were worn out not only from the game but also from the 10 hours of travel that we had to and from the game. Glasgow had been playing well and Mychal Green was leading the league in scoring and also was the front runner for league MVP at this point in the season. Although they were without another of their primary players, EJ Harrison, they were still finding a way to win games and their inside play had stepped up since the last time we faced them. I hoped to play better than I had at Glasgow as I had scored no points. The first quarter seemed to play out the way a two- vs. three-seed game would go. Each team was scoring fairly easily and they score changed hands numerous times throughout the first half. Glasgow could not guard us man-to-man and went to a 2-3 zone to try and slow us down. This opened things up for our perimeter shooters. It also allowed us to hit the offensive boards and get multiple chances at putting points on the board. We began to pull away and although they made a run at us we ended up putting the Rocks away by 22 points. We held Green down to 13 points which was 10 below his average and attempted to make the role players beat us. This had been a big key to our success thus far in the season. Each team was allowed three Americans which the majority of the time were the best players on each team. Our goal each game was to limit these players and make their role players that were not known as much for their scoring to put points on the board for the opposition. It was a great way to bounce back from our semifinal cup weekend against Plymouth and put us in a tie with eight wins with Newcastle at the top of the league table. We now had the next three days to ourselves to recoup as our next game was a week and a half away.
We have two upcoming games before our week long New Year's break. We play Leicester at home in our first match up of the season on the 28th of December and then we again travel to Milton Keynes on the 30th. We will get from the 23rd-26th of December off from practice to enjoy Christmas. The players that are staying in Worcester are planning on heading to one of our assistant coach's house for a small gift exchange. Overall it will be pretty quiet. I plan on traveling up to Stonehenge this week and also might travel to either Birmingham or London to do some Christmas shopping for my family back home. I would like to take this time to thank my family, friends, and the Wolves fan for the care packages and little items that they have sent to me to minimize the feeling of being so far away from home. The cereal, hamburger helper, nutty bars, chips, and candy help me to think of all the food I have to look forward to when I get back. Needless to say I will pack on a few pounds when I get back to the states and slow down a little bit from the daily practices and running so much. Once again thank you for taking the time to read through my latest blog and I hope you have enjoyed it. Until next time take care of yourselves.