Published Wed, Jan 25, 2012 11:00 am Dateline
Christmas, a time normally spent with family eating big meals, exchanging presents, and celebrating the life of Jesus. For the first time ever mine was spent away from family and out of the country. I have always enjoyed the entire process of Christmas. The lights on people’s houses, the snow that falls and always turns into ice so I can do fish tails in my pick-up truck, and most of all finding the perfect gift for everyone on my Christmas list. My friend Michelle was coming to visit for a few days over the holiday and I wanted to show her a good time while she was in Worcester. She was coming in from France where she was playing professional volleyball. Her team also had a few days off from practice and she was taking the opportunity to come to England over the break. I drove downtown to meet her at the train station. On the way I picked up two hot chocolates. It was getting colder in Worcester and I didn’t want to be rude and I knew she could probably use it after her long train ride. Her train pulled in the station and was packed full of people commuting to work. I grabbed one of her bags and we made our way down the stairs from the platform. We walked through downtown Worcester while we made our way to where I had parked the car. She was a tad bit nervous of my driving when we took off. She questioned how much I had been driving since I had arrived in England. We made it to the apartment and unloaded her belongings. I was running low on groceries and was not sure what she liked to eat so we walked down to the grocery store and grabbed some items that we could eat while she was staying with me. We arrived back at my apartment and I made us some breakfast. My cooking skills have definitely improved in the months that I have been here. Although I like to take the easy way out a lot of times and just throw something in the oven, I can still whip a meal up if I have to or have the time to do so. She had travelled through the night and not slept well on the crowded trains. After seemingly tossing her stuff throughout the room, she laid down to take a nap. We had planned a night out with the guys in the house to show her the night life in Worcester and also to celebrate our good start to both of our seasons.
We lounged around the rest of the day waiting for the evening to roll around. It was go time. Tin Tin blasted some tunes while I played my Xbox and got ready for the night. It was cold that night and I decided to wear a long sleeve flannel shirt that Tin had loaned me to wear. We arrived at Bushwackers and there was hardly anyone there. It was a quarter past eleven and we were not sure why no one was there. It hardly mattered. We were the party and we walked out on the dance floor. I had dusted off my dance moves since arriving in Worcester. The biggest key to it was not caring what other people thought. I knew I probably looked like an idiot being 6’5 and moving the way that I was. I didn’t mind at all. I was there to have a good time and when would I ever see the people in this bar after this year? We spent about three hours in Bushwackers on the dance floor. I recall that we could not wait to go grab some chicken and fries at the local fast food restaurant. Michelle ordered a pizza and went on and on about how good it was. I think part of it was because she hadn’t eaten one for a while and the other part might have been her lack of sleep the night before. We hopped in a taxi and returned to the apartment. As soon as I hit the pillow I was out like a light. Bars in England are open until four in the morning. I usually hit the wall at about two and usually just returned home by myself while my team mates stayed out.
It was Christmas Eve, Richie, Michelle, and I had decided to travel to Birmingham to do some Christmas shopping and get out of Worcester. We walked down to the train station once again and purchased tickets to travel in Birmingham. The train ride was much more interesting during the day. I could look out and see the countryside which I was not able to see the last time I travelled the route because of the darkness that fell over it during the ride. The Bullring was crowded with families trying to complete their last minute Christmas shopping. As we entered we could smell the Krispy Kremes rolling off the baking line. We took a restroom break and smelled a very different smell that was far from that of freshly baked pastries. As we proceeded to wade our way through the crowd we stopped off in clothing and department stores in search of the perfect gifts for our family members. I was also doing a little Christmas shopping for myself. Apart from buying food for myself each month I usually didn’t spend that much of my pay check. It was nice being able to purchase some new clothes for myself. I was on the lookout for clothing that had scenes or graphics from England on them. I completed about half of my list by the time that the stores closed down early for the holiday. We rode back on the train satisfied with our day’s work and relieved to sit down for a little while after we had walked around for a few hours.
Christmas day was a lazy one. Michelle and I both took the time to Skype with our families and wish them a Merry Christmas. The rest of the day was spent hanging out in the apartment. Around dinner time Richie, Michelle, and I headed over to one of the University coach’s house. He knew we were far from home and had no family in England to celebrate the holiday with. His family had prepared a meal with ham, turkey, chicken, carrots, green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. They also had some cheesecake for dessert which was amazing. It was also the start of the NBA regular season. We finished our meal then sat with full tummies in front of the flat screen watching the holiday games. It was a rather difficult day thinking about being away from family and missing my mom. Holidays are always the hardest time for me. It’s really hard with my mom not being there and being able to go home and see her, go to church with her on Christmas Eve, and buy her presents. I find myself watching the video of her life that my cousin created for her memorial service when she passed away. I cry every time when I hear her voice. However, in some way it helps when I watch it to see the love she had for her three boys. Losing loved ones is hard regardless of whom it is. I think losing a parent could be the hardest to deal with though, especially when you lose them at a young age. The pain is hard for people to grasp that have not gone through it before. The reality of the situation hits home with those people too close and I have found that because of that they often are not there when you need them the most. I have never held it against those people though. I know that it scares people to think about that situation happening to them and how they would cope with it. I attempt to stay strong and deal with it the best way I know how to. Nothing in my life had ever prepared me for that to happen. I took it a day at a time and just tried to get through to the next day.
December 26th was Michelle’s last day in Worcester before she departed to visit London for a few days and meet her friend. We took the time to walk through the Worcester Cathedral which is the focal point of the city. The history that the cathedral contained is something that we do not have in the States. I have always enjoyed history and walking through the cathedral while seeing the architecture along with the paintings and catacombs of the building was well worth the donation that we left in the box when we walked through the door. We took some pictures and most of all just marvelled at the enormity of the building. It was getting to be dinner time and I made the decision to visit Nando’s for Michelle’s going away meal. Half a Portuguese style chicken with garlic bread, fries, and bottomless Coca-Colas did the trick. Having a friend visit during the holiday made it easier to deal with not being home and I was glad that Michelle had taken her time off of practice to come and visit Worcester.
The team had been off of practice since the 23rd of December and none of us had picked up a ball or been in the gym. Practice on the 27th was sloppy as we ran up and down the court and attempted to find our stroke from outside. We had a game against Leicester the next day and they had a loaded team. We would need to be on form if we expected to beat them. The 28th was game day and we went through our normal routine of shoot around in the morning then meeting back at the gym at 5 for our 7 PM tip. The first half remained close throughout. They had not practiced in close to 3 weeks but we could not hit enough shots to pull away from them. It was a see-saw battle that saw us gain a 7 point lead at the half. The 3rd quarter was our demise. Over the 10 minutes the Riders found their touch from outside and they didn’t leave any space for us to stage a comeback. We found ourselves down by close to 20 points at the end of 3 quarters with little hope of getting back into the game. The 4th was more of the same. It was lowlighted by me picking up my 2nd unsportsmanlike foul of the game resulting in an ejection and early exit to the locker room. I sat on the bench staring at the wall until my team mates began to file through the locker room door. It was embarrassing to lose by over 20 points at home in front of a sell-out crowd. It was one game. We had to travel to Milton Keynes 2 days later to face a Lions squad that had beat us in convincing fashion on Sky Sports TV earlier in the season.
After a day of relaxation we were ready to travel to Milton Keynes and have our chance at redemption. We controlled the game from beginning to end. It was the best we had played to that point in the season. We shot the ball well and everyone contributed to the victory. We mixed up our defences playing some man-to-man and also some zone and made them hit shots. While Bolds had a great game against us again we were able to shut down their role players which we were not able to do in the first match up. I was a bit distracted before the game. With the thought of being back in the U.S. less than 24 hours away I could not help to think of being back with friends and family in the town where I had spent my four years of college. Regardless of my thoughts prior to the game when the ball tipped I was focused on the job at hand as I did not want to lose again to this team knowing that there was only one matchup with them remaining during the regular season. The game was now over and the job was complete. I could completely focus on heading home and my plans for the week.
We arrived back in Worcester and I packed up the rest of my things that I had not already thrown into my duffle bag. Carlos was also traveling home to Spain during the break and his flight was due to depart at 6 in the morning. Richie was driving me to the airport and we worked out a plan where he could drop both of us off at the same time and I would wait a few extra hours until my flight left at 9AM. Carlos and I arrived at the airport at 3 AM and found a place to camp out while we waited for the desk to open for check in. We grabbed a few adult beverages and relaxed for an hour as we talked about our plans for home and also our thoughts on next year. Carlos checked his bag and departed for his gate after making his way through security. I sat in the coffee shop waiting for the Continental desk to open so I could check my bag and then head toward my gate to depart. I hopped online and gave friends from home updates on the status of my trip and what I was doing. I also watched families make their way through the airport trying to tote their bags and keep track of their children at the same time. It was just after Christmas so there were many oversized bags along with boxes of all shapes and sizes. The desk opened and I checked my bag. I made my way to security after taking the time to grab a Burger King breakfast sandwich on the way. I arrived at the gate and put in the headphones to my iPod. Although the anticipation of my trip had me very excited, I had not slept in nearly a day and I quickly dozed off while waiting to board. I awoke in the middle of boarding and as I recall freaked out a little due to the fact that my plane was boarding out of the gate next to mine and I was not sure if I had missed the plane or not. The gate agent assured me everything was fine and I snaked my way through the aisle back my seat. Again as I had on the way over to England, I was able to switch seats and attain an aisle seat with the seat in between the gentleman by the window and myself empty. I stowed my bag and picked out a movie from the entertainment system in the back of the headrest of the seat in front of me. “Cowboys and Aliens” began. I did not have the attention to really pay attention to the action of aliens flying around in the old west. For some reason those two ideas just didn’t go together. I was also thinking about getting home and making it down to Athens by midnight. I fell asleep and was woken up by the feel of someone grazing my shoulder on the way back to their seat from the bathroom. I quickly pulled back my foot out of the aisle and as my luck would have it the elderly woman stumbled over my size 13 shoe. I quickly apologized and hoped that she was alright. Once I saw she was fine I fell back asleep. Again I woke and was starving. I had slept through the meal that was offered on board. After a few more hours of travel we arrived at Newark. We descended through the clouds and I saw the Freedom Tower, Statue of Liberty, and downtown Manhattan. It was an incredible sight to see as I returned to the United States. I exited the cabin and made my way to the monitor in order to find my connecting flight into Dayton.
I remembered the gate agent at Birmingham telling me I had to claim my bag and check it again when I arrived in Newark in order for it to make its final destination in Dayton. I found baggage claim and placed it on the correct conveyor belt then made my way towards my gate. The security checkpoint was backed up and it seemed to take forever to get through. I had been sure to charge my phone as much as possible before leaving so I would have plenty of battery for the time in between flights and my night out in Athens. I started texting everyone that I could think of that my flight had arrived safely and that I was waiting at the gate to depart Newark. I searched around for a bite to eat and settled on a sub. I washed it down with a bottle of Pepsi while I charged my phone and watched the children play with the pigeons that had found their way inside the terminal. I walked back over to my gate 20 minutes prior to the time that we were scheduled to depart. The pilot had not arrived in from Atlanta yet and they were delaying the plane by an hour. I continued to give updates of my status to my dad to let him know what time to be at the airport to pick me up. Once in the air the flight went fast. We were on the ground before I knew it and I walked towards baggage claim. The next moment was one of the happiest of my trip home. Walking through security and seeing my brother Zach along with my Dad, Grandma, and friend, Doug. I embraced each of them as if I hadn’t seen them in years. That’s exactly how it felt. I was so glad to have them there and being home was finally a reality. I claimed my bag and hopped in my pickup truck then followed my Dad down the highway towards Skyline Chili. American food, there can’t be many things better in the world. I realized this even more now that I had not had any in months and most of my meals I had to cook now. We found a table and my Dad surprised me with my Christmas gifts. An SD card for my camera, 12 boxes of Crystal Light packages, an OU t-shirt, and a brand new iPod touch. My current iPod was on its last leg and I planned on purchasing a new one while I was home. I scarfed down my 3 chili cheese mini Coney dogs and said goodbye to my Grandma. Zach and I hopped in my truck and headed towards Athens blaring country music and talking about how he was getting on in his first year of middle school.
I had been traveling for over 24 hours and took one of the best showers I recalled in recent memory. I changed to go out and meet my Dad and Doug at Broney’s to bring in the New Year. It had been a year full big changes in my life. I had accomplished goals that I had worked years to achieve. One of these accomplishments was breaking the all-time three point record at OU. 4 years of hard work and dedication, countless hours and shots in the gym. It was not a goal that I set out to accomplish. I played my role on the team and did what we needed to win. I never focused on scoring points or trying to build my stats. The only stats that I took pride in was 3 point percentage, charges taken, and team wins. 3’s were my job and I could control how much preparation I put into getting those shot opportunities. I prided myself on taking good shots and being able to knock them down. Charges were hustle plays that helped us win. Opposing teams feared coming in the lane not because they were afraid of being blocked but because they knew the chances that I would step over and take a charge were better than not. I loved skidding across the floor and the referee pumping his fist in the other direction after I had been ran over a majority of the time. Wins were the biggest stat to me. Wins made you eternal. Records are made to be broken; it’s simply a matter of time before mine falls. However, everyone remembers the Bobcats making it to NCAA tournament and upsetting Georgetown in the first round. This is the legacy I aimed to leave for my 4 years from the time I decided to wear the Green and White. My second accomplishment of the year was graduating from college and receiving my degree. After 4 years of battling through classes during the season, making it through summer school, and spending countless hours in the library and with tutors I had finally done it. It was a goal that I had to not only go to college to play basketball but complete my degree in my 4 years and be prepared to move on to the next stage of my life. My final accomplishment of 2011 was my dream of playing professional basketball being realized. After finishing my senior season as a Bobcat I was able to hire an agent and sign with the Worcester Wolves. After all the years of hard work alone in a gym just the basket and I, I was finally doing the thing that I dreamed of while growing up in Indiana. There were so many things to be thankful for. I had met new people that had become big parts of my life. I experienced and tried new things and had my eyes opened to an entirely different culture and way of life.
The temperature was cold during the week I was home. Jeff Grinstead, Dennis “G” Gillette, and I battled the snow and wind while hunting for deer, coyote, rabbit, and squirrel. We spent the afternoons and evenings in the woods and tree stands in hopes of getting some takedowns on video for our website (www.trifectaoutdoors.com). More than the hunting it was the time I spent with my buddies that was the reason why I sat for hours at a time in the frigid conditions. The jokes we told that only the three of us understood had us in stitches the entire week. We were able to watch football and eat family style meals together. The Gillette’s and Grinstead’s were my family when I was at OU. They brought me in as one of their own and often times I went to them when I was in a crunch or needed advice about situations I had got myself into. Jeff and G were the two people that I had talked to most since being in England and kept updated on my games and daily occurrences. It was nice to finally be able to spend some time with them and do something that we all enjoyed taking part in.
After hunting on the 2nd we got ready to attend the Bobcat basketball game versus Robert Morris. It was the first time I had seen the team play in person since graduating. There was so much of a difference between being on the floor and in a jersey than being in the stands watching the game and not having any control of the outcome. I made my way to my seat after exchanging multiple hellos and taking the time to share some of my experiences to interested fans that made their way up the aisles to greet me. I was reminded of the support that I had at OU throughout my 4 years. When I came to OU I was not high on any recruiting boards. I was described to some as an “acquired taste”. I grew on the fan base. I made myself approachable and available to the fans and made many strong relationships because I did not conform to the typical athlete stereotypes. I look back on my career at OU and am proud of the legacy that I left and the way I conducted myself while being a student athlete. The game was a tough fought battle that saw Robert Morris pull out the victory in the Convo to give the Bobcats only their 2nd loss of the season. The guys played hard and the difference in the game was Robert Morris’ ability to hit their 3 point attempts. I had kept up with as many of the games as I could from across the pond and it was nice to finally be able to see the team live take the court in front of the O-Zone and great fans in Athens.
I travelled home on the 4th to see my Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, and Brother in Indianapolis and also attend Muncie Central basketball practice. My Bearcats were undefeated and ranked #1 in the state is the 3A class. I was able to talk to all of my old coaches and relive the practices that I went through in high school and the constant pursuit for perfection that the Bearcat tradition stood for. I worked on my jump shot as the team ran through plays at the opposite end of the court. Once practice ended I hopped in my truck and headed towards Indy. I arrived after the hour trip and gave my Aunt and Uncle the biggest hugs I had ever given either of them. My brother and cousin arrived soon after. We exchanged our Christmas presents with each other. We ate burgers and I told them about my experiences to that point while being overseas. They asked about my apartment, the English food, and the variety of things I had seen on road trips and around Worcester. I enjoyed the night of relaxation and spending time hanging out together. Being around family is what I miss the most about playing abroad. As it was I did not get to see them enough when I lived at home but not having the opportunity to see them on holidays or on the rare occasion that I went to Indianapolis to visit killed me. Family has always been a big part of my life and the motivation that I have to make them proud on a daily basis. I do not play basketball for myself. I do it for the name on the front and back of the jersey. I have been blessed with the opportunity to carry on my last name and honor it every time that I step on the court.
I made my way back to Athens on the 5th after doing some shopping at Best Buy for the 2nd season of “Modern Family”, a warranty for my new iPod, and a last minute Xbox 360 for my brother. I retraced my route that I made one day earlier just in the opposite direction. I had dinner plans with the Gillette’s and Grinstead’s that evening and then needed to pack for my flight back to England the next day. I arrived to G’s house and had one last home cooked meal during my trip. G took me to town after I said my goodbyes and stored my truck. I wanted to go out with Tunji before I left and I knew it would be my last opportunity to do so until May when my season was complete. We visited a few bars and I ran into a few of my friends that I had the opportunity to say goodbye to before I got on the road at 5:30AM to head towards Columbus for my 9AM flight. I soaked up my last night in Athens with a chicken chipotle ranch burrito from Big Mama’s and went to pack for my flight. I made sure my bag was close to the 50 pound limit I was allotted as I squeezed in every item that I could before pulling the zipper shut.
I climbed behind the wheel of Mikayla’s BMW and took off towards Columbus. With hardly any traffic on the road the drive went by fast between me driving a few miles per hour over the speed limit and the country CD’s that I popped in her CD player. We arrived at the airport exactly 2 hours before my flight and I grabbed bags out of her car. We had a great week together going out, playing a few games of “Candyland”, and enjoying each other’s company. My only regret about it is that we didn’t get to spend more time together. Thoughts flashed through my head from the week as I realized this was the last time I would see her in person for a few months. Life is about the countless moments that you encounter throughout it. Who knew what would happen from there but she made me happy and I enjoyed being with her in that moment. I couldn’t wait to see what other moments laid ahead.
I gave Mikayla a hug and set out on my way back to the UK. I found my way through ticketing and security and sat at the gate waiting to board the plane. I knew I was in for a long day and wanted to get it underway and get to Newark to await my next flight. I fell asleep as soon as I boarded and woke up to the New York skyline once again. I found my way to my connecting gate and located the nearest power outlet. I set up shop as I knew I had a 9 hour layover until my flight departed to Birmingham, UK. I played “Boggle” on my phone and watched 4 episodes of “Glee” to pass the time. I bought some Chinese food around lunchtime and an “Auntie Annie’s” cinnamon sugar pretzel just before it was time to board the plane. I walked nearly to the back of the plane and finally came to my seat. Turning on the entertainment system I was not happy when it was not operating correctly. The stewardesses did their best to reboot the system in an attempt to get the systems to work but it was to no avail. A 7 hour flight with no movies and just the music on my iPod to listen to. Somehow I made it through and arrived in Birmingham an hour and a half ahead of schedule. I made my way through customs and claimed my bag. I found a girl that looked like she knew what was going on and asked her if she knew how to catch the train from the airport. She was taking a route to Leicester and we made our way through the airport and aboard the train to the hub station. There we went our separate ways and I was back in Worcester just as the sun was clearing the trees on the horizon. I made the 20 minute walk to my apartment from the train station and I was back. My trip was over and it was time once again to focus on my job.
What a great week at home with family and friends. I am so glad I had the opportunity to go back and enjoy our time off alongside the people that are most important in my life. I came back with a fire in my belly to continue our winning ways. We faced Mersey and Durham in a week’s time and it felt great to get back in the gym. Sometimes a few days break can be good and rekindle the desire to want to go through the weights, shooting, and training sessions every day. In my next blog I will talk about the Mersey, Durham, Cheshire, and Sheffield games and also any other events that come up from now until the end of the month. Thanks once again for taking the time to read through this epic of a blog. Until next time, take care of yourselves.