Bobcat Abroad: Tommy Freeman (November 17)

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The next week, the team spent our training sessions participating in speed and conditioning drills for the majority of our practice slots. The team had a swagger about us. Winning makes being a part of a team easy. Guys get along, players aren't as homesick, and it keeps the team morale high while making it easy to come to practice and correct small details instead of making major changes. I had never been accustomed to anything but winning, and I would do anything possible in order for us to continue the streak that we had started.

Thursday morning we faced the toughest workout to date. Mick, our strength coach, had mapped out a four-mile run down the bike path that ran along the River Severn. It was 8 a.m., I had not ate breakfast when I arrived at the sports complex and I was about to regret it. We weaved our way through the commuters on their way to work. As the team spread out and with each person running their own pace I took the chance to look at a part of the city that I had not seen to this point. Our route took us past the Worcester Cathedral. It was the focal point of the city and was a colossal building while I was running past its base. As we traveled on the bridge and crossed the river my stomach began to ache. I was now paying for not putting some food in my stomach. I was determined to finish the run and now had Callum at my side pushing me along with each painful stride we took. The river was peaceful at that time of morning. There were bikers riding on the path and teenagers walking to school. We had escaped for a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. As we ran back towards the sports hall the city grew larger and the sound of cars grew louder. Once again we crossed over the busy streets and found ourselves back where we had commenced our workout from 30 minutes prior.

That afternoon we had a two-hour session scheduled. As we arrived at the gym we were directed upstairs and walked in to a classroom. The team divided itself among the two tables in the room. We would be discussing goals for this years team, things that were working to this point, and things that weren't working so well. The session helped the team realize that we all had the same goals. If we were going to put the time into practice, conditioning, and putting as much time in as we were we might as well set our goals as high as we could. We discussed the small details that would make all the difference in the long-run. The meeting had really opened my eyes to the quality of guys we had on the team. We cared about winning at a high level and were not in it for ourselves. That is the biggest difference between college and pro players that I had noticed to this point in my young professional career. Professionals often play for themselves in order to put up good stat lines. Often times this comes at the cost of winning games. In order for our team to play its best ball we had to be unit with everyone on the same page. Guys would get good stats if we each played our roles to the best of our abilities. We would also win games which would make noise around the league. We had proved to this point that our formula worked. We had players who usually scored the majority of our points but our role players were filling in and stepping up when we needed them to. I came to the session just thinking we were getting some shots up and calling it a day. However, by the time I left I had a different outlook on my entire situation. I felt blessed to be apart of something that was bigger than any of the players or coaches involved. We could accomplish something as a group that would truly be great. Sure there would be bumps in the road ahead of us, but if we stayed the course and together through, our lofty goals were attainable.

The two weeks off from games made practices chippy. The guys were growing tired of playing against the same competition day in and day out. Everyone was looking forward to the Mersey game where we had a chance to advance into the Semifinal stage of the BBL Cup. I found myself searching for something new to fill my time. Playing Xbox was getting old so I decided to walk to town and see if I could find anything to spark my interest. I wandered aimlessly around the crowded sidewalks and narrow alleys between shops. I walked in the health and beauty store to pick up some toe nail clippers and aluminum foil. I then proceeded to CEX which sold used video games and DVDs. Again this month I bought DVDs. I picked out a variety of comedy (Dumb & Dumber) and action (Apocalypto, Days of Thunder, Hellboy, and There Will Be Blood). I mixed in watching them with the movies I had brought from home. It was nice to take a second on my walk to town and reflect on the situation I was a part of. For the first time since I had been in England I realized that I was a 22-year-old that was doing what he loved in order to play the bills. I started to notice the little things around me. The bright green tint of the grass, the storm clouds overhead, the crisp brisk air and the sounds that were coming from the city. Growing up playing basketball, my heroes were the guys that I saw out on the court playing at the highest level in college. I attended Ball State and Kentucky basketball camps in the summers and looked up to guys such as Theron Smith, Bonzi Wells, Keith Bogans, and Tayshaun Prince. I saw these players at camp and then on the court and TV once the season started. I was now on the same level as these players. Maybe not as good of an athlete or able to score as many points as them but kids now looked up to me. My youngest brother Zach reminded me of this the most. He looked up to me because I was his oldest brother, but he also told his friends that I played basketball. After all, basketball is an outlet to bigger things, not an end all. The skills that you attain from being part of a team, something bigger than yourself are countless and unmeasurable. After I am done playing I know all of the traits that came from working on my game for so many years and playing with a variety of guys will be useful in the workplace…whatever that happens to be. I went to practice that evening and felt the ball on my fingertips. I felt the leather on my skin and it seemed to become an extension of me. I sank shot after shot and had hoped that I had finally solved my shooting woes.

Friday could not come soon enough. We arrived at our gym and shot for an hour before showering and loading the minibus for the two-and-a-half hour ride to Liverpool to play the Mersey Tigers. The ride was rainy and mostly just fields full of roaming sheep. I listened to a playlist of Latin rap music on my iPod that my friend from home, Miguel, had introduced me to. While I could not understand one word they were saying, the beats are why i enjoyed listening to these songs and I quickly dozed off to the sounds of heavy bass and Spanish lyrics. I woke up and it was nearly dark. We arrived at the arena and piled off the minibus. The ground was sopping wet because of the rained that we had received throughout the day. The gym had bleachers on one side of the court with the team benches on the opposite. There were around 500 seats and the majority of the seats had people in them by the tip time of the match. We took the floor excited for the opportunity to play against a team that the Wolves had went 0-5 against just one season prior. It was Veteran's Day. The teams lined up at opposite free throw lines and took part in a minute of silence for the men and women that have made the ultimate sacrifice for each and every one of us. In the first half, the time we had off showed. We came out rusty as we weren't on point with our passes and had 18 turnovers at the half. We also had trouble running our sets and were not sprinting back to match up on the defensive end. At halftime, although we had played terriblly, we were leading by eight. We knew that if we played how we were capable of, that we would be able to blow the Tigers out. In the second half we did just that. I heated up in the third quarter as the lead swelled to over 20 points. Although we knew we had not played particularly well we were happy to get the win. Richie finished the game with 27 points and 15 rebounds. Prezzie and I both scored 23 points while Prezzie also dished out nine assists. The final score was 91-62 and we made the trip home knowing we had a game the next evening that would be tough if we were not ready to play.

We woke up for a light shoot around in the morning and the day seemed to fly by as game time approached. The pre-game meal was once again Subway with three white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. After a few pre game pictures with our new warm up tops on it was time for the tip. We were facing a Durham team that had only managed one victory to this point, However, they had been in every game that they played. Once again we started off slow and at the end of the first quarter we trailed by 8. I had started off the game by missing my first three shots. I needed to find a different way to score if my shot was not falling. I began to attack the basket to try and get some shots to fall or get to the free throw line. The second quarter saw us complete a 16 point swing and bring an eight point lead into the locker room. Durham was pesky and had an answer every time we went on a run. They ran the shot clock down nearly every possession on offense and then made shots at the end of the clock. A few of my shots had started to fall but I was still attacking the basket. However, I was scoring the majority of my points from the free throw line. We had accumulated enough fouls on them to be in the penalty for the majority of the third quarter and every time the whistle blew we were awarded with two free throw attempts. We maintained the eight point lead as we entered the final quarter. Credit to Durham, they did not stop playing and they threw a match-up zone at us which we had not played against to this point in the season. Our offense came to a screeching halt and we became hard pressed to put the ball in the hoop. They on the other hand ran their offense methodically and somehow ended up getting lay ups at the end of their possessions. We found ourselves trailing by one with just under a minute left. Luckily we kept our composure and Tin Tin was able to shot fake, get his defender in the air and take one dribble towards the basket to free himself for a 15-foot jump shot. He sank it and we needed one stop to seal the victory. Once again, all five Durham players circled through the lane and with just a few seconds remaining they made their move. It all happened so fast that I cannot recall exactly how the ball got to the rim. All I could see was the ball hanging on the rim knowing that this shot would determine the outcome of the contest. It somehow spun out and I swatted it away from the basket and it landed safely in Richie's hands. I finished with a game-high 21 points. Although they had been ugly, we needed every once of them to ensure the victory. We had pulled out the win and won on back-to-back nights. This was a big step for the team as we knew we faced another double header the following weekend.

I've enjoyed being able to watch Ohio's last two football games, and then to listen to the basketball team's home opener. I know the program is in good hands under coach Groce and my former teammates that are competing in the Green and White. This week will be similar to last week. We will again travel to Liverpool to play the Mersey Tigers on Friday. On Saturday we will face the Plymouth Raiders at home with a new point guard from the previous time that we matched up against them. I am hoping that we can continue the win streak. It is currently at six games and Plymouth will be a true test to see how much we have matured as a team. I am also hoping that we can triumph over them because Saturday is my birthday and I would hate to have to lose on it. I hope, as always, that you have enjoyed reading about my experiences abroad and want to thank you for taking time out of your day to read through this. Until next time, take care of yourselves.