Bobcat Abroad: Tommy Freeman (September 17)

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As another September approached, my time to depart overseas did as well. In late July I had been offered a contract by SAM Basket Massagno of the LNA in Massagno, Switzerland. The city of Massagno is about 4 square miles and is located within the larger city of Lugano. I was scheduled to leave on August 26th from Indianapolis.

In the weeks leading up to my departure, I focused on my strength training and conditioning. I set out a plan to execute the training until the date that I was due to leave. Upon receiving the paperwork from the club, I quickly completed it and sent it on its way to Chicago and the Swiss Embassy to obtain my Visa for entrance into Switzerland. Through multiple communications with the team and the representative at the embassy, we were able to speed the process along and I received my Visa via mail only 3 days before I was due to depart. The evening prior to leaving my league conducted its fantasy football draft and I made the 4 hour drive home to Muncie. My flight wasn’t until 3:30 in the afternoon. I took the opportunity to have lunch with some of my family before heading over to the airport. Once there I took my time checking in and saying my final goodbyes to my family before going through the security checkpoint.

Upon pulling away from the gate the flight received word from Chicago that it had been grounded due to incoming weather. We waited 45 minutes before taking off towards Chicago. The flight was quick and I was there by the time I woke up from my power nap. I found my way to the international terminal and to the correct gate. I was one of the first there and found a seat where I could watch some TV. My team mate, Clint Chapman, had flown in from Portland, Oregon and we boarded the Swiss Air jet together. I found myself sitting 2 rows from the back. The consolation was that I had a seat on the aisle. It was a 9 hour overnight flight. The first movie I watched was Hunger Games, which I had been meaning to see but had not got around to it while I was home. The other was Battleship, which upon completion was glad I had not spent the $1 at the Redbox to rent. The food was decent and the entertainment was good. It would have been a great flight if the lady in front of me had not reclined her seat all the way back. I was astonished that her seat even went back that far. I think if I had been a few pounds overweight that the back of her seat would have been resting on my stomach. As the sun rose, we made our way over mainland Europe.

We arrived in Zurich and I was happy to stand up for the first time in 9 hours. I filed my way off the large plane after directing a dirty look to the lady who had been sitting in front of me when she looked back my way. Clint and I slowly made our way through the Zurich airport stopping at shops that looked interesting and seeing how prices varied from home. We found seats close to our gate and sat down to rest. I quickly dozed off while Clint went and found some coffee. The long flight and minimal sleeping had finally hit me. Our last plane was ready and we boarded a bus that took us out to our plane which was parked a few hundred yards from the ground level gate. As soon as I hit the seat I was out again. I didn’t wake until we were descending into Lugano. I peeked out of the window to see mountains everywhere and a large, glassy blue lake. We had finally made it to our destination after nearly 20 hours of leaving home.

We stepped off of the plane and I claimed my bags from the baggage belt. One of Clint’s bags had come up missing and I waited as he put in a claim to the office. I stepped out of the one belt baggage claim area and saw Patrick who had coordinated my flight and visa. We stepped outside and sat down at a table after being introduced to my coach, Robby and my other import team mate, Danilo Mitrovic. We sat and discussed the plan for the rest of the day while drinking some water. Clint and I hopped in the car with Patrick and we travelled through town while he showed us the sights and how to get around. We arrived in a parking garage in the downtown area and walked to McDonalds for our first meal abroad. The McDonalds was waterfront on the lake and pedestrians walked the boardwalk across the street taking in the spectacular views. While ordering, I noticed a difference in the pricing from America. Big Mac meals were advertised as $11.60. I couldn’t believe it, but as I was informed by Patrick and other people before I left, prices here would be much more expensive.

We completed our meals and made our way to our apartments. Danilo, Clint, and Jamelle,  the final import player, would be living in the same building and I would be living about a block away in a separate building. I rode with Patrick as we went to get the car that I would share with Jamelle for the year. It was a manual Citroen C1. I had not drove stick since leaving England and hoped I still had the touch to put my wheels in motion. Patrick showed Clint and I to our homes for the next 8 months and then handed over the keys. I spent my time unpacking and as 6:30 rolled around it was time to head to practice. I followed Danilo to the track as we drove our identical cars with our SAM Basket logo on the side. I knew we would be running but had no clue the distance or time. Naturally, being the first group activity I was nervous. As everyone arrived I met the rest of my team mates, the owner, and the staff that helped with the club. Our assistant coach, Gary, would serve as our interpreter as practice got under way.  Our owner and then coach each took their turns welcoming the team and telling us what they viewed as important if the team would have a successful season. Now it was time to run. We warmed up by running at a slow pace for 15 minutes. We then did stretching and some plyometric work with the ladder. Another 15 minute run followed and before we knew it, we had run close to 4 miles. It had been an exhausting day and after a shower was time to see where we would be eating lunch and dinner every day.

The ABC restaurant offers an Italian cuisine. Most days we have pasta for lunch and some type of meat for dinner. These are always served after a salad made up of lettuce, sweet corn, shredded carrots, and sliced tomatoes with a house dressing. We are served these meals with lemon or peach iced tea or water. Although I have not recognized some of the dishes, it has been nice to get lasagne, pizza, chicken cordon bleu, pork chops, and veal. For snacks in between meals and late at night we visited the Aldi in town to pick up cookies, milk, orange, juice, yogurt, grapes, peaches, and lunch meat for sandwiches.

The next day was much of the same as we met at 10 in the morning for a workout that totalled to just over 4 miles. We then visited the pool. It was a warm morning, but the water was anything but that. As we dipped our toes in, we quickly pulled them out in alarm to the water temperature. We met again in the evening to do some plyos and recovery stretching. In between our practices my girlfriend Helen arrived in town from England after landing in Milan, Italy and traveling by bus. After not seeing her for 4 months, it seemed surreal that she was actually here with me finally.

The next few days we practiced only once per day and only for an hour a half. We spent our practice time putting in our offense and going over our defensive philosophy. The rest of the days Helen and I enjoyed each other’s company while watching movies and strolling around town. We walked around downtown through the alleys and past the store fronts then made our way to the lake. The boardwalk wrapped its way around the lake while mountains provided the backdrop on the opposing side of the water. People enjoyed the recreational opportunity by taking out pedal and sail boats. We ate gelato and walked through the park then stopped at the playground the take our turn down the slide and swing amongst the kids who were all less than half our age. On Sunday, we were invited to Patrick’s home where we enjoyed a Sunday afternoon meal before he drove us to the top of Bre Mountain where we snapped pictures from the mountain top restaurant.

Monday marked our first exhibition game against cross town rivals Lugano Tigers, who had won the league last year. My teammate from Worcester, Richie Gordon, had also been signed by the club for this year. The first few minutes were very sloppy as the teams felt each other out. It was also the first time that our starting 5 had played on the same team. We had been split up in practices and we were still getting used to playing with one another. Once we settled in a rhythm, we started to put some points on the board. Although we did not keep score and the objective was simply to put our system on the court against a different opponent, Coach was pleased with our effort and the team felt comfortable playing to each other’s strengths.

We will travel to Italy next week for another exhibition game and continue to put our system into place. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and hope it brings you a little insight into overseas basketball. I will continue to update my blog as events unfold and the season approaches. Until next time take care!!!