Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Movie Night

Lately the weather here in Lugano, Switzerland can best be described as blah. The temperature ranges from 28-45 degrees daily with clouds and fog. The clouds are so thick that one can not even see the mountains. Oh yeah, it rains and occasionally snow flakes fall but not enough to say it is snowing but just enough to tease me. I just wish the weather would make up its mind. We have been back for 24 days and have had about 5 sunny days. I guess I shouldn't be so upset coming from cold and dark Milwaukee winters but this upsets me.

The whole point of the weather report was to inform everyone of our cabin fever. We don't want to go outside but we want to do things. Going to the movies isn't an option because the movies are in Italian. So, I had a great idea of having movie night. I love watching movies so naturally I own a lot of them. I brought over 100 DVDs with me and told Liz to have an idea of what she wanted to watch so when I got back we could pop it right in. She asked me what I had so I read all of my DVDs off to her to see if she was interested in any. Liz had 4 picked out but she couldn't remember one of the other ones but she remembered it was in the beginning so I re-read the first 30 DVDs until she found it (it was Anchorman in case you were wondering.)

We came to a mutual decision that we would watch American Pie. It was and is still a great movie but as I watched it I felt a bit disheartened that this is one of the movies that defines my generation. I think one would be hard pressed to find a 25 year old American male who has not seen an American Pie movie. It made the word MILF famous. That is just awful but still really funny.

That is not really my point though. What is even worse is that the American Pie franchise has spread across the Atlantic and my Swiss teammates love it. We have spent many road trips watching these movies (too loud) with them laughing (too loud) and me trying to sleep in the back. The questions that they ask afterwards are classic. These range from "Is America really like this?" to "Do all American girls have fake breasts?" And my answer is the same every time, "Its exactly like this and better!!!"

Maybe I am a jerk for this but I can't help myself. The way their eyes light up when I tell them these things resembles the look of a child on Christmas morning. I just can't break their hearts and what their image of America is. Don't even get me started on what I tell them about college or how cheap everything is in America. I can write a book on that.

I know this post has been all over the place so I will summarize. The weather here isn't very nice. Liz and I have have movie nights and occasionally watch inappropriate movies. The effect American Pie has had on the world is amazing and I am an awful teammate.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lausanne Pics

This is the only picture of me in the set. Apparently the photographer wasn't able to snap any of my dunks (I had 2!) or my other sweet moves but was able to get the most un athletic move made by a player of the day. Oh well, it still went in.
This is of one of our younger players. He came in and did his thing. It is also kind of a cool look at our gym. I know the floor is blue and pink and there are hockey boards surrounding the court but it really isn't that bad.
This is the legend Sam Hines shooting the ball with me posting up.
This is Dan Fitzgerald shooting (and making) a shot off of a pass from yours truly.

Game vs Lausanne Rd 2

Heading into our game against Lausanne, SAM Massagno was on a 2 game losing streak. It was the worst kind of losing streak too because we had played awful in both of the games. Nothing was clicking on offense and defense. We were all frustrated and we knew we had to get better and it showed in practice. After the Nyon loss we had some great practices. Everyone was locked in mentally and we really got down to work. It wasn't a very heavy workload but we came in and did what we needed to do and we set the game plan for Lausanne.

The Lausanne game was not only important to snap us out of our funk but also because it was a huge game with possible playoff implications. We were defeated by Lausanne in the first round and it was important for us to win this one. There is a pretty big log jam in the middle of the league right now. Heading into the game we were sitting in 7th place, if we win we stay in 7th but if we lose we drop all the way down to 10th (second to last place.) We could not lose this game because it would be an uphill battle to try and get back into the playoff picture and only the top 8 teams make it.

SAM Massagno came out blazing in the game and save for 8 minutes kept it on. I think it was the best game we have played together as a team. We must have started the game with 8 layups. It was awesome to be a part of.

As the old saying goes though, games aren't won on offense, they are won on defense. This was an area where we improved by leaps and bounds. Lausanne had the leading scorer in the league playing for them. He was averaging 20.5 points per game. I was concerned about this because this obviously hasn't been a strong point for us. We practiced rotating on the help side as well as keeping someone in the paint at all times. Another change we made for the game was to really attack the ball screens to slow them down. This worked very well for us because the league's leading scorer only had 9 for the game.

We had a few low points in the game but were able to rebound off of them very nicely. The final score of the game was 97-72 with us coming out on top.

I thought I rebounded for myself very well. Things were clicking for me. I felt like I did before the Christmas break. With the right mindset I will be able to maintain this and keep going into the 3rd round. I finished the game with 17 points on 8-11 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds.

Now it is onto Geneva on Saturday to gain sole possession of 7th place. Another tough and big game. This season is full of them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Game vs Nyon Round 2

After our loss to Lugano, we watched the game to see what we did good and what we did bad. There was a lot more bad than good. Our defensive movements were slow and in some cases non existent. We strayed too much from our offense which led to bad shots which in turn led to fast breaks for Lugano. All in all it was an awful game for us. After watching the game we decided that we were going to get better (couldn't get much worse) and go out and beat Nyon.

I really believed we were going to win. They are the team with the biggest budget in the league. They have an outstanding collection of players. They have scorers, rebounders, defense guys and play makers. The guys on their team know how to play basketball. Austin Johnson, from Oklahoma, leads their attack and we knew we were going to need to stop him. Despite all of this, I still thought we were going to win the game. I couldn't have been more wrong.

We started out even worse than we did against Lugano. Nyon's fast break made Lugano's look like a middle school team's. We turned the ball over and because of this weren't ever able to run an offense. Nyon must have had 30 points in transition.

I will admit to myself that I let the refs get into my head a little bit. I didn't get any calls against Lugano and I definitely didn't get any calls against Nyon. I was frustrated and I let that affect my game. This is the first year that I have let the refs get into my head and I don't like the path that I am going down with it. Truth is, if I get hit, I still need to make the basket. That is the approach that I am going to take with me for the rest of the year. I have to take advantage of the things I am in control over and not things I am not in control of bother me. Ok, there is my little self help motivator for the day.

I could write more about how we didn't stop anyone or how we gave up 27 to a guy who averages 10 but I won't. It won't help with my mental state right now. I'm not even going to post a final score but I will tell you we lost bad.

Good news though, we play Lausanne on Sunday and have a chance to right the ship. We lost to Lausanne earlier in the year but we weren't a very good team then. We need to get back on track and I hope we can do it against them. It won't be easy but it will be a good challenge for us.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Big Ten Network

Thank god for the invention of Sling Box. For those of you who don't know, Sling Box is a little box that one hooks up to his/her cable and internet connection. Through this hookup, one is able to access their home cable television anywhere in the world as long as they have a computer and an internet connection. Needless to say, I watch Sling Box a lot on my computer.

One of my favorite tv networks to watch is the Big Ten Network. Growing up I loved the Big Ten and would watch as many Big Ten football and basketball games as I could. I dreamed of one day playing in the Big Ten. Shoot, if Ohio State would have offered me a scholarship in high school I would have jumped at the chance (they chose to give the scholarship to Charles Bass who later transferred, oh what could have been.) Being able to catch up with the teams and schools I grew up with is one of the reasons I love the Big Ten Network.

They constantly have replays on of classic Big Ten matchups. The only downside to this is having to possibly watch Wisconsin, in that case I change the channel or if I know the outcome I will watch the Badgers lose. It doesn't get much better than watching the Badgers lose. The only thing better would be watching Notre Dame lose. Anyways, the classic games are pretty awesome.

Also, I believe that the basketball coaches in the Big Ten are phenomenal. From Tom Izzo to Bruce Webber, there is a great collection of coaching talent there. I also have an added interest since Tom Crean is now coaching Indiana. Even though they are down it is great to watch the Hoosiers play and see the development of his team. I have said it before and I will say it again, the more success that Coach Crean has the more success I will have in my professional career on and off the court. I really believe that he will go to a Final Four within the next 5 years.

What really put me over the top for the Big Ten Network though is watching the Indiana vs Minnesota game this weekend. For those that didn't see or hear about it, Indiana won the game in overtime. To make it even better, Gus Johnson was calling the game. The man can make watching paint dry exciting. I love it and can't get enough of it.

If the Big East had some kind of agreement or network like this I would be writing the same thing. I obviously like the Big East (at least basketball) more than the Big Ten. I think it is a better conference top to bottom and has better coaches, teams, etc. I don't want to get into the Big East so much but I will in a later post.

I know the Big Ten received a lot of flack for the network but I think it is fantastic and other conferences should follow suit. I would love watching the Big East basketball replay on Sunday afternoons. The Big Ten also has great behind the scenes series. I just watched one on the basketball teams and it was awesome. They showed how teams prepare for each other and the struggles of being a student athlete, which I believe is not shown enough. Everyone always sees the games on tv but they don't see all the work in class, study hall, practice and the film room. I thought it was an excellent inside look at athletic programs.

If you haven't watched it yet or only watch it occasionally, I advise you to take a look into it. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Christmas Time Part 2

As I was saying about Christmas. Liz and I spent all of Christmas day on a train heading to Michigan. We arrived in Ann Arbor around 6 pm and my parents picked us up from the train station. We hadn't seen my parents in 4 months and I think they were pretty happy to see us. Shoot, we were really happy to see them. Living in Switzerland is hard sometimes because we are away from the ones we love for so long. That's what makes Christmas time so special.

Since we arrived so late on Christmas day and because of my sisters other family commitments, we were going to celebrate the Grimm Christmas on December 26th. Christmas night was really nice though too. We played Christmas music on the family stereo while my dad made a feast for us. I love American food.

On the afternoon of December 26th, all of the Grimm kids and my Grandma Kay came over to my parents house to celebrate Christmas. It was very nice and I can honestly say it was one of the best Christmases I can remember. It was also great to see my niece and my nephew. They are getting so big and are getting to the age where I can talk to them. They wanted to open the presents as soon as they saw them. I remember when I was like that as a kid. Those were the good old days.

The celebration continued until 2 am. Actually it continued later than that but that is when Liz and I went to bed. I showed my family that I am the dominant beer pong player and then decided to head to bed. My brothers in law and father stayed up later to talk and be merry. The jet lag was killing me though and Liz and I needed to hit the hay.

The rest of break was so much fun as well. I wish I could have seen some more people when I was home but the time just flew by. I really did enjoy the people I saw though. Especially my former high school coaches. It is always a good time when I am around them and I think our relationship has been past the player coach. It feels more like family to me so it is only natural that I see them when I come home.

During the rest of my break I shopped for cheap American clothes and ate all of the American food I could. Liz, my parents and I enjoyed a great night watching the Marquette vs West Virginia game at BW3's. I have been in Switzerland so long I forgot how cheap it is to eat at an American restaurant. The meal we ate there would have cost around $250-300 in Switzerland. It is just crazy.

We managed to eat at Outback, Taco Bell, Qdoba, McDonalds (breakfast only), Friday's, Rosie O'Gradys, BW3's, Chilis, Champps, and Jets while we were in the states. I might have missed a restaurant or 2 in there but that is what I remember. Now I'm back to eating Swiss food and the only American food I can hope for is the Hooters in Zurich.

We ended our break as a family eating at Rosie O'Gradys in Ferndale. All of my family made it out there for a New Years Eve dinner. It was so nice to see the whole family one last time before Liz and I headed back across the water. When we got back home we sat down on the coach and I think everyone was sleeping at around 11:30. We woke up though just in time to see the ball drop. My mom popped some champagne and then we went to bed.

Liz and I flew back on New Years Day on Lufthansa airlines. I was expecting long lines and a lot of security at Metro Airport. I was very wrong. Something on me set the metal detector off 4 times. I was not pulled to the side. I was not patted down. I got nothing. I just got a pass through. Good to see everything is working there.

We arrived in Milan, Italy (after one of the worst landings I have ever been a part of, apparently you can land with the wings tipping) and took the 45 minute drive up to Lugano on January 2nd. It was a wonderful Christmas break and one I will never forget. I can't wait to get back home in the summer so I can see all of the same people.

Game vs Lugano Round 2

This is a game that I would rather not report on but since I am trying to keep up with the blog I have to do it. Going into the game we knew it was going to be tough. I think that on paper Lugano has the strongest team in the league. They are tough at all 5 positions and they go 9 deep. This might not be surprising to some, but there are few teams this deep in Switzerland. This is because Switzerland is not a big money league but Lugano is a big money team so they have the money to pay 9 guys.

Lugano also has a new coach. Since they have so many Americans on their team, the Lugano management decided they needed an American coach to relate to their players. So, they went out and found a good American coach who has had success in Switzerland and also Europe. The new coach, Joe Whelton, was very successful and led Bellinzona (a town nearby) to Swiss championships. To sum it all up, our game against Lugano just got harder.

SAM vs. Lugano is also a derby (Euro word for rivalry game) so there is added motivation for the game. We didn't come out with the right mental approach for the game and found ourselves down quickly. Our offense wasn't clicking like it had been in our past 3 wins. It seemed like we would make one pass and then take a shot.

Even though Lugano jumped out to a quick lead, we managed to fight our way back. Every time we made a comeback though Lugano answered. We, including myself, missed a ton of easy shots that would have aided in our comeback. It just wasn't our day and we ended up losing the game 104-88.

Here are some low lites from the game. It is mostly Lugano stuff so watch at your own risk.

After the game I had the worst feeling. I hate losing and I took the loss hard. We played so bad and I know that we could have played better. The good thing though is we play tomorrow against Nyon and have a chance to win the game. We could really use the win to create some separation in the standings.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Italian Basketball

I have decided to hold off on writing about Christmas and our loss to Lugano for a little bit. Instead, I have to write about what I witnessed tonight while it is still fresh in my mind. On Thursday of this week, Patrick (a member of Massagno's management) asked us if we would like to see the NGC Cantu vs. Siena game on Sunday. I thought that it would be a lot of fun and give me an opportunity to see what Italian basketball is all about. Italy is such a beautiful country with great culture so naturally it is a country that I would love to play in one day. This was a perfect opportunity to see some Italian basketball. Plus, Siena is arguably the best team in Europe and definitely the best Italian team.

Cantu is about 40 minutes away from where we live and actually the home of our coach Massimo Aiolfo. It is a small town of about 20,000 people and a town that is very passionate about their basketball team.

NGC Cantu is also the team our new teammate Sam Hines (www.samuelhines.com) used to play for. Sam is a legend in Cantu and has had a very illustrious basketball career. He has absolutely dominated everywhere he has been and even belongs in Cantu's Hall of Fame, Piazza delle Stelle. I didn't realize how big of a deal this was until today. We immediately spotted Sam because he was surround by a bunch of people trying to talk to him. The man is an absolute star in Cantu and is treated like a god. I walked around the arena with him and everywhere we went people were saying hi to him and asking for pictures and autographs. Playing in Switzerland made me forget how big of a deal basketball is to some people.

I should also note that Cantu is famous for their crazy fans. I found this out on Saturday night in our game versus Lugano. Around 50 Cantu fans made the 40 minute trip to see our game against Lugano. They made their present known by singing and cheering loudly throughout the whole game. Unfortunately they sat next to Liz and she was unable to hear the rest of the night.

The Cantu fans occupy a section right behind the basket. They are so crazy that they were not allowed to attend the game vs. Varese because the local officials feared that a fight might break out between the two teams fans. I was about to experience what Italian basketball is all about.

While I was up talking with Sam I saw a bunch of police officers come in and surround an empty section in the upper corner of the arena. The officers were in full riot gear. Once they had the section surrounded I heard a roar moving up the stairs. Drums, horns and singing were all part of the roar. At the same time boos, profanities and everything else erupted out of the Cantu fan section. I realized that the officers were their so that the Siena fans and the Cantu fans could not make contact with each other. It was actually really cool to see. Most of the Siena fans gave a polite 2 finger salute to the Cantu fans and they were more than happy to give it back to them.

Once the fans had settled in, chants rang out back and forth across the arena. I didn't understand all of them but thankfully we had a translator. It was definitely not a place to bring a child as the game should have been rated R. The insults ranged from calling Siena sons of bitches to pieces of shit, and also saying how the Siena coach and president are married to a horse (apparently Siena is known for horse racing.) This continued for the entire game. It was definitely the best atmosphere I have ever seen at a game.

Unfortunately the Cantu fan section did cross the line at times. They were caught spitting at the Siena players and at one time they slapped one of them in the head. Some of the attendees also were smoking in the crowd and there was actually enough smoke for a thick haze to hang above the court. This was a little disheartening for me.

Putting the fans aside I suppose I should actually talk a little bit about the game since it was what we came to watch. Last year we had gone to see CSKA Moscow play Armani Jeans Milano in a Euroleague contest. This was definitely at the same level but it had more of an Italian flair.

One of the first things I noticed was the lack of post play between the 2 teams. I didn't see a post move by a post player until the 3rd quarter. In my opinion it wasn't because of lack of talent in the post either. I think that post play is just not part of the Italian game. Despite the lack of post play, the game was very physical. The intensity was also at an extremely high level. I expected this though as the Italian league is one of the most respected leagues in Europe.

The first half was very uneventful and unimpressive. Siena was only up 6 at the half in a low scoring contest. They turned it up in the second half and ended up winning by 30! They did it by playing great defense, great shot selection and playing extremely smart. I imagine that a lot of teams don't come into Cantu's gym and win.

Overall I liked what I saw from the teams and it is definitely a level that I think/know I can play at. In my head I was constantly comparing myself to the other players. I would love the challenge of playing in Italy. It would also feel good to play in front of more than 500 people every night.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Christmas Time

As I already mentioned earlier, SAM was rolling into Christmas break on a 2 game winning streak. The first half of the season was the toughest one I have had to endure in my career. We have a great core of American players and we were losing badly. I have learned to handle losing when we are supposed to lose, last year for example. This year though wasn't supposed to be like this. The losses as well as the way we were losing took a huge toll on me. So, Christmas break was a great time for me to go home and re-fresh myself and it was fantastic.

My journey home started at 9:30 am on the morning of December 20. My teammates and I flew out of the Lugano airport and headed to Zurich. We were surprised to see all of the American players playing in Ticino on our flights. Even though we play against each other every night, there is a bond between all the Americans. It was nice to catch up with some of them on our long flight from Zurich to Chicago.

When the plane landed in Chicago I collected my bags and headed north on a bus to Milwaukee to spend my first few days back in the states with Liz and her family. It was great to finally spend a Christmas with the Schuelkes. Liz has come to Michigan a few times for Christmas and now it was time for me to see how the Schuelkes get down for Christmas. Unfortunately I had a nasty cold my first couple days back so I probably wasn't much fun to be around, though I had a great time with all the people I spent time with. The cold also affected my taste for things. I was so excited to eat American food again and my first time out I went to Qdoba. I couldn't taste anything. I left very disappointed.

I am getting a little spoiled living in Lugano the past couple of years. Even though we are in Switzerland it doesn't get very cold here. In fact, there are palm trees outside of my apartment building. I would estimate that in the winter we see highs in the mid to low 40's so it was a shock to me when I returned home. Liz did a great job of making a fire in the fireplace to keep me warm when I got too cold.

The Schuelke family Christmas was so much fun. We had a Christmas Eve brunch and then opened up presents in the living room. It was a little strange to have the kids around again opening up presents but strange in a good way. It was also nice to get to see Liz's brothers. That night we went over to Liz's grandpa's house and spent the night with that side of the family.

After the festivities were over, we went to the midnight mass at St. James church. It was so beautiful. This was my first time going to a Christmas Eve mass since I was just a little guy. The music was wonderful and it was such a joyous and peaceful celebration. Words can not describe the great time I had at mass. It is definitely going to be something I will do until the day I die.

Liz and I woke up bright and early on Christmas morning. It wasn't because of jet lag or in anticipation of opening up the presents that Santa had brought during the night. No, we awoke because we were going to spend all of Christmas day on a train travelling to God's country, Michigan.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Catching Up

Well, is has been quite awhile since the last time I have blogged. It got kind of boring reporting on 20-30 point losses and trying to convince people that we really were getting better. Well, we did get better. SAM Massagno is on a bit of a 3 game winning streak. Before the Christmas break we took care of Boncourt at home and Meyrin on the road.

SAM vs. Boncourt was a high scoring affair with a final score of 113-105. This was a game that we really needed to win. I guess at this point in the season we need to win them all, but in my mind, we were better and definitely needed to win the game to qualify for the playoffs. I can't say a whole lot of defense was played obviously. I would like to say the game went into 4 overtimes but it wasn't the case. The American quartet of Dan Fitzgerald, Kameron Gray, Ross Morin, and myself scored a combined 104 points. Pretty astonishing.

Our last game before Christmas was at Meyrin. According to the standings, they are the worst team in the league. They only have 1 win and that came against us. We played an awful game. It was supposed to be a home game for us but we played the game in a room that resembled a gym but definitely did not feel like one. This was a revenge game for us and another must win.

After a long 6 hour drive (apparently the Swiss don't believe in going the night before on road trips) we came out blazing. We were up by 19 after the first quarter. We lost our momentum in the 3rd quarter a little bit and were only up 15. After half time was when the wheels fell off. Meyrin came out in a box and 1 offense on our point guard and we had no idea what to do. We had never practiced against it and it definitely showed.

Despite the tricky box and 1 we won the game by 2. If the game was 1 or 2 minutes longer we probably would have lost. As it was, Meyrin and my old teammate Ricardo Fischer got off a pretty good shot off at the end to tie it. Thank god he missed it and after a couple tips, the rebound was secured by Dan Fitzgerald and we went home for Christmas as happy as can be.

The Meyrin game was on December 19th and we didn't play again until January 10th. That is a huge gap between games. I was a little worried for the game against Monthey. They are a very good team that we managed to beat on the road after our first coach quit. They definitely wanted revenge on us. They even came down the day before so they were well rested for the game. I thought we were going to win but I thought it was going to be a slug fest.

The game was pretty much what I expected. Monthey is probably the most physical team in the league. Their center is Kareem Johnson from the University of Cincinnati. Every post up, every rebound and every loose ball was a battle. The day after the game my whole body was sore. I didn't think it was a particularly well reffed game but what game is?

Anyways, we never trailed Monthey during the game and I thought we played very well for our first game back. We were up by 10 at the half and ended up winning by 4. It would have been more but they made some shots at the end.

Now, SAM Massagno is on a 3 game winning streak and our next 2 games are against the 2 best teams (on paper) in the league. We play Lugano on Saturday in the derby at the Istituo Elvetico. A derby is a cross town rivalry game. They are extremely talented and are strong at every position and every position coming off the bench. They just fired their coach over Christmas and their point guard, Travis Walton (Michigan State.) I hope for a strong game and a SAM win.

It doesn't get any easier after that either with Nyon at home on January 20th. They too fired their coach over the Christmas break. Loyalty means nothing over here and it is cut throat. I'm sure they will be ready to play. We just need to be too.