Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Louisville 2006

With my newly found free time and absence from the court, I thought that I should share one of my favorite Coach Crean stories. I accumulated many good stories during my 4 years under Coach Crean. As many people know Coach was very intense and our practices were brutal. It wasn't out of the ordinary for us to have a 3-4 hour barn burner in the Old Gym or at the Al. It's an old cliche, but I came to Marquette as a boy and I left as a man.

Many people also know that Coach is a great motivator. We had a team meeting at the start of every school year and I always came out of that meeting amped up and ready to go. Everybody has heard the story of Coach taking us to the Super Dome when we played at Tulane in 2003 so we could feel and experience where the Final Four was that year. That's a great story and one that I will tell my kids and grandkids but I am going to share a different one.

I was a senior when we entered the Big East in the 2005-06 season. Our experienced senior class had graduated and we were coming off an embarrassing home loss to Western Michigan in the NIT. We were just 2 years removed from the Final Four but it felt like a decade. The expectations for my senior year were low and many people thought that it was going to be a rebuilding year. Coach brought in a great recruiting class but they were young and inexperienced. I think we shook peoples opinions when we destroyed UCONN in our first Big East game.

We had our ups and downs that year. The game after we beat UCONN, we lost at home to Cincinnati. We also lost at Rutgers in front of 200 people because of a snow storm that hit the east coast. It seemed like we had hit rock bottom and we had a choice to make. To quote Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, "We heal as a team or we're gonna crumble." After the Rutgers game we beat #17 Georgetown and #18 Pittsburgh in a span of 3 days and then won at Notre Dame. We had hit our form and were playing well with a game at Louisville on the horizon.

Louisville is always a big game for Marquette. The games are well documented between the two teams. There have been buzzer beaters, blow outs and everything in between. The game in 2006 would be another classic Marquette vs Louisville game.

We did not have a good practice the day before the game. When I got married, people told me to never go to bed mad. Well, I think there should be a saying for a coach to never board a plane mad. Coach was not happy with practice and the only reason he ended it was because we had to leave and catch the plane. If it would have been a home game then we would have stayed until we got it right.

As usual, we had film that night at the hotel in Louisville. We usually watch player edits or clips from games to lock in mentally. Before film we were told to bring our running shoes and were handed practice equipment as we walked into the film room. That was unusual and seemed like a bad sign. Coach walked in the room and we watched a few clips before he told us to get our gear on to run through some things downstairs.

Our hotel in Louisville had a big open area next to the pool that was definitely big enough to run around and have a mini practice in. We all started walking to the open area but Coach made a bee line to the pool and screamed "last one in doesn't play tomorrow." I was shocked. Coach had just ran and jumped into the pool with all of his clothes on and glasses. None of us knew what to do. We were all on edge because we thought Coach was mad about practice. I can't remember who it was (I think it was Steve) but someone said screw it and ran and jumped in the pool too and the rest of us followed. We splashed around and acted like little kids until hotel security came.

I thought this was awesome. Sometimes teams do need that extra film session or those extra plays to run though. On this night we just needed to act like kids and chill out to prepare for the game.

We came into the game ready to go. It felt like 100 degrees inside Freedom Hall that night. The crowd in Freedom Hall was loud and obnoxious. It was a back and forth game with both teams giving their all. It was also senior night and Louisville wanted to send their seniors out on a high note. We were down 3 with a few seconds to go in regulation and had to take the ball full court. The ball was inbounded to Dominic James and he hit a 3 as time expired to send the game into overtime. We were going crazy and were confident heading into OT. Unfortunately we didn't have enough that night and lost the game 67-60.

The locker room was strange after that game. It felt like we had lost something more than a game. We had given everything we had and still came up short. That's one of the worst feelings you can have as a basketball player. Coach came in and gave a rousing speech to us but it still didn't help heal our pain.

We flew back to Milwaukee after the game and got in late. As we were leaving the coaches we heard the usual, "don't miss class tomorrow" from one of them. It was a sluggish day of classes that morning. We were tired and knew that we had practice immediately after. We also knew that practices after losses were usually tough and we were not looking forward to it.

We started out in the film room and watched the second half and overtime of the game. It was a great film session and we examined things we did right and things we did wrong. There was no yelling or screaming. It was just a learning session.

After film we made our way to the practice court. Coach put 60 minutes on the clock and we ran through some plays with no contact. The game took a lot out of us and I think my weight was down 5 pounds as a result. This type of practice was something Coach had never done before but it was just what we needed. We had a chance to sweat and run a little bit but not be overly exerted. At the end of practice we all had to hit a shot within a few seconds like Dominic had done the night before. It took some of us a few tries but we all did it eventually.

We all started to relax a little bit when we thought practice was over but Coach called us back up to the film room to watch some Providence edits. The beginning to Jamie Foxx's stand up special I Might Need Security started playing as Coach said, "Alright guys, really lock in." We all expected to see the usual beginning to our edits and didn't know what to think. We realized what Coach had done and then laughed for the next hour.

Coach shocked us twice in two days. This is one of my favorite stories from my playing days at Marquette. I think it really demonstrates how much the coaches cared for us as well as the family atmosphere in the program. Maybe we didn't get along all the time or agree with certain decisions, but Coach knew what was best for the team and I think he just did what he thought was best.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


You may have noticed that I haven't blogged about basketball in awhile and I have a really good reason for it, there isn't a whole lot to talk about at the moment. On November 6 I rolled my ankle coming down from a lay up during a game against Le Puy. It was the worst pain I have ever felt on a basketball court and it caused me to miss the rest of the game and an additional 6 games.

During my absence, my team brought in a medical replacement for me while I took time to get healthy. The plan was for me to come back at full strength after the Christmas break. My ankle felt better day by day and I received a cortisone shot the week before I was about to leave for the United States.

I felt great after the shot and was very optimistic about my return to the court. I have been playing basketball every year for as long as I can remember and it was very hard to watch from the sidelines. My team had lost some games in my absence and I was eager to get back on the court and help the team. We have the goal of moving to Pro B and I want to be a part of it.

I used the Christmas break to kind of recharge my batteries physically and mentally because I knew it was full go when I returned to France. It was nice to get away from basketball and spend some time with my family. I could not take all of the time away from the court though because I wanted to return in good condition. During the break I went to the gym every day to get some conditioning in and to get some shots up. It was also good to test my ankle and see how it responded.

When I got back to Blois, the doctor told me that I was going to have some pain in my ankle but it would slowly go away. It felt great to be out running on the court and playing the game I love. I had a little bit of pain but I ignored it because the doctor had told me it was normal and because it felt so great to be out there again.

I was back playing basketball but I wasn't playing like I was before the injury. My ankle actually started to worsen the more I practiced and I wasn't playing like I was capable of. It was very frustrating and was in opposition to what the doctor had told me.

So, that brings me to today. It was impossible for me to continue playing with my ankle in this condition. In this situation I had to think of my career. I am still young, only 26, and I want to keep playing at least for another 2 years. I talked with several people and asked their advice. I had a meeting with the management and I told them that I wanted to see another doctor to figure out what the heck is going on in my ankle and I didn't want to continue playing with this particular problem.

It is very frustrating to be back on the sidelines but I know I made the right choice. It is just hard right now. I go to the weight room every day to keep my conditioning at a high level in anticipation to get back on the court. I also go watch practice every day. Watching practice is probably the hardest part. My teammates are great and I really enjoy playing with them but it isn't fun watching them from the sidelines.

On February 25 I have an appointment with a foot and ankle specialist in Paris. Hopefully I will get some answers and find out what the appropriate process is. Until then, I am just going crazy and waiting around.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl

The Super Bowl. The game that is by America and for America. Many argue that it is the greatest event in American sports (I disagree and think that the Final Four is the greatest event in American sports.) When I was growing up, I remember the Super Bowl announcers bragging about the Super Bowl being a world wide event. I believed it too and thought that there were huge Super Bowl parties all over the world and envisioned Chinese people eating nachos, pizza and drinking beer. I thought that everyone celebrated and cared about the game like we did and laughed along with the commercials.

This is my 5th year of being in Europe while our holy game takes place. I have managed to watch 4 games and only missed last years because we had a game that day and I fell asleep because I was so tired. While I was sleeping, my wife watched the game because that is what you are supposed to do as an American. I have watched the game in French, Italian, German and English.

Through my experiences, I have to say that the world does not care about the Super Bowl or American football in general. In fact, the only time you will see football highlights on tv is when there is a fight or when someone gets hurt. Through a recent conversation with one of my teammates, I found out that football is unattractive to them because it does not have enough action and it is too slow. I told him that he needs to stop watching the University of Wisconsin and Big Ten football games. Now this is just one European's point of view so don't criticize me for it. I also found the obvious lack of interest because the game is on so late over here.

My first year in Lugano I watched the game with my French teammate Zay. He went to school in the USA so he knew football and knew how big of a deal the Super Bowl was. Zay would randomly laugh at the French announcers watching the game and remark about the stupid things they would say. Apparently they would just explain the rules in very simple terms and talk about the fans with their shirts off.

Europe is however making strides towards the broadcast of NFL games and trying to create interest in the league and the sport. In Massagno, I was able to find games on an Austrian tv station broadcast in English directly over from the NFL Network. Likewise, I have found NFL games on the French tv station, Sport Plus.

I have no idea if the sport will take off in Europe but I think Roger Goodell hopes that it happens. I will be up late tonight watching the game for sure. I am leaning towards watching it on my Slingbox rather than French tv because I will be able to watch it in English and see the commercials. Win-win.

Watching the game is an easy decision but who I want to win is not. I am unfortunately a Lions fan and have been all of my life. Being a Lions fan, I grew up hating the Packers. I had never heard of Green Bay before and I thought that their team colors were terrible together. I also went to college in Wisconsin and saw the state's love for their Packers. All of these factors mixed in with my jealousy for their winning ways have caused me to not like them.

I have mixed feelings though now. One of my old teammates from Massagno is friends with Aaron Rogers. He speaks very highly of him and I really admire the way he handled the whole Brett Favre situation. I also like Charles Woodson because he played at Michigan and Greg Jennings because I played AAU with him. My wife is a Packers fan as well and if they win it will make her very happy. For these reasons, and only these reasons, I want the Packers to win the Super Bowl tonight. I never thought I would think this, let alone make it publicly known. If I ever buy a cheese head then I will have serious problems.

The question has to be asked. If the Packers win, it means the Lions could have won the Super Bowl this year right? That makes complete sense to me.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Playstation 3

I have always had a video game system for as long as I can remember. I started out playing Super Mario Bros on the original Nintendo in my parents bedroom. The tradition carries on today but with the Playstation 3.

When I made my first trip across the Atlantic in 2006 to play for Lugano, I did not have a system with me. Everything was so new to me at first that I did not really need anything to occupy my time. The beginning of my first year I was making the transition from a student athlete to just being an athlete. The days of late night Pizza Shuttle deliveries were gone.

I was pretty set in my routine 7 months into the season. Liz was living with me at the time and we had built a beautiful and comfortable life in Lugano together but because of visa restrictions in Europe, she had to leave before the end of the season. After she had left, I found myself with a lot more time on my hands.

I had started to get the itch to play video games again. I still had my Playstation 2 back at home but it was outdated with the newly released Playstation 3. On top of that, the Wii had also burst onto the scene and I had a tough decision to make. My teammate Ed's decision to purchase the Wii, made my decision to buy a Playstation 3 a lot easier.

I found that playing video games helped pass the time greatly. On weekends, Ed would bring the Wii over to our apartment and we would play Wii Sports and hang out. During the week, I would play NBA Street and other games. Playing the games during this time also helped calm me down. My team was in the midst of a deep playoff run and anyone that knows me, knows that I get nervous for games.

I still have my Playstation 3 and take it with me everywhere I go though I did have to trade my Swiss one in for an American version. My American PS3 works everywhere and I can play my dvd's on it whereas the Swiss version could not do that. It has been great to take it with me. Playing games with teammates and having the ability to watch my movies on a tv and not my laptop is awesome.

Even though I am not a highly skilled gamer, I am extremely happy I made this purchase.