Thursday, September 29, 2011

Very Bad Trip Part I

Very Bad Trip is what the Hangover is called in France. I love this movie and would love to write a blog about it but I just can't do it though with what recently happened in my life. Fortunately, Very Bad Trip describes my trip to Austria and gives me a reason to show the French movie poster from the Hangover.

Last Saturday I received a Facebook message from an agent telling me he had a job for me. This actually isn't a rare occurrence. I have received numerous messages from agents claiming they had jobs for me. I had never heard from this agent before and had no idea who he was. After checking with my real agent, everything seemed to be legit. My agent and I discussed the job at great length and decided to give it a shot. We didn't know anything about the team so we included in the contract that I could opt out if I didn't like the situation.

I started my very bad trip on Tuesday morning at 9:30 am taking the train from Nantes, France to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for a flight at 3:30 pm. The train ride was 3 hours long and the seats on the train are pretty small but thankfully I had 2 of them to myself so it could have been worse. I passed the time looking at the beautiful French countryside and listening to my iPod. I think I even fell asleep for a little bit, which is crazy because I can never sleep when I'm traveling.

The train trip was just 1/4 of the journey. I had 2 flights to catch still and a car ride. My first flight was at 3:30 pm from Paris to Frankfurt, Germany. I arrived at the airport at 12:30 and had a few hours to kill so I stopped at the airport Starbucks and ordered a Chai Tea Latte. Even though I ordered a Chai Tea Latte, I received something completely different. That should have been a sign of things to come. I didn't care that much because I love Starbucks and was just happy to be drinking something.

I was booked on Lufthansa for my first flight and everything went great. It was my 3rd time flying Lufthansa and I like the airline a lot. The Germans are very efficient. As we were flying in we got a great view of the Frankfurt skyline. I haven't seen many skylines like that in Europe and I really enjoyed it. I guess the people in Franfurt like their skyline too because the basketball team in Frankfurt is called the Skyliners.

Frankfurt Skyline

My second flight was on Austria Air and was leaving at 6:00 pm out of Frankfurt. The flight was great and I was kind of excited to be in Austria. I have heard how beautiful the country was and I wanted to see a little bit of it but I also knew that this was a business trip and I was there for business.

I was met at the airport by the Coach, a national player and a player who was also there on tryout. I thought that it would be a short car ride to the hotel the team was staying at but I was wrong. I was very tired from my long day of travel but I was told that there was a 3 hour car ride to the middle of the Austrian Alps where the team had set up camp. What made this news even worse was that we were going to be coming back to Vienna in the morning to play a game. I wasn't very happy with the recent news but I wasn't in charge of anything so I just went with the flow.

I finally arrived to the hotel at 11:00 pm and was extremely tired and sore from my 14 hours of travel that day. It isn't easy or comfortable being 6'10" and 270 pounds and travelling in tiny planes, trains and automobiles. I was exhausted and had to get a good night of sleep because we had practice at 8 am the next morning.

I got up the next day at 7 am to a standard Euro breakfast of slices of lunch meat and rolls. I was excited to meet the rest of the team and for practice. It was a pretty easy practice and just consisted of walking through plays and getting a feel for the team. My legs felt very heavy from the previous day of travel. I was looking forward to getting on the touring bus and being able to lay down and sleep on the bus ride back to Vienna. I even had a dream of getting the back seat and being able to lay across all of the seats. That dream was crushed when I saw our means of transportation to Vienna.

Last year in France we took a bus with seats that converted into beds. It was by far the best means of transportation I have had. In Switzerland we took big busses too. The team I was with in Austria didn't even have a bus. They had a van! We fit 15 grown men into this big van for a 4 hour trip to Vienna. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life and would have welcomed an airplane seat. I would have even welcomed airline food because the team didn't feed us on the trip.

We arrived in the middle of Vienna around 2 pm. We got out of the bus and the assistant coach told us to be back there in 3 hours. I had no idea what was going on. Apparently we were there to do a little sight seeing as well as to play a basketball game. This gave me the opportunity to at least eat a little something. Normally I would never ever eat pizza before a game but the only other option was McDonald's and I didn't want that either. We did our walking around Vienna and it is a beautiful city. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures but I hope to take my beautiful wife there one day and do some real sight seeing.

After meeting back at the bus at 4:45 we set our sights on the gym to play BC Vienna. The game started out very well as we built a sizable lead of 20 points. I was playing very well too and then the tired and heavy legs started to kick in with the whole team. Our lead slowly sank away and we eventually lost in overtime. My legs felt like crap at the end of the game and to make matters worse I got hit 2 times in the same spot on my thigh. I knew that the van ride back to the hotel was going to be 2 times worse than it was going to the game.

As we piled back into the van, the teams thoughts turned to food. One of the players asked the coach if we were going to stop for food. The coach said yes but we had to pay for it ourselves. I have played professional basketball for going on 6 years now and have never bought my own meal on the road or after a game. Heck, my other teams even bought Liz meals when she traveled with the team. We stopped at a Burger King in Vienna and I purchased a double whopper value meal and opted for a salad instead of french fries. Since I had a slice of ham for breakfast and pizza for lunch, I skipped the fries and tried for something a little healthier.

On the ride home, as I was trying to get comfortable and listening to a foreign movie in a language I didn't understand, I was thinking hard about this new adventure. We arrived back to the hotel at 1 am and I only hoped that things would get better from here on out.

To be continued..............

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where in the World Am I?

That is a good question and one that I am asking myself quite a bit lately. There is a saying that goes something like, with great risk comes great reward so let me take a little bit of time to explain my current situation.

For whatever reason I have not been able to find a job for the upcoming season. My ankle might have something to do with it but I can assure you that it is 100%. I spent the whole summer working out and doing rehab on it to get it to the condition it is in now. I was all ready to go in August but had no team to go too. I talked with my assistant coach from last year and he presented an interesting option to me.

Since I lived and worked in France last year for 10 months I am eligible to receive certain benefits from the government. My old coach explained these benefits to me and I was very interested in receiving them. He also called up his friend who is coaching in Nantes, France at the Pro B level and explained my situation to him and asked him if I can come and practice with the team. I also have another connection with the team because my old teammate from Marquette, Dwight Burke, plays for Nantes. With these 2 connections, the coach from Nantes accepted me to practice with the team.

So, on September 7 I packed up my bags and made the flight across the Atlantic to Nantes, France and began practicing with the team full time. Being in Europe does a lot of things for me professionally. Most importantly it proves to interested teams that my ankle is indeed 100%. It also makes me readily available to teams as it is a lot cheaper for a team to check me out when I'm already on the continent than paying for a flight from Milwaukee. Plus since I am already here, I wouldn't have to deal with the jet lag that occurs after the long flight. Practicing with Nantes also keeps me in great shape and I get to compete against good competition day in and day out.

The only negative to the situation is that Liz is not here with me. We decided that it was better for her to stay at home because I might get a call and need to leave at any moment. That is hard enough for 1 person, let alone 2. It is really tough being away from her but we will be together soon again.

The situation has been good so far. It feels really great to be back in France and playing basketball as well. I love this country and Liz and I have made some great friends here in the past year. Nantes is a little bigger than Blois but it is a great city as well. It is more vibrant and lively because it is a university city. It seems like there is always something going on and the streets are packed. There is even some crazy elephant robot machine that roams around the city occasionally. I haven't seen it personally yet but I have seen pictures and signs for it.

I have done a little exploring while I have been here but not too much. The downtown area is pretty cool and there is a castle here too which I love. My favorite part of the city though is the little side streets. There is even one filled with crepe shops. If that doesn't say France, then I don't know what does.
I think this is the crepe street.

Basketball is going really well too. Like I said it feels great to be back out on the court even if this isn't my team. The coach here is great and is really helping me out. The team had a few injuries a couple weeks ago and the coach asked me if I could help them out and play in a friendly game against Limoges. Limoges is a club with a great tradition in France and they recently moved down from Pro A. I of course said yes because it could be a great opportunity for me to get seen.

The game went really well for me. I played 17 minutes and led the game in rebounding with a game evaluation of 13 and most importantly the team won in a thriller with a score of 88-87! It was awesome to be back playing in a real game. Now I just need a job of my own.

An opportunity was presented to me last week that I took. It was one of the weirdest situations of my life but it deserves a blog of its own. I'll save that for next time.

Until then...........

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation 2011

Summer has pretty much come and gone for me and it was a very busy one. Usually, I take some time off from working out and basketball at the beginning of the off season but because of my ankle surgery I had to rehab and work out even harder to come back to my normal form. My first 2 weeks back at home I was still on crutches but when I got off of them I hit the ground running.

I was busy with rehab every day this summer. When I left France in June, my doctors were vague with what I needed to do. The initial protocol was non weight bearing on my right ankle for 3 weeks and then weight bearing with crutches for another 3 weeks. They said one month after surgery I could start swimming and riding the bike and after 2 months I could start running and after 3 months I could play basketball again. This was great but they didn't tell me how to rehab or things I could do.

When I got back to Milwaukee, I searched my contacts for people who could help me out. I called up my old teammate and friend, Tony Gries, and he gave me some great exercises to do for my ankle to improve my mobility and strength. The training staff at Marquette was also really great. Head trainer, Ernest Eugene, worked with me during the basketball camps applying treatment and doing crazy mobility exercises to my ankle. Ernest also referred me to Athletico Milwaukee and Luis Rivera. I owe Luis a HUGE thank you. He worked with me the most and really attacked my ankle and my rehab. I probably wouldn't have been able to come back to where I am now without Luis.

On top of doing my rehab I was also lifting and doing cardio everyday to stay fit for my return to the court. My rehab was going so well that I started running 1 week before July and only 2.5 weeks off of crutches. I started shooting again when I started running. It was just like riding a bike and it felt great to be out on the court again.

My agent called me in the middle of July to tell me that a team in Japan wanted to sign me but couldn't do so until they saw that I was healthy. There was a simple solution to this because the coach was American and from LA and the General Manager was out in California at the time. Technically it was before I was supposed to start playing but I consulted with my training team and they said I was good to go. So, I flew out to LA for this team to see me.

I thought the workout went well but the team thought otherwise. I won't go into the reasons for this because I still think its BS and the point of this blog isn't to bash people. So, for my sanity, I'll just let it be. C'est la vie.

I started playing 5 on 5 again at the end of July and was able to participate in the Milwaukee Summer Pro Am Championship weekend. The team I was on finished in last place during the regular season but we ended up with the consolation championship with the addition of myself and Dan Fitzgerald. It really felt great to be running up and down the court again with people in the stands. I even dunked on someone! I hadn't done that in awhile.

Consolation Champs

One morning in early August I received a text from my old teammate Wes Matthews asking me if I wanted to play some pickup at Marquette. He had said that D Wade was coming back and there were going to be some other good players there. I am not one to turn down a good pickup game so I came down. It was really fun to play with some old teammates again and there was an incredible collection of talent in the gym. After those pickup games I knew that I had recovered from my surgery and I was good to go.

August started and I didn't have a job. My agent had some leads but nothing worked out. I kind of suspected that was going to happen with the injury and the NBA lockout going on. Not that I was competing for jobs with NBA players but there is/was a trickle down effect. There were also enough NBA players saying they were going to head overseas that it slowed the markets up. While it is frustrating to not have a job at this time I just worked harder to keep my mind off of not having a job.

I traveled to Michigan in the middle of August for my sisters wedding. The wedding was by far the craziest wedding I have ever been too and it was soooooo much fun. Liz and I stuck around Michigan for a week and half after the wedding to see family and friends.

My sister and me on her wedding day!

Every summer in college I would come home after the summer school session and before the fall semester started. I would take the time to spend with my family and also to workout. I have some really great memories running the stadium steps and working out in the gym. I had the opportunity to do the same thing this summer and I took advantage of it. I treated it like I was in my own training camp. In the morning I would head to the track and in the afternoon I would head into the gym to shoot and do more conditioning with my dad.

The old stomping grounds!

I had a great time this summer and made some great memories. Liz and I lived back downtown on Lake Michigan and had a great view of the lake from our living room and bedroom window. I spent the mornings reading and drinking coffee by the window looking at the lake. I will definitely miss that. The summer was great and we got to spend a lot of time with our friends but it was time for something to happen.

In my next post I'll let you know where in the world I am.

Until then............