2016 May 17
This morning’s shoot around was a lazy affair: some shooting, walking through the plays and discussing when and why and what to do when it breaks down. Much more of a mental exercise than physical. Marshall twisted his foot in the final minute of the last game, and was trying to decide if he could go tonight. We decided not to decide. He will wait until pregame. Which means he will feel fine because he is wearing a uniform and feeling the vibe of the crowd. The risk is having him at say 80% for the rest of the tour, or resting him tonight and getting him all the way to 100%.
As we are walking off the floor, I am handed a paper. Seems Robert and the promoter are quite concerned about tonight’s game. There are three national team players, a guy referred to as the “Michael Jordan of the Taiwan”, and the coach has won the Chinese Basketball Association title 7 times. The paper contains a personnel scout of the team. Their top 7 players listed with abilities and physical attributes. The center will be 7’2”, and the other guard is apparently a deadly three point shooter. My level of concern for our winning streak has risen. It is difficult for a group of guys to beat a team. I have been the benefactor of great team play during my career and have beaten some pretty talented groups of guys. I am hoping our guys play together tonight.
On the way back to the hotel, we stop at an elementary school. It has a college type campus with a guard house at the main gate. We are given a tour of the school: 5 floors, multiple buildings, kids look to be 8 to 13. During the tour, we learn the area is proud of its heritage and it is a major producer of yellow peaches. How ‘bout that? The tour ends at the gym. There is game in progress when we arrive, but it doesn’t stay live very long. Soon, the place is mobbed with kids. At one point, the players who were sitting were completely swamped and I heard Calvin calling for them to back up. Of course, none of them did as they don’t speak English and were too excited to comply. A few of the guys played around with the student players. Tricking them with moves used on playgrounds all around the USA. They were delighted.
As we were leaving, Aly asked if he could visit a classroom. I tagged along and off we went. This was Classroom 101: desks in neat rows, teacher desk at the front, presumably motivational posters on the wall. The teacher asked Aly to teach them something in English, which Aly himself is still mastering. He quickly made it a lesson in counting. Using his fingers and a big smile, he was soon leading a chorus of 1,2,3,4,5… It was great to see him interact and how they received him.
The afternoon is free, so I walked around for about 90 minutes, took a nap, ironed my tonight outfit and read, read, and reread the scouting report.
I am feeling a certain pressure tonight to play well. I know the promoter takes great pride in the team he is hosting from the United States and there is prestige for him if we win. I also know that losing by a big number is unacceptable. It is alright if we lose and play competitively, but getting blown out is unacceptable. The promoter, for the first time, comes into the locker room pregame and asks the guys to play with a noble spirit. To play hard and fair, and to play the best we can. I am sure some of that is from the situation at the end of the last game, and some from his anxiety about the team we are about to play. I decide that Marshall will dress, but he will not play. That’s officially called a DNP-CD, did not play-coaches decision. Marshall seems fine with it, but Robert and the promoter do not.
My points of emphasis are team play. We started in game 3, played well in game 4, and tonight we need to play better than that. I have told the guys all the information in the scouting report and they look ready. We win the tip, run down and score. Then we get a stop and go down and score, and then we steal the ball and score. 6-0 to start the game. We play great defensively, and well enough offensively to build a 23-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. We give most of it back in the second quarter and go into halftime up a couple points.
The Chinese team actually takes the lead early in the third, but we wear them down. They actually went to a 2-3 zone which we completely trashed and took the lead back for good. By the fourth quarter, they were out of gas and we pulled away, building the lead to 19. Some sloppy possessions in the closing minutes and allowing a three at the buzzer made the final score 103-93. The promoter was happy, most of the players were happy (the unhappy ones were concerned with distribution of playing time, or style of play by teammates). Robert was happy. Life is good. Five games, five wins.
Just as a side note: this area will host President Obama, President Putin, and the Prime Minister Abe (of Japan) soon and security at the arena was heavy. I hope they all have as good a time as I did.