2016 May 15
It’s been a drizzling dreary day. The good part was sleeping in was the first agenda item. Breakfast wasn’t until 8:30 am. The bad part was the bus ride in the rain, couldn’t see much out the window. I have been passing time reading several things: magazines, a couple books, and things I have stored on my phone. All those things I say I will get to if I ever have some free time. One book is a Tami Hoag mystery about a potential serial killer in Minnesota. I read one of her books the last time I came to China and thought it fitting to do so again.
The afternoon was unscheduled, but with the rain I didn’t feel motivated to go out. Time seemed to pass slowly. Three players and the Cheer Squad went to a sponsor photo shoot at 5:45. Robert traveled with them. I had the rest of the players and the promoter with me 30 minutes later. We all arrive at the arena about the same time and I think we are in good shape. Think, thank, thunk. Turns out, one of the three players brought his white uniform, instead of his green. Yes, they gave us green uniforms. Not the color I would have picked for the USA, but they are decent quality: imagine Boston Celtic green. We sent the bus driver back to the hotel to get the uniform and he returns with moments to spare.
This is the third game in three nights in three different towns. My pregame speech is about just doing your job. We need to just take care of the basics. The one complication is water leaks. Because of the daylong rain, the roof has been leaking and there are puddles on the court. The players don’t want to play and I do not blame them. There is considerable conversation and anxiety about it. The thought of playing cross-court is considered. The arena would put baskets opposing themselves at center court to take advantage of the driest part of the wood. Really? Yes, indeed really. I was thinking how mad I would be if I bought center court lower level tickets and they turned out to be behind the basket seating. The good news is the rain stopped, the leaks slowed to almost none, and the game was played on time and in the right direction.
As for the game, we were in control, but took a while to command. A three point lead became five. Which in time stretched to seven. The action was tense. The play was physical. As our lead increased, the Chinese team became more frustrated. American players tend to wear their hearts on the sleeves and tonight was no exception. I am not quite sure why our players talk to the refs, other than out of habit. All the ref sees is this giant of man yelling at him, waving his arms, and acting wild. The refs warned the benches that the calls would be tighter to avoid further incidents. Remember, this is a culture based on respect. By halftime we were up a dozen.
I was pleased with the way our second group was playing and decided to start the second half with them. There was no complaining. A far cry from where we have been and a true sign of growth. That unit plays well and withstands the urgent effort of the Chinese team to get within striking distance before the game was out of hand. When it was time to sub, we were up 13. The next group takes the court and things change. Sometimes it harder to play with a lead than it is to chase. With a lead, you can take a chance with a pass, take a shot that may be ill advised. The thinking being it’s just one possession. We have a lead, why not. The problem isn’t just one. The problem is a snowball rolling down the hill. If everyone is out for themselves, the why shouldn’t I be? One selfish decision becomes two, three, four. And at the end of the 3rd quarter, we are only up 6. I sub in the second half starters and it is back to basics. They build the lead back to a dozen by the time we usually make the subs. I turn to the guys on the bench and tell them I am enjoying watching this group play and I am leaving them in. again, no one complained as they clearly saw the same thing I was seeing. With about 4 minutes left in the quarter, I sub. We are up 19 points and the game is in hand. But the game is not over. The next few minutes are physical and intense. Culminating with one of their players throwing an elbow into the jaw of Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss. Marshall attacks the guy and the benches erupt. In the USA, there would be ejections and fines. There were neither here officially, but I walked Marshall to the locker room and told him to stay there. We finished out the final minute incident free, got through the handshake line, and got out of there. Four games, four wins.
The promoter takes us to Pizza Hut after the game, when we arrive everything was waiting, 10 single sized pizzas, 10 drinks, 10 chicken wing apps. We sat and ate and left. I was thankful not to have a repeat of the last restaurant fiasco. The rain has returned and the ride back to the hotel is quiet. We do not play tomorrow, but will be on the road again in the morning.