2016 May 19
I awoke to the gentle sound of beeping from the street 8 stories below. I left the sliding door to the balcony open to get fresh air and for the street to act as my alarm clock. It is very quiet in the overnight hours, but slowly comes to life around 5:30. I rolled over and looked out over the river. It was hazy and my once in a lifetime view will have to wait until tomorrow.
After breakfast, the team walked to practice. I am not sure I have ever walked to practice as a coach, and it may have been high school the last time I did it altogether. It made complete sense. The building is just on the other side of the river and there is a bridge a block away that leads right to the arena parking lot. When we arrive, the Cheer Squad is already there and practicing. They wind things up and we ramp things up. I don’t want to go too hard, but we didn’t do anything yesterday and I want to put in some new wrinkles. We will be playing the same team from last game, the Lions. It is hard to beat a team back to back, especially when they have some material from which to scout. Our sneaky ace in the hole is Marshall. They have not seen how well he shoots the ball. We start with the passing drill and shooting and some full court press break style running, but we spend most of our walk through time on zone offense. We had a basic set in, and I wanted to tweak that one a little and put in a new one. Zone offenses are designed to take advantage of space by creating deception. It’s important for the player with the ball to either attack the basket or be patient and wait for the next pass to develop. With all that stressed, we put in two more in-bounds plays to highlight certain shots for certain players. We run full court for 15 minutes practicing our new zone stuff, shoot some fouls and call it an hour. We walk back to the hotel.
Sitting at the lunch table with Robert, our Chinese scouts come and sit with us for a minute. They tell me, through Robert, that the Lions will be playing mostly zone tonight. I smile. I knew that was the only way to protect their very tall, but very slow center. When the Lions arrived at the arena for practice, they insisted that everyone leave. I suppose that everyone meant only Americans as the scouts clearly we able to see what the Lions did at practice.
After lunch, the laundry arrived at my room. Fold it. Sort it. Have the guys come down to my room to claim it. When the last player left, I ironed my tonight clothes and left for a walk to the other side of the river. I can see the shopping from my balcony and it looked hopping last night. The walk lasts 2 hours. The stores are about 20 minutes away and I stroll the avenue looking in lots of windows. I only go into a few. One was a music store where a nice looking guitar could be had for $880 RMB, and another was an alcohol and tobacco store where I thought I would be able to find a cigar. No luck. I am hoping to end my night tonight with a beer and cigar on the balcony. Did I mention I have a balcony with a kick ass view? Two hours later I am steps from the hotel when I think a bird or an air conditioner has dripped on me. The temperature is upper 70’s, but it is humid. Then another drip. It starts to rain and I count my lucky stars that I am right at the hotel and not across the river. Perfect timing.
We walk to the game in uniforms. I think we look silly, but no one complains and it’s a short walk. The gym is already hot and there is hardly anyone inside. By the time tip-off happens, the air is thick. More from the high humidity than smoking. I start Tyler and Aly as they have yet to start a game. Tyler is a game manager, and Aly hustles. I am nervous that Aly may not be able to handle the 7’2” center. We begin the game with three very good shot opportunities and come away with zero points. It should be 6-2, but it’s not. And then, the Lions go on a run and before you know it, it is 24-1. One point in five minutes. I feel like I could get one point in 5 minutes, but we just couldn’t buy a bucket. Wholesale substitutions. The next group of guys chips away and starts to get us back. It was just a matter of getting a couple stops and believing the ball would go in. As we start to close the gap, they go zone. Our eyes goes wide as we know we will kill their zone.
By the half, we are up 43-38. That’s a 42-13 run to end the half. Damn. Unlike a couple games ago when we got down, tonight the players were pretty calm about it. Lesson learned. However, they are still overreacting to official’s calls. The animated American athlete you see on Sports Center is great for TV ratings and selling tickets, but completely unaccepted here in the land of respect based culture. Think about the Asian kids at the Little League World Series as they bow to umpire before each at bat. The refs are not use to such antics and are quick to call fouls, assess technical fouls, and generally whine to Robert about how I need to change my player’s attitudes. The ref’s are not wrong, it is just not going to happen.
The second half the Lions came out swinging, but they didn’t have enough to go the distance. They fell farther and farther behind and our players got more and more energized as solid defense turned to exciting fast break chances at the other end. Marshall breaks their spirit with back to back to back three’s. We were sailing right along. Up 20 with a couple minutes to play. An elbow here. A grab of the shirt there. The Chinese team was tired and frustrated and didn’t want to lose again. With 4.8 second on the clock, a loose ball going out under the basket becomes a projectile. A Chinese player jumps out of bounds, grabs it, turns and fires it back in play. The problem is Marshall’s face was right there. So in a moment that mean nothing, we are about to have an international incident.
There was much cursing and some shoving. There were threats of great ill doing. But, it didn’t get all the way to a fight as it had before. Then came the dreaded handshake line. I know it’s a great tradition in hockey after a series, I just don’t think we need it after every game as a rule. If some guys want to meet at half court and exchange pleasantries, that’s cool. Everyone else should be free to go to the locker room. So the finals seconds of a good win were obscured by drama. Nonetheless, the final score was 96-77. (95-53 after the first 5 minutes) (wow).
As I write this I am sitting on the balcony. There was no chair out here so I dragged an over-sized upholstered arm chair into the night air. I am smoking and imaginary cigar because I could not find one when I was shopping today. I am drinking an imaginary beer because I was too lazy after dinner to walk the two blocks to the market to get one. On the plus side, my feet are up, the night is beautiful, and both the beer and cigar are perfect.