2016 May 21
The phone rings about 5:30 am. I was completely, totally, deeply asleep. I pick up the phone and try to fake that I am wide awake. The voice is Joan’s. She knows she woke me and asked if I was asleep. I tell her it’s cool, I had to answer the phone anyway. We chat briefly and the day is underway. Hotels in China have either great Wi-Fi, or poor. One of them only had it in the lobby, but it was really good there.
Today is the rare day where we play, but do not have a morning shoot around. We check out of the hotel, bus a couple hours to the next city, and check into a new hotel. We arrive at the Wangjiang Hotel in Jinhua around 10:30. Stumble out of the bus, check in and head to lunch. The hotel is older and is showing its age. There was peeling wallpaper, some dinge to the carpets, and the ever present smell of stale smoke. Darren and Byron’s room is pretty bad on all counts and they need to switch right away. Laundry out. Downstairs to eat. Free afternoon.
The city is bustling and there appears to be much to see. I decide to go for a walk with the Cheer Squad coach and her mom. We get a couple blocks and see a beautiful arch. We decide to check things out and find a great arboretum and walking park. We meander through there for an hour or so and find ourselves at the foot of hotel when we pop back onto the street. From there we go to Starbucks, thanks smartphone apps, and find ourselves at a mall. When we first walk in, it doesn’t appear too impressive, but it turns out to be cool. Six floors of Western shopping bliss. Another hour or more and it’s back to the hotel. My pregame ritual starts at 3. Ironing my game clothes, reading all the game notes I had for this team, and setting our line-up and strategy and points of emphasis.
We have played this team before. The ZJJN Bulls. They are not nearly as talented as we are, but they are scrappy, borderline dirty. They know how to stay in a game, and maybe more importantly take us out of ours.
Tonight there are many pregame activities we have not done before: pretend games with little kids, a soccer style introduction where each player escorts a kid out onto the court, the kids stay out there during the ceremonial team handshake. All of this is nice, but it cuts into the routine. We don’t warm up well in general, which I believe is a direct cause of many of our slow starts.
The tip goes our way, we score and score often and have total control. And then, the chipping begins. Hard fouls, dirty plays, calls that make me scratch my head. The usual. At one point Byron is trying to come off a screen and his defender slows him down by grabbing his jersey. Not unusual, but this time it was a handful and he tugged the neck down to his waist. Byron reacted and it was called a double foul. In China, the ref believes it evens thing off and is totally fair if each team gets a foul. It was typical of our night.
Our lead rose and fell, but we never trailed in the first half. I forgot to write the score down, but I know the spread was 7 points. My big concern was fouls. We were racking them up, and when the Bulls got a player in trouble we couldn’t get him out. Their two main guys had 3 fouls at the half and I wanted them to pick up quick ones and sit for a while. Not to be. Those two guys played with 3 fouls each until the 4th quarter. It was lack of focused aggression on our part. The players didn’t target them in our haste to just get some stats. We were up 13 at the close of the 3rd. The lead would dwindle to 5, then 3 and you could feel the crowd begin to really root up a storm. Their coach was pretty animated at this point and they were subbing guys every dead ball in an effort to stay fresh. They were not going to wilt down the stretch.
Fortunately, the stretch worked out for us. Key rebounding by Kyle, good decisions by Tyler, and key baskets by Byron helped us cement the ugly win. The final score is 86-78. Eight games, eight wins.
Tomorrow will come early. The bus leaves at 7:00 am. I am hoping everyone acts like a pro tonight and we don’t have to chase people to be on time.