05 March 2015
Now I will be completely honest and upfront here but I did not even now Estonia was a country until I found out Tartu was in our group this round. Just another plus for playing overseas! Learning a lot about the world.
This team was known for being a team that moved the play quick and shot a ton of threes. They sure did live up to that reputation. They came out firing on all cylinders and were up double digits after the first. They swung the ball around the wing and drove to kick the ball out unlike any team I had ever seen before. All five of their players on the court could shot and they hit at least 10 three pointers in the first half. We were down at one point by 17 in the first half. We battled back to gain the lead in the fourth and the game looked like it was going to come down to the wire. With under 2 minutes left it was crunch time. We hit a three and then they answered with one of their own. It was tied at 72. Our center Reg (Reggie Johnson) got fouled and made one free throw to put us up 73-72. Tartu answered with a bucket but then Arvin (Slagter) hit a huge three to put us up 76-74 with 48 seconds left in the game. After a time out, the 40 year old vet from Tartu, Kriisa hit a huge contested three to give them the lead. Arvin shot and missed a three and Tartu stole the rebound from Reg forcing us to foul with only 3 seconds on the clock.
It seemed like our chances of winning were slim.
The point guard from Tartu was who we fouled. He wasn't a great foul shooter and missed both! Reg got the rebound and threw it too me. I raced down and he set a quick screen. After coming off I planted on my left foot, stepped back and let the jump shot go just like I've practiced hundreds of times with my trainer Scotty Scott. Buckets, it was good with .3 seconds left.
Tartu called timeout. They ran a play from the sideline but Reg blocked the final shot. We had won and I had officially hit my first game-winner. This in fact would had been my second career game winner if it wasn't for Doug Davis hitting his famous shot with 2.9 seconds on the clock to give Princeton the win against us in the tie breaker game that decided who would go to the tournament. It felt so good to hit the game winner and I was glad we got the win for the EuroChallege. Definitely could not get off to a 0-2 start in EuroChallenge.
As great as it was to win that game it was back to business. We had a week before our next game which was another EuroChallenge game. Our next opponent would be a talented Russian team Avtodor Saratov. They were led by American point guard Courtney Fortson who had been playing great basketball as of late averaging nearly a triple double throughout the whole EuroChallenge. This was a huge game for us. We came out dominant and controlled the game. With 2:30 left in the game we held a 77-68 lead. Yet again another storm hit us. Turnovers on three straight possessions led to multiple three pointers on there end and we found ourselves only up 81-76 with 26 seconds left. They scored on a layup and then we turned the ball over on the inbounds with a controversial call made by the refs. Arvin went to inbound the ball to Kees (Akerboom) and a foul was called as the ball went out of bounds (off of Kees but because of the foul). All of a sudden the refs converse and gave the Russians the ball saying it went out of bounds before the foul (no idea how that is even possible, but ok). Of course Saratov hits a three-pointer to tie the game on the next play. With five seconds left we I missed a layup at the basket and we had two chances to tip the ball in but it rolled out, overtime.
We went back and forth in overtime. I hit a layup to put us up one with 15 seconds. I would then make a grave mistake. After making a great defensive play to block a three by Fortson, Ralf through the ball ahead to me all alone. I raced and threw down a two hand dunk to put us up three with 5 seconds left. They somehow get the ball to Fortson he who hits a fading three-pointer over two of us as times expires. Craziest shot I've ever seen. We would lose in the second overtime 108-107 (we were down four but Arvin hit a three as time expired). Crushing loss since we were in total control for 35 minutes of the game. Looking back I should have just dribbled the ball out. In EuroChallenge points are very important. We advanced over Ratiopharm Ulm last round because we beat them by 9 and they only beat us by 7 so we won the split. You have to keep playing every possession no matter how much you are losing by or winning by. That and the emotions of the moment is why I went to score instead of dribbling it out like I should have. Another lesson learned to grow from.
The good thing about our schedule being so hectic is that there was little time to sulk about the lost. We had to play again in two days against of the top teams in our league; Zwolle. We had only played them one time before and I was still recovering from my pulled groin. They beat us on a game winning three by their point guard J.T. Tiller. That in combination with our loss to Saratov made us extra hungry to get this win. We came out and played a great game to secure an easier win then expected. As Coach Amaker would say, we regrouped and responded. Next up on our agenda was taking this 16 hr trip to get to Russia. This was not a trip I was looking forward to All weather reports showed negative numbers and nothing but snow. Also, it would take a whole day to get there. We finally late at night and had good dinner (only good meal we would be served in our time there).
Russia was quite the experience. In our 3 days there we only encountered maybe 4 total people who spoke any English at all. There was one at the hotel who could. We decided to take a team walk the next morning since we didn't have anything until practice later that night. What started off as a walk ended up as an epic snowball ball fight that lasted all the way until we got back to the hotel. Unfortunately I was hit by more snowballs then I threw. Now that we had our fun it was time to get back to business. With the tough loss we suffered to them just last week fresh in our minds we were ready to get revenge. The game was another battle but they held the lead the entire time. We were down by double digits heading into the fourth. Then Kees caught absolute fire. He hit three after three and all of them were tough shots. He is the best shooter I've ever seen in person and I've played with some of the best around (Laurent Rivard and Corbin Miller) but Kees has the crown. We ended up losing by four and there were even more controversial calls made that we wont even get into. Wake up call was at 2:30 am. After our first flight to Moscow we had an 8 hour layover! Some of the team decided to go into the city to see the Red Market Square so I decided to join them since I didn't know when the next time I would be going to Russia would be (hoping I don't ever have to go back). It was pretty nice and I got a ton of great pictures. We walked around a lot even though it was freezing outside it was a fun trip plus it killed a lot of time. I was so happy to get back to Holland where everyone didn't look like they hated life and could speak English.
This trip to Russia was just the beginning of a very long week for us. After arriving at our apartments around 11pm we had to play another league game the next day. Luckily it was against a short handed Leeuwarden team so we were able to get an easy win. We had usually have the day off after a game but we had to play against our rivals, Groningen Flames, in two days so we had to practice the next day. Groningen are the defending champs from last year and their gym is probably the toughest place to play in. Dating back all the way to last year Den Bosch (my team) has not won there in an year. So we wanted this game bad especially since the last time we played them we got embarrassed and lost pretty badly. However we started out the game just like we did last time and dug ourselves into a deep hole in the first half. We were down by almost 20 at one point but once again we battled back to get within 3 with a minute left in the game. Unfortunately we missed consecutive threes and they scored on a tough drive to the rim to seal the game. Another tough lost for us.
Without a doubt the traveling and the long week played a factor but like our coach said we are professionals and this is what we get paid for so there are no excuses. All we could do was learn from this game and prepare to play the Skyliners again on Tuesday. We needed to win by more than 5 if we wanted t have any hopes of advancing in the EuroChallege which was definitely feasible for us but wouldn't be easy.
In the mean time, I had a special visitor that came to stay with me for a week. My lovely girlfriend from North Carolina, Christina DeAndrea, arrived early at the airport in Amsterdam the morning of the Groningen game and would be staying with me for nine days. It also happened that the date of the Groningen game was February 14th, a special day for two reasons. For one is because it is Valentines Day as everyone knows and secondly it also is her birthday (lucky for me I'll never forget the date of her birthday :). So even though we lost the game we still had something to celebrate. Now she came to Holland at the absolute best time because of something called "Carnaval".
To quickly explain what Carnaval is just imagine the craziest Halloween party you have ever been to or seen and then put that on steroids. It literally is four-day celebration where people wear crazy costumes and turn up from 10am-4am from Saturday night until Tuesday. It was actually one of the craziest things I have ever seen. Downtown was packed with people and we certainly were out of place with no costume on. The night ended up being a blast and it will be one I never forget and I hope Christina never does either. The next morning a huge parade came through our neighborhood and I couldn't believe people were still up and at it after such a long night but they were still going! Sure enough the celebration lasted until Tuesday and I was told some people cried because they were so sad they had to go back to reality the next day! After the weekend though it was time to get serious again.
This was our last game before the All-Star weekend so we had no reason to throw our all at them and leave everything on the court. That is exactly what we did. The game was a fierce. They came out hot to start in the first half but we settled down, made our adjustments, and started to be the ones throwing the punches. We were neck and neck down to the last seconds when we arrived at an interesting moment. So remember how I said earlier that we had to win by 5 or more in order to advance? Well with the game tied with 30 seconds left we had the ball. Coach Jones called a timeout and told us we COULD NOT score. We needed the game to go into overtime so that we could try to get the lead over 5 points. So we dribbled the clock out and Chris (Denson) missed a three pointer on purpose. The Skylines missed a long three and we headed into overtime. Definitely one of the more bizarre moments of my basketball career but hey it worked. Once in overtime we found ourselves down three with under 10 seconds to go when I got intentionally fouled so we could not attempt a three to tie the game. I missed the first one (I had a rough time at the free line this game, 4-10 SMH). Since I missed I had to go back to my Harvard days and bring out the good old "archie". "Archie" was Coach Amakers call when he wanted the free throw shooter to intentionally miss long so we could get a tip out for another shot We practiced it several times and I had a knack for being able to do it right (no jokes necessary). I shot it long on purpose and we got the tip out. Our co-captain Stefan got the ball turned and fired a three.........buckets! We were going to another overtime. Our second double OT game in two weeks. Unfortunately we came up short again and lost the game by 2 but what a battle it was.
I tweeted after the game that I would gladly go to war with this team any day and live with the outcome. I wholeheartedly meant it. No matter what this team fights and the guys play for one another at all times. It's a great thing to be apart of and even though we were now out of contention to advance in the EuroChallenge it was a great experience for us because all of our 4 losses could have easily gone our way but that's just how the game of basketball is sometimes.
With All-Star weekend coming up we had more days off so I took full advantage of it with Christina. We went to see the De Haar castle in Utrecht. It is a beautiful site to see and was built in 1892. It was massive and the gardens all around looked just like the ones you see in the medieval movies where people go to plot there backstabbing plans. We also went into Amsterdam and walked around their for a while. The city was full of people and there were so many shops everywhere. We stopped at a place called "Ice Bakery" and had the best nutella crepe ever made. In all the trip was fun even though we were unable to locate the Red Light District. We tried for a good hour and a half though. Other than that we just did our usual of eating terrible and watching movies. I had pizza almost everyday and we ate ourselves silly at the all you can eat sushi place named "Sakana".
The All-Star Game was very fun. I was honored to have been voted a starter by the fans of the Netherlands. The format of the game is different then the typical all-star games people are accustomed to. Essentially it was the Dutch National Team vs the "Rest of the Netherlands". All three of our Americans made the all-star team and 4 of our dutch players played for the National Team (Arvin, Stefan, Kees and Ralf). We lost 127-125 but we made it a game. I caught fire and hit 4 threes in a row to cut the lead down but they won on an alley-oop play that was pretty nice. Great experience!
I was so sad to have to say goodbye to Christina.
The nine days felt like they flew by and It was so nice to have her out here in Holland with me. She went back to the States the same day we headed out to Estonia to play our last EuroChallenge game. Both Estonia and us were officially out of the next round. We lost the game by 7 but still had a great team building night! In all I liked Estonia a lot. It was probably my favorite place of all the ones we went to for the EuroChallenge. People were nice, food was very good and the team building was a night to remember! So now we can focus entirely on the Dutch Cup and the regular season. Still two months before playoffs and we are tied for first so there is still work left to be done.
Y'all will be hearing from me much sooner this time! Until next time folks.
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