February 8, 2012
First off, I want to say I am excited to be writing about my basketball experience in Israel for the Gwinnett Daily Post, A quick background of my basketball career, I am a graduate of Brookwood High School in 2002 and I continued my collegiate career at Furman University. I have spent the past four years playing professionally in Holland. I recently signed a contract in Israel for Maccabi Ashdod located in Ashdod, Israel. I will be joining the team as they are half-way through their season. I arrived here on February 1, 2012. The following has been my experience thus far.
When I was first offered the opportunity to continue my basketball career in Israel, I was very hesitant on the idea. Being in America, you read about Israel in the news a lot and it is not because of how much the Middle Eastern Countries adore them. But, I had one teammate who played here and I emailed the american guys on the current team to get their opinion. They all had great things to say about the situation. They have always felt safe, have been paid on time (which is not always common), and everyone said it has been their favorite place to play in their career. When I asked about my current city Ashdod, Israel the most common response I got was, "Ashdod is the Los Angeles of Israel". So, after talking it over with my family I decided to take the leap and continue my career in Israel. After many talks with the General Manager and him telling me he would have a camel ready for me, I singed the contract to play for Maccabi Ashdod. They booked my flight a few days later, and my flight route was going to be from Atlanta to Philadelphia to Tel Aviv. The flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv is a little over 10 hours. I left on a Tuesday night and arrived Wednesday afternoon. Tel Aviv is 7 hours ahead of Georgia.
Arriving in a new country and not knowing anyone is always an anxious moment, but it is quite common for a European basketball player. After my flight landed, I was told I would be met by the Team Manager after I collected my bags and went through customs. When you walk into the welcoming area, you never know what to expect or who to look for. You hope that someone will recognize you. When I came through the customs door, I scanned the area and was unable to make eye contact with anyone that seemed to know me. Not knowing where to go or what to do next I stood in the middle of the welcoming area with all my luggage with hopes of getting a tap on the shoulder. After about 20 minutes of staring at every new person that came by, the team manager walked by and I saw that he had a polo on that seemed to have a basketball logo on it. We made eye contact and sure enough he was the right guy. After we greeted each other and talked for a bit it was off to Ashdod, Israel. Ashdod is about 35 minutes south of Tel Aviv.
The manager took me by the practice facility where the team was finishing up pratice. I got a chance to meet some of the guys, the General Manager, and owner. Everyone was very welcoming. After this, the manager took me to a very nice restaurant and grocery shopping. They bought my first round of groceries which was very nice of them. Unlike Holland, the labels on the food here are in Hebrew. I kept my selection farily simple: eggs, milk, bread, pasta, chicken, frozen pizza, and water. Omar Casspi is the first Israeli player in the NBA and he had his own cereal so I thought I would give that a try as well. It is hard to get creative in the kitchen when you can not read the food labels. After my mini-shopping spree it was off to see my apartment. Seeing your apartment for the first time is like a reading a mystery novel. The contract says, "Player will receive a furnished apartment", but that can be vague sometimes. You are never quite sure what you will get: Good/Bad location, cable TV, Big/Little Refridgerator, Washer/Dryer located in the shower like my last apartment, comfortable bed, clean sheets, and whether or not you have good cooking plates and utensils. But, I must say the apartment I have now is the best one I have had since playing. Very well furnished and a great location. I live on the 12th floor of a 13 floor apartment building that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, city of Ashdod, and is next to the beach. There are not too many complaints on the living situation. After seeing my apartment, it was time to unpack, get some rest, and get ready for tomorrows practice.
The next day would be my first practice in over 8 months. I felt like I kept myself in really good shape, but practice and game shape can always be a little different than running, sprinting, and working out on your own. Practice was at 6pm, but before then I needed to run some more errands with our team manager and I also wanted to get a basketball workout in before the first practice. The errands I had to run were to set up my Israeli Bank Account, register as a citizen of Ashdod, and pick up my car. Getting your car is also in exciting time because you never really know what you are going to get. The car is an automatic, four-door Mazda. Nothing fancy, but a very nice and simple car. After the errands, I headed to the gym for a shooting workout with one of my teammates. It was nice to get a sweat and get used to the gym before practice. We went pretty hard for about an hour which would prove costly later in the eveneing. After the workout, it was time to head back home for lunch and some rest. I was told that I needed to still take my physical, which includes running on a treadmill while taking an EKG and seeing how your body responds to strenuous exercise. The manager told me we may be doing this the next day or right before practice that day. In my mind, I was thinking that is not the best thing to do right before my first practice, after a long flight, and a solid workout earlier that day. So, I was hoping the physical would be the following day. Around 4pm, I heard my phone ring and I got the news that it was time for the physical and for me to play "lab rat".
The manager picked me up and took me to the doctors office. One of the nice things about being an athlete in Europe and Israel is that you usually never wait in the waiting room of a doctors office. The team ususally has some type of connection where you are able to bypass the waiting room and go straight to the doctor. The doctors office had the treadmill and all the necessary equipment to take my EKG. Usually a person who is about to partake in strenuous exercise likes to warm-up and stretch. But, when I entered the room I was told in a Russian accent "Strip". Thankfully, that only meant take off my shirt. The Doc hooked me up the necessary wires and put me on the treadmill. Not knowing what was coming or how long the test would last, the doctor gave me a 1 minute warm-up at a walking pace on about a 2% grade. Every minute thereafter, the speed and grade increased exponentially. After about 3 minutes, I felt like I was rock climbing. I did not realize the human body could produce so much sweat in a short amount of time. Thankfully, the test lasted only 7 minutes, but that was long enough to break a sweat and make my legs nice and sore before practice. After the test, it was off to practice number 1.
Being excited to be back on the court, I had no idea what to expect in my first practice. I was anxious to see where my skills and conditioning were after a lengthy time off. I made it through about 40 minutes of practice before both of my calves began to cramp up. I see guys on TV going down with cramps and now I understand why. I was unable to continue practice and had to spend the rest of the time on the sideline icing. It was not the best way to start your first practice, but I think the coach and manager understood my situation. The 40 minutes I did practice felt good and it was really nice to be back in a competitive environment. After practice, I immediately went to the grocery store to buy bananas and water. I ate about 8 bananas that night and drank at least a gallon of water to help with the cramping.
The next few practices were a lot better for me personally. I was able to settle in and make some plays during the practices. I was able to complete the entire next practice which felt good. I have been fortuante enough to play for many coaches and see a lot of different practice styles. My four years in Holland, practice was very intense, structured, and disciplined. My first few practices in Israel were quite different than what I was used to to say the least. Here is a quick comparison of the two practice styles.
Holland Practice Style ---------- Israel practice style
Usually two practices a day ------------ Usually one practice a day
Lots of running sprints --------- No running sprints
Lots of Defensive and Rebounding Drills -------- Almost no defensive and rebounding drills
Running suicides for losing a drill --------- No running suicides for losing a drill
Everyone on the team is close to my age----------- Get to guard the 37yr old Israeli player of the decade
Must bring your own water to practice -------- Team provides water
Bring your own towel for shower -------- Team provides towel
Trainer is rarely at practice ---------- Trainer is always at practice
No massages before practice ------- Massages always before practice
No locker for storing your gear ------- Personal locker for your gear with a key
Must wash own practice gear ------------ Team washes practice gear
Must bring your own ball to practice ------------- Team keeps balls at gym
From the following list, I think you can understand why I pinch myself when practice is over. I do not want you guys to get the wrong idea because the basketball level is still very high and the coach is a very smart guy. It is just a totally different way of going about practice as a professional.
Our first game was Monday (February 6th). We would be playing a team called Hapoel Jerusalem at our place. I was very excited for my first game in a long time. I had no idea where I would be in the rotation or how many minutes I would play, so I tried to prepare myself for anything. The game was extremely exciting and went into overtime. We were able to win by one point. It was the most fun I have had playing in awhile. The style of play is very exciting and different than Holland. I was able to play 20 minutes and I checked in for the first time a few minutes into the second quarter. It was really a very good game to be a part of. I was in the game during overtime and I could not help but smile and shake my head because a few weeks before this game I did not think I would be in Israel playing in an overtime game. It was really nice to share the win with my new teammates. After any game win or lose, the team usually heads back into the locker room and the coach usually comes in to wrap things up and talk about the game and upcoming schedule. So, I was sitting at my locker waiting for coach to come in before I undressed and got into the shower. Usually the proper thing to do is to wait for coach before preparing for the shower. After about 10 minutes, I looked at my teammate next to me and asked, "Is coach coming in to talk?". He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "He has never been in the locker room after a game." So after my first game, an overtime win, and no post game speech it was back to the apartment to prepare for the next day.
A cool thing about Israeli basketball is that all the games are broadcast live on TV and then posted on the internet for anyone to watch. They are in very good quality. I will post the link for anyone that is interested in watching this game. I will also post links to our team page and league webpage.
League Website: http://basket.co.il/
Team Website: http://maccabiashdod.co.il/
Website for watching the game: http://server.wscouting.com/index.php?lang=en
*** Once on the website, there is a tab at the top of the page to change it to English. Our game is Ashdod vs. Jerusalem. It will take about 15-30 minutes to download the game, but it is very good quality. We are the yellow team and I check in for the first time a few minutes into the 2nd quarter.