Welcome everyone to my first official blog post on myhoopjourney.com. I’m currently entering my 9th professional season, 7th in the Euroleague and 4th here at CSKA Moscow. I guess you can say I’m a veteran now which is even kind of strange to say. When I entered the Euroleague, I was always one of the younger players on my team and now I’m starting to see less players born in the 80’s and more 90’s babies in the league. I know to the average person, thirty is still a young age but in professional sports, thirty is considered to be where most athletes start their athletic decline especially in Europe as most Americans retire around 33-35 years old.
Well let me tell you about probably one of my most interesting preseasons to date. Not only am I recovering from a torn tendon in my right index finger, but I welcomed the birth of my first child, Anya. So, first the tendon. It was a complete surprise to me. I say surprise, because the original diagnosis was an infection in my hand. All I had to do was take antibiotics for week they said but this turned into 6-10 weeks and wearing a immobilizing splint for 5 weeks. Because of this injury I missed the entire preseason with my team which I was upset about because I was looking forward to getting back into the swing of things after coming off a very successful season. It also turned into something of a blessing due to the fact that I couldn’t participate, the team let me come home earlier than I had anticipated for the arrival of my daughter. I must point out this is a very unique situation for teams in Europe to allow players to this. I have heard many stories in the past of players either not being allowed to fly back home for the birth of their child or even having to watch it all from their phone via FaceTime or Skype. This just shows how CSKA operates differently from other clubs in Europe on how they treat their players , which I will get into more during other blogs. My wife and I feared that I would miss it all and we tried to imagine every scenario possible to be prepared, but because of my injury and CSKA management I was able to be there. Becoming a father and a parent is by far the greatest accomplishment of my life and has truly changed my perspective on life. I am forever thankful to CSKA for allowing me to be there for my wife and for Anya’s birth.
After spending some time at home with my wife and daughter, it was time to head back to Moscow to rejoin my CSKA teammates just in time for our team’s trip to China. We were taking part in the Euroleague China Exhibition Tour, an annual preseason event that Euroleague organizes to promote the Euroleague brand in the Chinese markets. We were to spend a total of five days in China. Visit two cities and play in two exhibition games. I must say that I was excited about the opportunity to travel to China, a country I’ve never been before. I was also excited because after five weeks I was cleared by our doctors to start non-contact practice with the team.
The the trip started in Sichuan,Chengdu China. We traveled from Moscow to Beijing and then Beijing to Sichuan which was about 15 hours of travel time. We flew business class so the trip was quite easy. The morning of our first day, I took part in a special event with One Team and Special Olympics. I’m proud to say that I have been the Global Ambassador of Euroleague’s One Team Program for the past 5 years, which is the cooperate social responsibility program of Euroleague (similar to NBA Cares). The event was at the International School in Sichuan. This was a great opportunity for me to give back to the kids of Sichuan and more often than not the kids do more for me than I do for them. Just seeing the excitement on their faces when myself and my teammates enter the gym is all that matters. These events typically involve basketball drills and exercises that also include singing and dancing to make it fun for everyone. Lastly I played a game of 5 on 5 with them, which was really fun. Euroleague’s One Team events is always a favorite of mine. I was happy to get the opportunity to participate as well as share in these special moments with the great kids here in China. This goes to show you how basketball can translate and help shape positive images no matter where you are or what country you are in. Sport is a universal language that One Team helps to spread.
Our first game in China was against the Sichuan Sharks, the defending champions of the Chinese Basketball Association. Although I was cleared to practice, I didn’t play in any of the games here in China. The coaches thought it would be best to wait until the following week to begin full contact practicing and ensure my tendon was fully healed. The games in China marked the end of our preseason but in the CBA, it is just the beginning of theirs. This is one example of the contrast styles between European Basketball and Chinese Basketball. The CBA style is more of a fast pace game with up and down basketball play. They rely more on transition points including had court isolation points as well. Teams in the CBA are allowed two foreign players but each player must sit one full quarter during each game. Interesting right? The foreign players have one objective in the CBA and thats to get buckets and fill up the stat sheet. It isn’t uncommon to see foreign players score 40, 50, 60 point games. A big difference from what is expected of the foreign players on European teams. A lot of former NBA players like to play in China because the style of play is more comparable to that of the NBA. On top of that is is only a five month season compared to the Euroleague which is a ten months. All in all we ended up beating the Sichuan Sharks by 40 points that game. To switch things up a bit and to point out an interesting thing that we encountered was that there weren’t any showers in the arena we played in. You would think showers are a vital part of any arena but I guess for whatever reason the builders didn’t think that was important. It definitely made for an interesting ride back to the hotel with all of us on a small bus and just playing in a basketball game.
One thing I was disappointed in was that we weren’t able to participate in any tourist attractions while in Sichuan. Sichuan is known for having 80% of the Panda population in the world of all right in their city. They have the only zoo in the world where you can touch and get a chance to experience Pandas in their most “natural” habitat. I understand our main focus of the trip was to play basketball but at the same time this is a once in a lifetime trip and I wasn’t sure when I would be able to travel back to Sichuan again. I feel like if we were going to travel all that way, we would of gotten the opportunity to experience more of the culture and see some of the sights of the city.
The next stop on our tour, we flew to Shenzhen, China to face the Guangdong Southern Tigers. They are CBA’s more successful team, winning 8 CBA champions. Shenzhen is a interesting city. It is fairly new having been formed in 1980. The city is full of modern sky scrappers and is considered to be one of the major economic hubs for China. It’s also interesting because it directly borders Hong Kong, literally. One side of a street is Shenzhen and the other side is Hong Kong.
The next morning we had off and since I wasn’t playing I decided to see if I could soak up some culture in the city. I decided to head to a Tea market with some the staff and management from our team. Literally it was a mall filled with different types of stores that specialize in certain blends and types of tea. They had tea by the barrels, some had been aged underground for 35 to 50 years. There were kilos and kilos of tea leaves stacked up on the streets. I have never seen anything like it before. We also had a “tea tasting” in which each tasting of tea was served in a tea cup about the size of a shot glass. We were instructed to take short sips of the tea and soon as you finish, the server would immediately refill the cup. We basically sat there for about 2 hours trying different types of tea. I don’t know what the ingredients were in each tea flavor but it immediately gave me a boost of energy. Felt like I drank eight red bulls in a row. As far as the game, we beat the Guangdong Southern Tiger later on that night by about 20 points. They were a lot better than the previous team but still they couldn’t match up with our style play. Carlos Boozer, the former player of the Bulls and Jazz had just signed with Guangdong Tigers. This shows you that there are many opportunities for players outside of the NBA.
When thinking about a negative part of this trip it had to be the constant travel and traffic that we endured. To give you an example, we were scheduled to leave Shenzhen late at night just to get to the hotel closer to the airport. The travel time was suppose to be around 2 hours but ended up taking up almost 8 hours just to get to the hotel. We left at 11:15pm and arrived at 7:30am the next day. Majority of that time we were in standstill traffic. Thank god for long lasting battery life of my Macbook Air or I definitely would have went crazy. We eventually made a stop at a local McDonald’s for a bathroom break and just to get off the bus. I never seen an order so big, I think we literally brought out this McDonald’s in the middle of a Chinese town at 5:00am. We ordered 35 Big Macs, 30 Chicken Burgers, 25 Chicken Tenders, 25 Fries, 30 Coca Colas, 15 Apple Pies, 25 Chicken Tenders and there were only four people working at that time. To their credit, they were able to get our entire order ready in only 30 minutes. Order had to be a world record for that McDonald’s. Well we finally arrived to the ho
tel, we took a short nap and then walked over to the airport to bored our 10 hour flight back to Moscow. This marked the end of our Euroleague Chinese Tour. Although I wish we had more time to explore and take in the historical sights of China, I was grateful for the experience and the opportunity to travel to a country I had never been before or might have never traveled to. Overall it was a great trip and opened up my eyes to want to explore China and Asia even more. When I was younger I never thought basketball could allow me to see the world and visit a place like China. It continues to show how great this game is and the journey this game will allow you to experience