September 27, 2010

Let's Jump...

“Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them -- a desire, a dream, a vision.” - Muhammad Ali

First of all, since I still haven’t figured out how to comment on my own blog yet…thank you, everyone, for all of your support and encouraging words these past few days. It’s amazing how much extra strength I can conjure up from my support network.

As a few of you know, our first game did not go well. I really don’t want to go into details, but let’s just say there was an article written calling our team “little girls” in comparison to the team we played against. When your first game is a devastating loss you always have to wonder how you and your teammates are going to bounce back from such a brutal wake-up call. I was impressed tonight when I received a chain of emails from my teammates and coach firing one another up and demanding that we come ready to practice hard all week. As my TCNJ Final Four team will confirm, the beginning of a season is just that, a starting point. A basketball season is a journey in and of itself, and a long one at that. Our Final Four team started the season 3-3 before figuring out we were tired of losing, changed up our defense, and started dominating.

TCNJ's Final Four Centers
I know she didn’t have the same experience, but during our team’s transformation stage I would get so frustrated with the other Center on our team for beating me up all practice that I used to want to ‘throw intentional 'bows’ at her (which I never did of course :P). By making practice so hard for me she inevitably prepared me for the other Centers in our league and the NCAA, and made me a better player. Naturally, she was the first person I found and jumped on after we’d made it to the Sweet Sixteen. As a player, you can never underestimate the fact that basketball is a team sport, and that much of your success comes from embracing how hard your teammates make you work. I owe so much to my teammates, past and present.
Before I came overseas, one of my trainers was talking to me and a few other players about what ‘The Greats’ say makes a champion. Some say it’s about conditioning, some say it’s about preparation. Really I think it comes down to heart. Reading my teammates email responses to the article (after typing them into google translator of course) opened my eyes to the desire my teammates have to improve. We have a lot of work to do, a ton in fact, but I am anxiously waiting to see what kind of heart my teammates have as we prepare for our upcoming game this Sunday.  Although I don’t think any of my current teammates can hold me, I’m dying to jump into someone’s arms after a victory…

September 26, 2010

"When the going gets tough..."

As was expected, I had my first breakdown last week about being so far away from home. I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later, and was actually surprised I held out without a breakdown for almost a month. In a conversation with a friend who'd played overseas, we talked about how a good way to think of getting through such a long season so far away from home is to break the season down into months, weeks, and even days, which is what I had been doing. I am getting quite comfortable with my routine here, but I look forward to getting to see little glimpses of home. For example, it's great knowing I'm going to be getting a package (so those of you are, please keep sending them- they give me something from home to look forward to). When you break down the season by months, weeks, and days you start to set up goal points that you aim to make it to. It's really tough, and incredibly disappointing when you have a goal point within a certain reach and then that goal point disappears. Needless to say a few days before our first conference game I found myself questioning what I was doing 3000 miles away from my family and friends. Then I remembered: I knew it was going to be like this.

Back when becoming a professional basketball player was only a fluttering thought passing through my head I'd read a few books written by female basketball players playing overseas. "It's tough," they would say, "you go to a game and score 30 points and feel like the queen of the court, but then you come home to an empty apartment and only a telephone." Those athletes would say I have it easy; I have "skype" now and other ways to see my families and friends. If they could do it without all the technology we have now, I know I'll be able to do this.

I've never been incredibly dependent, I think most of my family and friends would attest to this. I actually enjoy living alone; I like the privacy and the independence, doing things on my own time, and not having to worry about getting my 'paint by number' off the coffee table so someone else can use it. I will tell you however, that there is something about coming home to an empty apartment and a cold computer that makes living alone a block away from your friends a lot different than living alone 3000 miles away from that safety net.

I think it is unfortunate that as progressive of a country that the US is, we don't have more opportunities for female athletes in 'The States.' It doesn't seem right that we have to choose to not play and stay home, or play, but travel 3000 miles. When a teammate asked me the other day if I want kids and I responded with an "I don't know" she said, "but you are a woman!" Yes, I am a woman, and I know that means perhaps I should want kids, but I also want to fulfill those dreams that I thought were so out of reach as a kid, but have been blessed with the opportunity to fulfill as a young adult. It doesn't seem right that I should have to choose one or the other, but that's still where we are as a society, and if I have to, I'll choose my professional dreams over a concept in a heartbeat.

It also dawned on me that I am not being forced to be here. If I want, I can be done in a split second and be on the next flight home. I remember a conversation I had with a teammate when I was at my first college, and had my first thoughts of transferring. I had told her how I didn't think that my college experience would be like this, that I hated it, and was thinking about leaving. When I joked that we could rule a lower level program together she looked at me with sad eyes filled with empathy and said, "Hillary, I know this is where I need to be." I was baffled at the time. Sure, we all had dreams of getting full rides to college and being a part of a winning program, but I wondered how she knew this was where she needed to be. What told her that? I was so heartbroken in that moment. I questioned why my dreams of a scholarship program didn't live up to what I thought they'd be, but the reality was more than enough for my teammate. I think now, 6 years later, I finally understand what that teammate knew back then. When I'm not feeling lonely and even when I am, I realize that something deep in my gut is telling me that I'm doing the right thing by being here. So just like that I remember why I'm here, doing what I'm doing; I'm living out the dream I've had since I was 11 and first picked up a basketball. I made it; I'm a professional basketball player, and it feels right.

September 19, 2010


Friday afternoon a few of my teammates took me into Geneva to walk around, learn some of the history, and shop for new sneakers (I have lots of blisters from the old sneakers I’ve been wearing). Unfortunately a good pair of basketball shoes here are 200 chf, so I think I’ll be ordering online or having my family send me another pair from home. Geneva is a really interesting place. Right on the waterfront are a TON of very ritzy hotels; Geneva is a big international business area as well as a big tourist area, so there were more diverse people and a few more English-speakers than in my little town of Nyon. 

Jet d'Eau
As opposed to my trip alone to Lausanne, we successfully found a Starbucks and I enjoyed a caramel frappucino, one of my teammates treated me to Ladurée macaroons (YUM!), we took a hopper boat across Lake Geneva (where we saw a ‘water chicken,’ a bird I’ve never seen before), and the famous Jet d'Eau (a fountain that shoots water 140 meters in the air) on Lake Geneva. 

My favorite part of the trip was when one of my teammates was telling me about some of the history of Geneva. I really appreciate it when my teammates try to speak English with me, and for our trip into Geneva they brought an English-French dictionary to help with some of the translation. As we were walking up an alleyway in the city, my teammate explained to me that on the night of Dec. 12, 1602 a man came to try to take over the city and climb it’s wall…it was the darkest night of the year. A woman poured soup from her cauldron on a man’s head and stopped the attack. Geneva’s slogan is “After the darkness, light” (Geneva will now forever be acquainted with "I Am Legend" in my mind). Now, while my teammate was struggling to explain this story to me, she also threw in that the woman’s pot was made of chocolate and had vegetables in it, when I questioned, “how come the chocolate pot doesn’t melt over the fire,” and asked “why vegetables?!?” she stuck with her description. I couldn't help but picture a bunch of people standing around a fire anxiously holding carrots, celery, and tomatoes in their hands while looking puzzled as their pot made of chocolate disappeared into the flames...

Macaroons :)
The joke ended up being on me. After going home and looking up the story to make sure I understood the history of Geneva correctly I realized that my teammates did an EXCELLENT job of translating this story for me. The celebration is called “l’Escalade,” and it commemorates the failed attempt of the Duke of Savoy trying to seize Geneva. During the celebration, confectioner’s sell “Marmite d’Escalade,” a small pot made of chocolate and filled with marzipan in honor of the housewife who took out a Savoyard soldier by dumping boiling soup on him. Kudos to my teammate for giving me such an accurate description! Also, now I know what I want to do on Dec. 12th this year…have some vegetables with chocolate :P.

Water Chicken
I went back to Geneva on Saturday, finally got a café au lait (thanks KO), found out where a movie theater was, and went to see “The Town.” The movies are very expensive here (18 chf) as is most everything, although the popcorn was probably similarly priced to “The States” (which is now how I will refer to America). We have off Monday because it is a fasting holiday, but come Tuesday it’s opening game week and time to prepare for Saturday!

September 16, 2010

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength." - Arnold Schwarzennegger

First of all, yes I did just quote Arnold. Second of all, we are not even close to being where we want to be, this is just the beginning of our journey and I feel obligated to acknowledge that. That being said, tonight we fought! We officially have our first victory under out belts! It wasn’t pretty, in fact at times it was really ugly basketball, but we gutted it out and ended up winning by 2 points against Bernex, another team in our conference based out of Geneva. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so in the zone during games or what, but I always have a hard time remembering the game after the fact. I’ll try my best…

We pretty much relied on fast-break basketball tonight; we continuously pushed the ball up the floor for quick buckets. I was slightly confused by the girls who were guarding me because they literally just stood on my high side and face-guarded me. Needless to say my teammates are getting in the habit of lobbing me the ball, setting me up to be a Hillary sandwich. Thank God I’ve been making my free-throws (for the most part at least)! I really enjoyed playing with my teammates tonight; everyone cheered on the bench and was invested in what was happening on the court. I will say that my body is a nice shade of black and blue and I am looking forward to having the next few days off.

September 15, 2010

Fight or Flight

We had another scrimmage tonight against Fribourg, probably the best team that we will face in our conference this year. Our coach keeps telling us before games that we need to “fight” and “keep fighting.” I have to say that regardless of how frustrated I was at the end of the first half, I was proud that we kept fighting. I saw a vast improvement from our last scrimmages to this one, even though we still lost. Collectively, we are still learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses as well as who is going to read the defense and make an intuitive cut, who is going to fake coming off a screen, and who is going to dive on the ground for a lose ball. As we familiarize ourselves with one another and how we move on the court I’m sure we will improve and perhaps even surprise ourselves.

One of the most frustrating things about being as competitive as I am is that when you feel like you are giving something everything you’ve got and are still falling short you want to break down. After the first half of our scrimmage a part of me quite honestly felt like taking off my sneakers. But any athlete with a competitive mindset knows that when it comes down to “fight or flight,” you fight. The second half was a little bit better. For example, I adjusted my boxing out so I stopped giving a crap about getting the ball and just worried about blocking out the other team’s superstar. She did not have nearly as many rebounds or points in the second half. I realized that I wasn’t going to get any easy baskets posting up with her guarding in front of me and with one of her teammates behind me, so I started crashing the offensive boards for some easy buckets…I got 2 AND1’s in the second half. I also realized that since we were having a lot of trouble getting the ball on the wing that it couldn’t hurt for me to set an extra screen for our guard so she could get open…we were able to run more of our offensive sets in the second half as well. So even though we lost by a solid amount, we made adjustments as a team and were more competitive in the second half. Now, if we can put two halves together…

We have another scrimmage tomorrow. So tonight we get to sleep, but tomorrow we will keep fighting.

September 13, 2010

Starbucks led me to God

I ventured out Sunday morning wanting to see the city of Lausanne. I had read that the city was Switzerland’s San Francisco, a city built upon steep hills that tower over Lake Geneva. I would have to say that during my trip I found some meaning to the saying “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of moments that take your breath away…”

First, I don’t know why I was nervous to use the train system here. It is incredibly easy to figure out how to get to where you want to go. Second, the ‘fun-facts’ about Switzerland my Mom gave me before I left are pretty much all true. However, I was too nervous to not buy a train ticket even though my ‘fun-facts’ sheet told me they hardly check to see if you have one. I did get annoyed when it cost me 30 francs for a ticket and nobody came to collect, but I did see signs listing the consequences for not having a train ticket (although they did not seem incredibly threatening). Third, the trains in Switzerland have windows that you can actually open for fresh air, AND they don’t make you feel like you need to shower a.s.a.p. like NJtransit trains do.

Waterfront in Lausanne
When I got to Lausanne I immediately understood the San Francisco analogy. The train station was in the middle of town, halfway between the cathedral and waterfront. I headed down to the waterfront first to see what France looked like from this part of Lake Geneva. The waterfront was incredibly striking. You could see France across the lake, but also vineyards looking back towards Switzerland, as well as the rest of the city-like Lausanne. With almost a carnival like feel (there was a merry-go-round), I checked out the different options for cruises across the lake, the paddle boats, as well as the vendors who were selling everything from Yankees hats to fruits and decorative fans. The boatyard was filled with big and little boats that I saw families climb aboard and admire. I also saw an energetic German Shepard who was intensely focused on the ducks and swans in the water. I watched as the owner of the dog let him swim in the docking area and play fetch with a stick, at least until the swans got a little too close within the dogs swimming capability, at which point his owner pulled him out of the water.

After a while I decided I had seen enough of the waterfront and decided to venture upwards, towards the center of the city. As I climbed further and further up the Old Town hill, I realized that I was on a mission. I had seen two Starbucks coffee cups and became engrossed with the idea of a caramel light frappuccino. I never did find Starbucks, but what I did find was the way to the cathedral on top of the hill, overlooking the town.

Looking up at the Cathedral
Very rarely do I feel the need to share my faith with others. I think faith is generally something very personal and something that people should be able to express in their own way. However, I do want to share a couple of things that happened to me while I was inside the cathedral. I saw the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen and was quickly reminded of my childhood. For those of you that don’t know this, my Dad used to make stained glass; one of his creations still stands in a restaurant somewhere in the southern part of the U.S. I was reminded while looking at the stained glass depiction of Jesus’s crucifixion just how lucky I was to have such a wonderful childhood filled with family, laughter, and long-lasting friendships, as well as how lucky I am currently, to be pursuing my dreams and discovering my own uncharted territory on my own time and in my own way. 

View from the top of the Cathedral
When I found the entrance to the stairwell of the cathedral and paid the minuscule two Swiss francs to tour the Gothic tower, I started climbing. Naturally, since there was someone behind me I suddenly felt like I was racing to the top of the cathedral, which in hindsight allowed me to discard my fear of how high I was actually climbing. Once I got up to the first level I walked out of the stairway and took a deep expanding breath. The air felt cool and refreshing going through my lungs. I looked down on the city of Lausanne, out at Lake Geneva, spotted France, and then figured I'd keep climbing. I skipped the next level, realizing I wanted to go straight to the top and fully experience the peak of the city. I re-entered the spiral staircase and climbed some more. Once I reached the summit of the building I again stepped out of the stairway and immediately found myself choked up. The view had completely taken my breath away. Between the peaceful silence above the city's commotion and the sensational view below, I could actually feel life’s beauty seeping into my skin. At this moment I felt very close to God, very grateful for the opportunities that had come my way, and one step closer to that aforementioned 'greatness.' After I wiped the tears away from my eyes and looked down around me, I realized how high I had actually climbed and finally felt that anxious knot in my stomach reminding me of my fear of open heights. I stayed close to the inside of the tower and admired the stunning area below. My climb down the 225 steps was much slower than my race up as I reflected on my experience and tried to savor some of the faith I'd found during my trip.

The train ride home was a little more hectic than the one there, only because it didn’t occur to me that more than one train could be leaving the station at the same time. I foolishly stood at platform #9¾ (just kidding!) only to realize that I needed to be on platform #7. I rushed to my train and made it on just before it pulled out of the station. Within 45 minutes I was back at home getting ready to watch the Giants game! What an incredibly fulfilling day :).

September 7, 2010

"Friendly Games"...haha

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
  - Edmund Burke

Valley in France
After traveling to France for two games this weekend I got to see two important things: the level of play we’re expected to compete with, and how my team plays together. There are a few things that were VERY different while playing basketball in France. I was taken off-guard by how intense the guard pressure was. In America there is a rule where you are allowed to measure up your opponent by putting your arm out, once you take your arm off that first time as soon as you make contact again it becomes a foul…in France, not so much. The guards had to hold onto the ball while being pushed and shoved out on the wings, to such an extent where the defense was actually pushing the guards all the way to half court and over the half-court line. Once again, in America the referee’s call would be a foul, in France they called back-court violations on the offense. Of course I’m not a guard, so I didn’t have to deal with all that :)

Those of you who've seen me play know I’m a “shot-blocker;” I like to time the offense’s moves so I don’t let them get the ball out of their hands when they are trying to score. The first game of the weekend I had one (?) blocked shot I think – crazy, I know! Apparently in Europe you’re allowed to take an extra step after you’ve declared your pivot foot to step around the defense in the post. Needless to say I was caught off-balance in a number of situations and felt completely dumbfounded as to how my player was scoring on me. Thank goodness I caught on and got my timing down. In the second game I felt a lot more like myself - I maybe had 8 blocked shots, one of which was on a girl trying to get a fast-break bucket where I swatted it out of bounds. I know you don't get the ball back when you block a shot like that, but when you're down by ten against a really aggressive team, it sure feels good :P.

Speaking of ‘fast-breaks,’ teams LOVE TO RUN IN EUROPE! What we would consider playing fast and loose in America is the norm here. Teams try to break at any and every opportunity: if there’s a rebound, it’s off to the races, if there’s a turnover, it’s off to the races, if there’s a made basket, it’s off to the races…you get the point (and yes, I am realizing that I use a lot of other sports analogies when I talk). 

It’s very weird to be on a team that is always looking to run because I’m what you’d call a “set-play player.” I love structure and using all the time on the shot clock (which is 24 seconds in Europe, not 30 like in America). Our fast break has structure to it, but just like the other teams at every opportunity we are off to the races! My teammates learned to give me the ball throughout the weekend. My favorite play was right after my coach pulled out all the starters (minus myself) and put in the girls who’d been on the bench. The other center and I rarely get to play together, but she was in with me at this point, and when the other team double-teamed me I got to pass to her after she'd made a hard cut underneath the basket for a layup. No offense to the guards out there, but there’s something magical about getting to see the person you battle with during every practice score off of a pass that you make during a game :).

Although the club team I’m on placed second in all of Switzerland last year, I’ve learned that there is only one returning player from that squad on the team this year. The rest of the team is very, very young and really just learning how to play at the first level. Even so, we did okay. We lost our first game by about 20 or so, but improved the second game and only lost by about 15. It’s funny how I can’t really understand a word my coach says in huddles or at half-time. My teammates translate bits and pieces like “she says we need to make better passes” or “she told us to look inside and give you the ball.” What I can tell you is that after a two-loss weekend the talk you get after the games are over in the locker-room need no translating. Those kinds of talks make you feel just as ashamed whether or not you can understand a damn thing your coach says. 

Mountain in France
I am realizing that it could be very easy for me to get frustrated with the different style of play here, or the fact that my team is young and learning, but there would be no point in that. So really my goal here is to play my best and help my teammates as much as I can so we have a successful season. As long as I keep doing my part to the best of my ability I am hoping the rest will fall into place. Needless to say, our team has a LOT of work to do. Two-a-day practices started today...

Regardless of the outcomes of the games this past weekend, France has beautiful mountains and valleys (see pics). The two teammates I roomed with at the hotel were a lot of fun and helped me to learn some more French words. It paid off when I got in the elevator yesterday with a man who asked me which floor he should press for me and I was actually able to answer in French! Baby steps :).

September 2, 2010

Eat. Wander. Love.

castle I stumbled upon

Yesterday was quite the adventure! To make sure I was at practice in time I decided to leave my apartment at 5:30. Practice starts at 6:30. I wandered the streets of Nyon (at least I think it was Nyon; I may have wandered into a different city at some point) until 8 o’clock and decided to head home. Turns out my teammates showed me the long way by car, long enough that I tried going down every street within two miles and couldn’t find the gym. I’m just glad that I got to see some cool buildings on the way and had my blackberry with me so I could take pictures. My coach came by afterward to make sure I was okay…typically in basketball life if you miss a practice you have a punishment, which is usually running. Since we had off today I cannot be sure that I won’t be punished with running, but she seemed more concerned with whether or not I was okay than pissed because I missed practice. Even so, I made sure I invested in a map of Nyon today :).

Castle in Nyon
I went into town today by myself for lunch and to walk around. There’s a castle in my town with an overpass that you can walk through. Once you come out the other side you can see Lake Geneva and France, it is absolutely breathtaking. My first lunch without my coach and someone to translate was a little difficult. It took three waiters to try to interpret to the manager what I was asking before we got everything situated. Eventually I ordered linguine with salmon! That seemed like a good idea at the time, until I went for a run a few hours later… The Office episode where Michael Scott eats fettuccini alfredo and then runs a 5k for the Race for the Cure (for Rabies) did not lie…I cramped up so badly my run quickly turned into a walk. I know for next time, no white sauces before I go running!

Lake Geneva and France!
"Finishing that 5k, was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I ate more fettuccine alfredo and drank less water, than I have in my entire life." – Michael Scott

September 1, 2010

I made it!

"The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist."
- Russell Baker

I’ve made it to Nyon! Honestly, the worst part of my trip was the car ride to the airport. That’s when I thought I might ACTUALLY throw up since NYC drivers just love to floor their gas pedals and then immediately slam on their breaks. The eight-hour plane ride was all right. I did not sleep at all, but I did get to see “The Bounty Hunter,” “She’s Out of My League,” two episodes of “Friends,” “Madmen” (we can talk about constructing gender later), “30 Rock” and an episode of “Cougartown”. My coach picked me up with two of my teammates at the airport. I am seeing that there are certain personalities on every team, and although I am missing my Final Four team back home, I have a couple of your personalities here :)

apartment view!
I think my apartment has a little flare, especially when I look out my window (see for yourself)! The shades are equivalent to storm shutters, which when I close completely makes it 1am at any time during the day in my apartment. This was particularly helpful this morning when my body was telling me it was 1am when it was actually 7am here. I am still learning the ins and outs of what my daily life will consist of: where I will eat my meals, how to walk to the gyms, etc. I’m lucky that Nyon is a small town and even if I walk in the complete opposite direction of where I want to be I can be back on track in a few minutes!
and just like that, I'm home :)
I had my first practice with the team yesterday. We run similar types of offenses that I ran in college. A big difference is that the team LOVES TO RUN…I do not, but I think I’ll be just fine thanks to the training I went through before coming here. Although the girls on my team speak very little English, I felt like I could understand everything during practice. It’s interesting how basketball seems to break down language barriers. So far the court has been where I feel the most comfortable. Also, although my “bonjour” is sounding pretty fluent, I really need to learn some French so I stop ordering crepes when I want chicken!