October 28, 2010

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles…

This morning I woke up at 6am and got on a train at 6:50am. By 8:30am I was boarded a plane heading back to The States. My plane touched down at 1:10pm, U.S. time. This evening I will be driving my car to the hospital to visit my Dad.

Sunday night I received news from my sister that my Dad was in the hospital. I found out Tuesday night that he needs two heart surgeries. After talking to my family, my agent, my friends, and my coach I got the green light from all parties to take a trip back to The States to be with my family while my Dad has surgery. I am going to get five days at home. Home. I’ve missed home so much and have been anxiously awaiting Christmas vacation where I will get two weeks and two days to spend with my family and friends and enjoy all of the things that Europe just can’t offer me. And while I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends and getting those hugs that I miss so much, the reasoning behind this visit makes me incredibly nervous.

My Dad and me at a basketball banquet
While I sat in my apartment piecing together all the information I had in order to make an informed decision about whether or not to return home I realized that I wouldn’t be sitting in my Swiss apartment if it weren’t for my Dad and Mom. For those of you who don’t know how I got to where I am, let me try to explain the level of commitment it took by all parties involved in order for me to get here. I started playing recreation basketball in 4th grade. My Mom signed me up and took me once or twice a week to the local middle school to play. By 5th grade I had joined a Church Youth Organization (CYO) team with a friend where basketball became slightly more competitive, organized, and time consuming. We started practicing twice a week and having games on the weekends, usually on Saturdays. By 6th grade I made the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team composed of a core group of girls from the CYO team, called the Jersey Hot Shots. After I joined the Jersey Hot Shots basketball really picked up. Those Saturday games turned into weekend tournaments all over the country. We drove to Washington D.C., Florida, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, Maryland, and flew to Nevada, North Carolina, Utah, Kansas, and Ohio. After I was offered a full scholarship to a school two hours away we practiced/played six days a week and had games twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays (I think). Once I transferred to The College of New Jersey the games were more localized and practices were shorter, but we still played games twice a week. I did not go to a single one of these games alone. In fact, before attending college I can’t remember a time where at least one of my parents wasn’t at a game. If I complained about losing summers at the beach, not being able to have a Sweet Sixteen, or having to leave my high school’s annual band trip in the middle of the night because I had a basketball tournament, I can’t imagine what my parents sacrificed to make my dreams come true.

My Mom and me on the way to the Final Four
I have a lot of really fond memories from growing up playing basketball and going on those trips. I remember when I first started really wanting to play my Dad took me out to the driveway and taught me how to make a hook shot. I remember that same year playing one-on-one against my Mom (or as I wrote in my diary “today I will versus Mommy”). I remember cutting our vacation in Sunset Beach, NC short and sharing my first plane ride with my Dad on the way to Ogden, Utah (of all places) for the 12&U AAU national tournament. I remember incredibly tiring weekends at tournaments five hours away where we’d actively search for the different gym sites and play eight games; I would get to the car completely exhausted but ready to co-pilot only to have my Dad take a look at me, see my exhaustion, and tell me to go lay down in the back and rest. Once I turned 16, I remember getting my permit and begging my Mom to let me drive us to a game, which she occasionally let me do ☺. I remember my really difficult freshman year where I thought I might actually walk away from the game of basketball and in a state of panic felt relief when my Mom finally told me it was okay to ‘just come home.’ I remember making it to the Final Four in Holland, MI and looking up in the stands at what I thought would be the last game of my basketball career to see my parents cheering for me far after the final buzzer had sounded.

As I’m writing this I’m starting to get emotional thinking about how incredibly grateful I am to be able to live out my dreams, and my real dreams. The other day a friend asked me, “Hill, what is your dream job.” At first I answered with “probably an actress or singer,” because I am and like to be incredibly expressive. After walking to practice that day and thinking more about it I came back and told that friend, “Actually, I already have my dream job, I’m playing basketball professionally.” Just to be clear, it’s not super glamorous, so I hope nobody is picturing me as LeBron walking down the streets in Nyon. It’s hard work both mentally and physically, but it has been my dream since I first picked up a basketball. I know I’ve been able to live out my dream because of my parents, and I really hope they both know that I know that.

One other memory really sticks out to me. After one particular AAU game I thought I had played horrible. I was so angry with myself I couldn’t/wouldn’t talk to anyone. I also had a HUGE attitude back in the day so I’m sure my Dad was getting frustrated with my demeanor after bad games. On the way to our next game that day he turned me to and said, “Hillary, basketball is a game, enjoy it, and remember to smile as they go in.” That motto has stuck with me throughout college and even now as I pursue my professional career in basketball. As my coach was talking to me yesterday, as soon as she said, “Basketball is a game, family is family” I immediately pictured my Dad and knew I had to sit the next game out and go home to be with my family. After all, I wouldn’t be playing basketball now if it weren’t for my Dad and my Mom and all the commitment they had to make my dreams come true.

October 27, 2010

The woman checking tickets has a mullet...

Heidelberg's Castle
These past few days I got to spend my 'vacation' (we had 3 days off from practice) with a friend in Heidelberg, Germany. First of all I have to say that being around another American was incredibly comforting, especially another American who is playing basketball and having similar experiences as me. We talked about home, the differences we recognize between Europe and America, what we miss from The States, the first thing we'll both buy when we get home (which happened to be Dunkin' Donuts for BOTH of us), and what an incredible opportunity it is to be here even though it can be really difficult and trying at times. I got to watch one of her practices and took a lot of comfort in knowing that professional basketball in Germany is similar to professional basketball in Switzerland.
Me @ Old Town Bridge
My friend stays with a host family, who were incredibly nice and also pretty good at speaking English :). It was interesting to see what I would like about staying with a family and what might irritate me. It was really nice to be in an actual house with people around and a fully stocked fridge ;). It takes me a while to warm up to people I suppose, and I would think figuring out how to function within the family system of a new family might take me a while. Also, I feel kind of awkward around people I don't know very well, especially when I'm in their home and trying not to break their 'rules' so to speak. As my friend said, "there's so many awkward moments over here, by the time you get home nothing will seem awkward." I definitely see what she means and also hope that's true.

I got to see Old Town Heidelberg, walk across Old Town Bridge over the Neckar River, see the Heidelberg Castle, and Thingstätte. You can see the attached pictures, but honestly unless you're there in person it's kind of hard to describe the beauty in some of the European architecture. I did wonder about the castle though... it sits about 1/3 of the way up a 'small mountain' (there was debate as to whether the mountain was a 'hill' or a 'mountain,' so I thought I'd settle with 'small mountain'). I thought castles were supposed to sit higher up on 'small mountains' so they could see when armies were coming to attack. If I were to attack this castle, according to the way this castle sat I'd come from the back side of the 'small mountain' and fire down at it. Position-wise, I did not like this castle (these are the kinds of thoughts I have time to think about over here).

Thingstätte was probably the most interesting thing I got to see in Heidelberg. Thingstätte is an amphitheater that was built during WW2 and sat 8,000 people who came to listen to Nazi speeches. It was a hike to get to from where we parked (which happened to be maybe 100 meters (?) away); I can't imagine climbing all the way up the 'small mountain' to hear Nazi propaganda. For an old structure it was amazing how well you could hear someone 'on stage' from one of the highest seats (we tested it out). As I sat in one of the seats I wondered who had sat in that seat 75 years ago, and really what kind of person they might have been. Did they REALLY believe the things they heard there and TRULY buy into what was happening? I think it's a good thing these types of structures still exist, they serve as a reminder to be skeptical of what propaganda we receive today, and personally reminded me of my own free will to be the kind of person I strive to be daily.

We got to do a couple other fun things, I carved a pumpkin (which I hadn't done since I was twelve, and you can tell - I also bet you can guess which one was mine without me telling you), watched NFL football on - get this - A TELEVISION!, roasted pumpkin seeds (yummy!), I had a Radler (beer with German lemonade/soda), watched a scary movie in the spirit of Halloween, and sat down at a dinner table with other people and a spread of cheese and meat.

One more thing I saw that caught my attention: on the train on the way back to Nyon three uniformed men were walking up and down the aisles (I don't know why authority figures make me nervous, but I always take notice of them). They were looking around at the people and stopped in front of two men who honestly, looked like maybe they could have been Turkish (point blank: they didn't look like the other Germans I'd been around all week). Anyways, the uniformed men asked them, and only them, for their passports. Hell, I'm not even really sure if I'm supposed to be travelling outside Switzerland, but as we would say in the Race Relations class I took in Fall '08, I can 'pass' as a European. I'm not trying to paint Germany in a bad light, because I've seen racial profiling more times than I can count at home and in more disrespectful ways, I just think it's important to recognize these kinds of things.
I almost had a successful, mistake-free trip travel-wise, except once again I jumped the gun on the way here and got off one stop early. Of course getting off one stop early and having to wait for another train added an hour to my trip. I really wish they wouldn't prematurely change the 'next stop' sign while I'm still on the train. This has happened to me a NUMBER of times now and I get off one stop early because the stupid sign tells me the next stop (which I think is the one I'm at) is my stop. It'd be easier if everything was in English, but alas, it's not. One of these days I'll figure out how to travel...

October 18, 2010

"Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the titanic." -Unknown

We had another conference game on Saturday against the team based out of Basel. We again, unfortunately lost, but this time the score was 76-74. So far our losses have been to the top teams in the league, and we are right there competing hard against all of them (except for maybe the first place team who’s been blowing everyone out of the water by 30 points or more). Personally, I think our ability to play with these teams is pretty impressive, mostly because we are coming together as a new team, with girls who played in Switzerland’s second league last year, and with a new American. I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but I really see improvements every game. When we start replaying opponents in the second round of conference play, it is going to be a different story. This game there was a stretch where we had a few really good back-to-back defensive possessions by causing shot clock violations or putting so much pressure on the ball that the other team turned it over. In the fourth quarter we rallied back from a 16 point deficit with everyone contributing – our point guard hit a three, our two-guard drove to the basket, our three-guard hit a three AND drove to the basket, our four-player sunk free throws, and I made layups. It was a collective effort with everyone contributing, which is always my favorite way to play.

The last thirty seconds of the game were incredibly intense. Since I tend to forget the exact details when I play, you can take this with a grain of salt, but if I remember correctly our point guard sank two free-throws to make it a two point game. The other team brought the ball up the court with everyone on our team pressuring their players. The way we’d adjusted our defense made it incredibly difficult for the other team to go ahead with their usual plan of attack and we forced them to throw up a shot from very far away from the basket as the shot clock was winding down. Our team got the rebound and I took off down to the other end of the court. The clock counted down: 4...our two guard was dribbling the ball through two of their players, 3…she passed it to our four player, 2…our four player tried to get past her girl, 1….our four player shot the ball from a few feet outside the three point line, 0…the shot fell short.

A couple other differences I forgot to mention about the game here: the shot clock is only 24 seconds (maybe I did already mention this, but I thought I’d emphasize it again) and you cannot call a timeout during a possession whether you have the ball or not – you have to wait for a dead ball. Okay, so typically back home when I thought about the game I’d like to break it down into possessions. If the shot clock is 30 seconds and each half is 20 minutes, then each team should get 20 possessions if they use up the whole shot clock on each possession. If you only get 20 possessions a half and let’s say you convert on only half of those possessions, you would head into the locker room with anywhere between 20 to 43 points (depending on fouls, whether your team shoots 2’s or 3’s, etc.). Obviously the game isn’t played this way, and teams don’t use up 30 seconds each possession, but how simple is it to think of the game that way when the shot clock is 30 seconds and everything aligns just right? Math is not my strong suit. I can’t even make 24 seconds make sense in my head. All I can do is think, “we have the ball, I don’t know how many possessions we’ll get this half, but let’s make every one count.” That’s probably a better way to think of the game anyway, but sometimes I really miss breaking down those 30 seconds. Now for the timeout situation: back home if you have the ball with 4 seconds left and your team just crossed half-court you would (in most cases) call a timeout and set up some elaborate sideline play to get a good last-second shot off. Needless to say I was baffled when our two-guard crossed half-court and I glanced at our coach waiting for her to call a time-out only to find her jumping up and down while screaming, “Allez! Allez!” (“Go! Go!”). Seriously, this game is intense, and I love it.

Point Guard Hillary :)
There are a few cool things that I’m personally seeing change in my own game. First of all, I’ve been running the floor a LOT more and a LOT better. I really have to thank my agency for setting me up with a speed school before I left to come over here. Learning how to run the right way has changed the way I feel about running (to a certain extent at least) and has also made me incredibly more efficient on the basketball court. There was a possession this game where I took off running down the left lane, received a pass from my point guard a little over half court and drove the ball to the rim (where I think I did a Euro-step to fake out my defender (although maybe I just thought I did and in reality it looked more like a regular layup)) and finished without getting a charge called against me! So cool :P. On another possession, we had the ball out of bounds underneath the basket and I noticed my defender cheating and slipped out to the wing (I’m so sneaky). Our four-player hit me with a pass to nail a jump-shot (I’ve hit jump-shots before, but not so sneakily). These are things I’ve always wanted to try, but was just never in a situation to do in games before. It’s always exciting when you add a new element to your game, because you know you’re still getting better. After all, I AM only 23 ;).

October 11, 2010

…Another chocolate bar bites the dust

So a few things have happened since I’ve last blogged. They are doing construction in the flat above mine, so the sounds of drills and hammers have woken me up at 7:30 for a week, and there’s no ending in sight. I discovered a path that goes from the train station to where I live (which cuts off literally only one minute from my walk, but still, that’s cool!). I’ve perfected the crepe. I learned how to say the different colors in French. I almost got back on a moped, but didn’t. I was questioned about my marital status. Oh yeah! Basketball stuff: we got our first win in the Swiss Cup, and then we had our third loss in our regular league game yesterday.

Nyon Basket Féminin 2010-2011
After a rough performance last week in our loss against Pully, I realized that I was in a bit of a slump. The thing about being in a slump is that it’s not like you just wake up the next day and BAM you’re out of it! It doesn’t quite work like that, you have to fight to get out of it, and sometimes it takes a whole week of practice where you feel like nothing is falling for you in order to get out of that slump. Needless to say I had a rough week of practice: I missed lay-ups and free throws and had to fight hard to stay out of my own head. When slumps happen, I usually have an internal fight until I change my thinking, which I was thankfully able to do this past week. I’ve never really flourished in basketball when I’ve solely focused on “me” so to speak. Yes, when I’m in an individual workout I have to focus on me and I do: I think about my shooting form, my footwork, how to breathe and maintain a routine at the free throw line, keeping my dribble low and close to my body, you know, the basics. However, come game time and team practice time I like to think about how I can help the team. Thinking about helping the team partly takes some of the pressure off because I’m not consciously critiquing every little thing I do, but more so it just reminds me that my individual game is only a part of the bigger picture, the team. Sometimes helping the team means giving someone else who’s having a rough day a high five, cheering after someone makes a tough shot, encouraging my teammates to be aggressive on defense and up in passing lanes, doing my job when I’m at the free throw line, converting my lay-ups on a good pass from a teammate so they keep looking inside, or diving on a loose ball to show that we’re collectively willing to sacrifice our bodies for the love of the game.

Just a quick tangent on that last statement…sometimes I think I am absolutely crazy to put my body through what I do in order to play the game. I see bruises on my teammates and go home and find similar ones on myself and think, “Wow, when did that happen?” This is the less glamorous side of living the dream. Even as I write this I have ice on various parts of my body trying to numb the new pains I’m feeling today. The morning after a tough game is always rough; I lay in bed and debate whether or not my body can even get up. But when you have the basketball itch (which I can feel pulsing from my chest to the rest of my body right now), as soon as your feet hit the floor, all you can think about is how you will get better today, when you will get your next victory, and how good it feels to overcome the little battles which lead to the bigger ones. Winning those battles, small and big, is completely addicting…so when I look in the mirror and notice a new bruise I sigh for a brief moment and then realize that this is a small price for that amazing feeling of invincibility that comes with a victory.

So this past week I worked really hard focusing on my teammates and what the team needed so I could, in turn, focus on myself and get out of my slump. I would definitely say that I played 100 times better yesterday than I did last weekend. Sure, I still missed a few shots, and I can always do some things better, but I felt like myself, the Hillary I’m used to being on the court. I’m so glad that I fought all week to get her back.

Our game yesterday had incredibly promising moments that it would be our first league victory. In the first quarter we were up by 12 (18-6), their American center picked up her fourth foul with about two minutes left in the first quarter, and it looked like this game was going to be ours. Then the other team switched up their defense and slowly started climbing back into the game. At halftime we were up by only one point. We’d stopped attacking and found ourselves slowly sinking gasping for air while trying to maintain our lead. As much as we tried to attack their center so she’d foul out, she managed to play with four fouls until the very end of the third quarter, at which point I also had four fouls and found myself on the bench. There’s a VERY big difference between playing ‘not to lose’ and ‘playing to win.’ After the turn of events in the second and third quarters, it seemed like we were no longer playing to win, but were trying not to lose. This isn’t uncommon for a team that’s in a situation like ours. I’ve been on teams like this in the past, where we really want to win, but can’t seem to put the pieces together to make it happen. In talking to my coach this morning, I completely agree that once we get one win and realize what we have to do in order to get that win, something will click, and we’ll be okay. Sometimes that actually happens, where a win will spur that click and a team will fire themselves up (I’ve been on teams like this :)), but sometimes it doesn’t (I’ve also been on teams like this :(). After seeing how our team played against Pully last weekend with all that passion and desire I absolutely believe that our team can fire up after a victory and keep that flame going.

Oh, so some of you are probably wondering why the Swiss Cup win doesn’t count in this mix-up. Well, from what I gather all teams in Switzerland compete for the Swiss Cup, and our first game was against a second-league team. We won by 20 or so, maybe more, but did not play well at all. In order to get that fire started the win HAS to be a challenging game. Nothing is guaranteed in sports, but since we knew we had a good shot at winning our first Swiss Cup game, it wasn’t a surprise when we won without playing particularly well. That first win has to be a tough one, and it has to boost our egos into knowing that we can compete. Our game yesterday would have been ideal, but now we have to look forward to our game next weekend against Basel. Wish us luck!

October 4, 2010

I killed my house-warming plant...partly.

We had another game yesterday, the second of our regular conference season. We ended up losing by nine, 86-77. It’s always hard to talk about a game after a loss, so bear with me. We came out pretty strong, and I knew it was going to be different from last week because our PG hit a 3 to start the game putting us up 3-0. After the next couple possessions it was 5-2. It was SO much better than the week before. The spacing on the floor seemed more natural and we had spurts where we looked like we were moving as a unit.

Personally, I did not play well. As an athlete, sometimes this happens. Hell, even Peyton Manning threw an interception yesterday. Regardless, I did not travel to Switzerland to play average and have bad games. This will be the last time I have a game like this while I’m here. No more ‘getting acquainted’ with the rules or worrying about how the girl I’m guarding is playing and trying to adjust. I can feel that I’m missing a little something, a little spark, some of my swagger maybe, and I know I need to find it before Wednesday (our first Swiss cup game), and before next weekend (round 3 of conference play). I know I was a year out, but I can and will be better than what I’ve shown so far.

Anyway, we fought back hard as a team. We went down by as far as 18 in the third quarter and pulled it back within six with three minutes left to go in the game. The best part was that everyone contributed to the comeback. Our press was in sync, my teammates shot the ball with purpose, and drove to the basket with passion and dedication. I’m proud of them for showing their fight.

That’s all I can say about the game. I already replayed it in my head 20 times, and I can’t think about it anymore or my brain will explode. So! Before I become too acclimated to my new surroundings, I thought I’d take this blog entry to list some of the differences between New Jersey and Switzerland. Here we go:

  • Everyone has a Razor scooter or a moped. Age doesn't matter, neither does what you're wearing (businessmen ride mopeds, middle-age women in skirts ride Razors).
  • The postman also rides a moped, but his has a side-car attached to it that holds the mail.
  • Every car is a standard.
  • Cars actually stop for you in cross walks. YES, even the yellow ones!
  • The traffic lights go from green to amber to red to amber to green.
  • The elevator door is a regular door, if you time it right you can open it mid-travel. I don't encourage this though :).
  • The money looks like monopoly money, and you feel like you can spend it just as lavishly.
  • Dogs are allowed everywhere, even supermarkets, restaurants, unleashed in the middle of a carnival...
  • Kids are always crying...or screaming.
  • Lunch is the big meal of the day, and if you don't eat everything on your plate your waiter/waitress looks offended.
  • People speak French.
  • There are castles. And mountains.
  • A sprite is 6.50 Swiss francs in a restaurant (I can't bring myself to pay that much for a soda).
  • Everyone is okay with using public transportation; it doesn't necessarily define class as far as I can tell.
  • Everything closes from around 2-6pm in town, with a few exceptions.
  • They tell time military style. I have practice at 18h30 most days.
  • There are very few T-intersections, most crossroads are circles (I blame this for why I got so lost that first week looking for the gym).
  • The month and day is switched when you write the date. Today is 4-10-10.
  • You can't lock yourself out of your apartment. You must lock the door behind you using your key.
  • I have one day and only a few hours on this day to do laundry. Everyone in my building passes on the key via mailbox after they're done to the next person on the schedule.
  • Pandora, abc.com, fox.com and other websites are not accessible overseas. You have to find your way around this…
  • The coffee is like taking a shot (not that I'd know!), but it's served in a tiny cup and is very strong.
  • You have 2 choices at restaurants: you are there to drink coffee or eat. You also declare this shortly after entering.
  • Sizes are much smaller than in the US.
  • People are skinnier, much skinnier. Even so, I don't find portions (especially at lunch) to be smaller.
  • The cheese doesn't taste like processed American cheese.
  • People have sharper features.
  • It seems like everyone smokes.
  • Wine is cheaper.
  • Everything else is more expensive.
  • Our basketball uniforms are girl-cut and fitted.
  • The basketballs cut up your fingertips.
  • The court is shorter.
  • The rim height is 8 ft … (just kidding! It's still 10ft)!
  • There are no over-the-back calls (I really need to get over this).
And finally....
  • My shoe size is 45. I thought 12.5 sounded bad...