Before I begin “home stretch” talk, I thought I’d share one awkward thing I did this week. Some of you may know that I’ve changed my diet a lot over the last year… I switched from eating simple carbohydrates and have seriously committed to complex carbohydrates, increasing my vegetable intake, and adding high protein foods and supplements to my diet. On the way to our game yesterday, I was ready to have some protein, but realized I didn’t have any skim milk or even any regular water for that matter, to mix it with. I looked at my protein packet and reflected about how one of my friends told me that when she was playing overseas she came home from a practice one day and just scooped the protein powder in her mouth. For those of you who take protein, you know that that’s dedication. I’m pretty sure my teammates think I’m a little odd to start with, so I wasn’t about to confirm their beliefs by throwing back raw protein powder. Looking around for something to mix my protein with, I saw a sparkling S. Pellegrino bottle in my bag. Lately, instead of iced tea I have been drinking sparkling water during the day when I’m just kickin’ back and chillin’ in my apartment. Anyways, I figured sparkling water was better than no water, so I poured my packet of protein and some S. Pellegrino into a bottle and ‘shook it like a Polaroid picture’ (is this song too outdated to still be referencing?). I can’t really put into words what swallowing that concoction was like. If any of you watch Family Guy, there is an episode where Lois’s Dad makes Peter eat a pinecone. Peter eats it while saying, “It’s awful… I hate it… it hurts.” That pretty much sums up what I felt drinking sparkling water plus protein powder. I’m sure I made a face with each sip I took (yeah Hill, that’ll make your teammates think you’re normal…). Regardless, I don’t recommend this for my fellow athletes.
Okay, back on track (pun slightly intended – get it? Home stretch? Track?)! Our team had a rough week leading up to this game. I won’t go into details, but I was a little nervous about how our team would respond to some of the stuff that has been going on. I was pretty pleased when we went into halftime up by six. We weren’t playing exceptionally well, but weren’t making colossal mistakes either. In the beginning of the fourth quarter one of the other team’s foreigners (who had been nailing 3-pointers the whole third quarter) fouled out. We were still winning at this point. Then all hell broke loose. Our point guard fouled out. We stopped playing offense. Our defense broke down. Ugh, I’ll be honest; I felt like we lost that game, the other team didn’t necessarily win it. We went eight minutes without scoring a bucket. Not even just not scoring, but turning the ball over within a matter of a few seconds on each possession. It was incredibly frustrating. After games, like most athletes, I go through play-by-play and think about all my mistakes, what the team could have done differently, and then pick out just a few positives so I don’t feel like crawling into a hole and curling into a ball after a loss like that. Here are some positives: during stretches of the game when I couldn’t maneuver around the basket like I wanted to, our 3-guard knocked down some big shots. When our offense seemed stagnant for spurts of the game, our 4-player drove the ball to the hoop and finished some really tough shots to keep us holding onto the lead. I blocked two shots off the backboard and had an up-the-line-on-the-line denial defense steal, fast break layup, and an AND1. Voilà.
Back home, basketball seasons are ending all over the country. For those of you who don’t play sports, when a season ends, you tend to grieve like there’s been a death in the family. You may think I’m exaggerating (and to an extent I am), but in college at least, for the first few weeks right after a season ended for me, I would really struggle to get out of bed, stop eating regularly (after all, I didn’t have a two-hour practice or game to plan my eating schedule around anymore), want to have a movie marathon every day, and felt like there was a big, empty pit in my stomach where my love for basketball had been only a few days before. Especially in playoff situations the ending of your season is sudden, unexpected, and hurts like hell. I can sympathize and truly feel for teams whose seasons are ending every day. I know it hurts, but just remember there’s always summer league, next season, or pick-up games to look forward to. Then I think, what about the seniors? The people who are hanging up those basketball sneakers for good? Since I haven’t been in that position yet, where there is no ‘next season’ or ‘next time’ for me, all I can say is - what an exciting time to figure out what’s next! Grieve for a little while, and then conquer something new and exciting you’ve always wanted to do. The great thing about athletes is how collectively driven we are. John Wooden said, “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” That drive is ingrained in our character, and I love to read and hear about what athletes accomplish after their careers are over.
We only have three games left this year. We don’t have a playoff opportunity this season. Realistically, this has been a rebuilding year for our club (I know athletes never like to admit this) – but it has been. We’ve gained experience, worked on skills, learned to play together, etc. I can’t help but think how weird it is that I know when my last game is going to be. There has only been one other season in my life where I knew when a season would end – and that was when my team went to the Final Four. Each weekend leading up to the Final Four was a roller coaster of emotions, and that final date wasn’t set until the horn sounded in Rochester and (for one week) we had a concrete date for the last game we’d play; then I knew there was no going further, regardless of what happened in Holland, MI, that would be it.
Our last game this year is March 26th, at home, against a team I know we can beat. I guess since I know we can’t make the playoffs, the next best thing will be to end our season with a win at home. I regress; I don’t envy those aforementioned seniors. I remember romanticizing my last game when I was a senior. I thought about taking off my sneakers and leaving them on the last court I would ever play a game on – a signature of everything I gave to the sport and would leave behind me when I was done, worn-out, and ready to move on. Nobody ever knows what the future holds, but I do know one thing... after this season, I’ll be walking off the court with my sneakers on my feet.