Wednesday, October 9, 2013

EuroDutchBall Round 2

I am back in Holland after an awesome summer at home in Seattle. Now that I reflect on those three months at home, I believe I quite easily embodied the definition of "work hard, play hard." Now for the next 9 months it's back to the basketball grind!
This first post has a bit of everything in it so enyoyyyyyyy it whether you're at work, eating lunch, or dropping the Cosby kids off at the pool!
Business of Euroball

So far in my time here in Holland and in the professional athlete circle I have heard many stories (both unfortunate and oftentimes satirized) of teams going bankrupt or having “money problems” and thus players not getting paid! Greece is one of these countries where bankruptcy happens quite often as you can imagine. The one joke that goes around is that every American who goes to play in Greece winds up learning only one Greek word..."avrio" or "tomorrow" as this is management's response to every player who asks when their next paycheck will arrive! Always tomorrow!
I digress onto the basketball biz in Holland...The one word answer I give everyone who asks why basketball isn't huge in Holland is...Soccer; which IS huge here. While there is still plenty of money to be made playing basketball in Holland, it doesn't compare to some of the other countries in Europe and around the world. In Nederland, basketball competes with soccer for both people's discretionary spending and companies sponsorship euros. The combination of the euro debt crisis and the fact that soccer is the dominant sport, not basketball has oftentimes forced the lifeblood of basketball in Holland, the sponsors, to pull their support and money from several teams. Den Bosch (top 3 regarding budget) lost their head sponsor last year after a decade plus long relationship. It was also just recently announced that Groningen will also lose their head sponsor (~$1million/year) at the end of this year. With annual budgets for basketball teams in Holland averaging ~$700k, losses or failure to acquire strong sponsorships can mean the end to a team's success.
This business model for basketball in Holland is highly dependent on sponsorship dollars. With a lack of big TV contracts, a large population base, high ticket sales, and merchandising, many Dutch teams focus their efforts on appealing to the civic pride within their perspective town which is especially strong in Den Helder, Groningen, Leiden, and Den Bosch.
While basketball in Holland may not feel as 'big time' as in some other countries, there is more of a family, community feel to playing for a team like Den Helder than the teams in the 'big time' markets. In Holland, it is not blatantly obvious if everyone you pass in the city knows you because you are on the team; instead you are treated as someone who belongs to the town's community and thus are treated for who you are as a person rather than your perceived "fame" which I quite like!

“Import Players” What do they mean and what has changed in the last several decades.

To be quick, import players (“foreign players”) are players that enter the country via work visa to play for a team in that domestic country. Domestic players (like myself playing in Holland as I have a Dutch passport) are players that have citizenship within the country they are playing in.

The current situation in the Dutch league and many other leagues throughout Europe is that each league may place quotas or restrictions on how many “import players” or “foreign players” each team can have or in some cases have on the court at once. Imagine a coach who has to not only worry about team dynamics, chemistry, etc. but also how many import players he or she currently has on the court! 
I feel for you Coach K.... NAT!!!! Go Tar Heels!
Overseas, most teams will typically import players via the U.S. as we have one of the better talent pools. (AMURRIKA!!). This comparative advantage regarding talent varies from sport to sport.

Below is a link taken from the website of the agency I signed with regarding the basketball job market overseas and takes this topic into more depth...

 Post by Court Side.

Things for U.S. to Adopt from Europe

Metric System

The U.S. are in the minority regarding our stubborn persistence to stick with the imperial system. We received this system from the lads across the pond, whom began the conversion to the metric system in 1965. While the Brits still use the imperial system to denote measurements of speed, size, and how many stone Jared from Subway lost they have at least made the metric system the norm in government, industry, commerce, and education. The U.S. on the other hand have not...

Despite the high switching costs, and the certain lengthy transition of moving to the metric system, the U.S. would benefit and recoup these costs from this transition rather quickly as companies (for example) would not have to produce two different products (one for the IS and one for MS) and it would also bring more men to take up cooking as we don't care to remember that there are roughly 4 cups in a liter or 32 ounces in a quart. The only imperial system measurement we care about is...
Ze Pint!

While I believe Congress should have passed a law for the metrification of the US four score and seven years ago, damn near nobody sees this transition happening anytime soon as the government clearly has plenty of other problems to solve at the moment.

Driving on the freeway.

It infuriates me that when I am driving in the US on a 3 or 4 lane highway and all 4 lanes are driving the same speed blocking all of the traffic. If only I had the powers of God...
or...... Jim Carrey

In Europe, if you are in the far left lane and are going the speed limit, you will literally get run over. The following clip is a prime synopsis of such events by Michael McIntyre on Top Gear, one of my favorite TV shows...

Despite the sheer luxury and very well equipped nature that our 'company car,' the SEAT Mii, offers we still spend most of our time in said loser lane! This is mostly because of these speed cameras out here in Holland. Brutal!

 What’s New in Den Helder: quick list... 
More professional environment (new gym!)

New teammates: all money guys

Food: 2 meals/day provided by team

Living Situation: I have moved out of the Harry Potter closet into a bigger room. Euro Cribs part II coming soon!

Thanks for reading and until next time... Howdoeeee!!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Playoffs and More What's Different

Playoff Time

Welp… after 36 regular season games, 3 cup games, and an uncountable amount of hard work at practices, the time that every player, every coach, and everybody who loves sports looks forward to all year long has arrived…the playoffs.
It’s been awhile since the last post, but like asking a close friend who works in a similar job or asking a young teenager (particularly one in High School) “what’s going on? What’s new?” The answers rarely vary far from “The usual,” “the same ol’ grind” or my personal favorite “Not much man what’s up with you?”
For me and the squad, there are a few things that have changed… 
We finished our season as the 6th seed in the Eredivisie (out of 10 teams) which is an accomplishment for a brand new team when you throw into consideration that we are young, inexperienced and were just 4 points off the 4th spot.
We are starting our playoff run tonight against the 3 seed, Groningen, who displays quite the home court advantage having only lost 2 games at home all year (both against Den Bosch: a team who we beat twice at our place in the IceDome er…um…Kingdome!)
Martini Plaza (Home of Groningen)
It's finally warm(er) in our gym! Hodoeee (goodbye) Winter and 50 degree practices; hello Spring!

How are things going?
My personal answer to the question above consists of one of the aforementioned responses as my routine has not changed much throughout the season aside from some small extra-curriculars such as

coaching the young ones...
filming, editing and producing some behind the scenes videos with the one and only Ewoud Kloos!

The Grind

In short, it has been a long first season especially when you compare it to my previous year at Santa Clara where I was finished with my season in the first week of March. This is a testament to one of the biggest differences between college basketball and professional basketball: longer grind, more is expected and it is your only real focus and responsibility (which doesn't always mean it's easier). Generally speaking, players, and even employees or students (rookies in particular) will all hit the wall at some point during their first season, fiscal year, or school year (some early on and some later on). For me and a few of my ‘fellow American’ teammates in our profession, this wall can sometime seem heightened as we are further away from friends, familiar lifestyle, and most importantly family. Thankfully, I have developed great relationships with my teammates and have developed a strong understanding with my coaches on what is expected. This has made the transition to my new job and lifestyle seemingly easier.
I recently read an article about Chris Copeland (forward for NY Knicks) and his rather unconventional journey to the NBA (via Europe) and found the descriptions of European basketball as a business and lifestyle in said article to be interesting and in some circumstances similar to my current lifestyle. While I've included a few of my favorite exerts below, I highly recommend reading the orignial article, especially if you are a basketball or sports fan and can appreciate a dreamer working hard to become successful.
  • "He knew full well that no basketball contract in Europe is ever really guaranteed and played each possession as if it was the only possession that mattered. He was a man planted firmly in the reality of his situation, and didn’t care if he was playing in a preseason game, or if there were 100 fans or 10,000 in the stands."
  • "Davis recognized he was merely a commodity, and an easily dispensable one at that. We all were. Players in Europe learn that very early on. Basketball is no longer about the so-called ‘love of the game’— it’s work, it’s survival, it’s a constant state of fight or flight. You know that there are a thousand guys back home in the States who would gladly play for next to nothing to be in your position, and the moment you slip up another dreamer takes your place."
  • "He [Copeland] was forced to learn, at the most inopportune moment of all, a lesson that all athletes must learn at some point in their lives: confidence is delicate and unpredictable and can, when you need it most, vanish from beneath you, like a slender thread that breaks and slips away. The constant balancing act of body and mind is done on such a precarious tightrope that it can take years to find the right symmetry, if at all."
  • "In Holland, as it is in most of Europe, basketball is unglamorous, a working class game. Most Dutch teams are located in gritty, gray, industrial towns where on a good night 1,000 supporters pay 3 or 4 euros to forget their lousy jobs and vent and scream their hearts out for an hour and half. The invisible, intractable barrier of celebrity that normally separates the fans and the players in the United States and some other European countries doesn’t exist in the same way, if at all, in the Netherlands."
  • "The fans are able to imagine that if these players weren’t blessed with abnormal height and athletic skill, they’d be sitting right next to them and working in the same factories that they do. Players are not exalted, but rather strive to be accepted, seen as equals, something that is both humbling and comforting."
  • "Copeland felt at ease. There was a kind of family atmosphere surrounding the team [in holland] that he hadn’t experienced in Spain, where expectations were higher. He was able to relax, and unpack his bags. He didn’t feel the constant sense of judging eyes burning a hole through him every time he touched the ball, and his play reflected it."

What’s Different
Bike Theft
If I thought bike theft was common in college, bike theft in Holland is simply part of the culture. I’ve been told that if you live in a big city such as Amsterdam, Utrecht, or Rotterdam, the big bike garages can function as a bike recycling center where people can go to find (steal) a bike for the day. Most of these bikes can be sold for less than $10 so the logic is why waste the money on a $40 bike lock for a cheap bike when you can simply pick up a different one the next day if yours is gone.
This is one of the more obvious and beautiful differences between Europe and the U.S: every building is different in almost every way.

One of my favorite pics of A'Dam
Both World Wars destroyed many large cities, towns, villages and in the aftermath people rebuilt their businesses and homes in different intervals from scratch using different materials and different blueprints.
Rolling R’s and throat disease sounding G’s
Not much to be said here: the Dutch language (if I’m honest) sounds slightly better than German which is clearly the most romantic language in the world! For me, I find it amusing when I try to whisper anything in Dutch as it sounds like I just yelled it. My mom and many Dutchies will find the following comment funny: if I am in another country other than Holland, I can pick out a Dutch family, couple, or person from a mile away.
Euro the Fuck Up! (I'm allowed to print this as I'm still in Europe and anything goes...yuh!)
This has been used on many occasions since I’ve arrived here in Holland.
  • Shopping: away with the baggy, in with the skinny is Europe’s motto for swag (and mine as well)
  • Smoking cigs: as common as finding someone in the US in their early 20s who is into Coachella, Avicii and that broad named Molly
  • Donor Kebab fast food: You can find these everywhere! This has essentially replaced my Taco Bell. Hate to say it though my Dutchies, I think Taco Bell takes the cake. (Shout out to the Taco Bell on El Camino Real in Santa Clara: I’ll be seeing you again soon, SCU Grad week 2013 baby!)
  • Carbs, carbs, carbs: breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner in the form of sandwiches.
Our next game is tomorrow night (Game 2) and we hope to protect that home court and continue our run deeper into the playoffs! I've attached a game of mine below if you're on your couch with nothing to do for 90 minutes! This was one of the times we beat the #1 team in the league, Den Bosch. Also shout-out to Luke Sikma and Ford Burgos for winning the LEB Gold division in Spain! Time for the big time next year: ACB! (if embed doesn't work below)

Like always, cheers to family and friends in Amerika as well as new ones in Holland!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Winter Update

Winter in Den Helder

Let me start this post by saying how much I miss the weather in sunny Cal-i-forn-i-a! With temperatures reaching well below freezing, I have had to make quite the adjustment over the last few months, mostly to my wardrobe which now makes me look 100% European! I thought I couldn't get more Euro when I left for Holland....One of the challenges that has come from the cold is the fact that our gym is also freezing (around 50-55 degreez on the average day). Our club is still working on securing a permit to install heaters in the gym but until then let me present to you the Industrial Space Heater 9000…

We now have 4 of these in our gym. Enough to give you that placebo effect and also warm the gym up in 4 corners of the court

During practice and especially water breaks everyone seems to camp out in one of these corners as if it were the 4th of July up at Whidbey Island (campfires) except the only smoke that are seen is from our jerseys and skin due to the temperature difference. After a good warm-up we all stretch as a team and when I’m lying on my back, I see a small cloud of steam floating away from my jersey and skin. I feel like I just made 3 shots in a row on NBAJam. FIRE!!!

I will say that these cold temperatures have played to our advantage a few times as teams who play us in the Kingsdome er.... Ice Dome simply can’t adjust to the temperature in the early going. This translates into them shooting 20% from the floor for the 1st half.

In the end, actually experiencing a winter has been a nice change of pace as I now appreciate the sun whenever it comes out. This is very much the sentiment for anyone who has lived in a cold place.

“Athlete-Students” in Europe

The standard path towards receiving a high quality education and pursuing an athletic career is very different in Europe from the U.S. I will say that someone like me with similar athletic ambitions will usually be required to take a more unorthodox path (by U.S. standards) towards graduating college or having a high quality educational background. The reason for this difference lays in the fact that, in Europe (and other continents), if you play a sport at a high level it is most likely the professional level. While there are some colleges or universities that have athletic programs, many of them simply participate within the professional circuit. An example of these teams in our league would be Groningen, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam. Many of my teammates have entered the professional circuit as early as 16 years old.

What complicates this transition or decision to pursue a professional sports career is the fact the clubs or teams do not arrange practice times or their schedule around your academics. This is very different from the student-athlete culture in the U.S. where a number of restrictive measures or norms come into play. I’ve listed a few below…

1.      NCAA restricts teams (in theory!) from practicing a certain number of hours per week
a.       Europe: professional teams can practice as many hours as they want or is needed. (Unless explicitly stated in a player’s contract)
2.      Typically every school semester each team in the athletic program will coordinate with one another to ensure that the student-athletes will be able to take the classes they want and need.
a.       Europe: It is up to you to find a way to schedule in classes and exams around your sports schedule.

Thus the academic process for many of teammates and others in similar situations takes a few extra years as you are more of an athlete-student than student-athlete. As an example, my housemate and teammate Max played professional basketball during his “high school” years and would study for tests in Spain and then commute home to Holland to take a bundle of tests in a couple days! Another teammate of mine, Ewoud, gets his tests sent to the local school here in Den Helder where a teacher proctors them for him. This last example with Ewoud is more analogous with my academic experience at Santa Clara when I would have to take a test while away from campus for basketball travel.  

Below is one of manyexamples of how top talent develops in Europe from such a young age.

Ricky Rubio played in his first ACB (1st Division Spanish league) when he was just 14 years old!! He continued his studies even while going through all the LeBron James level of hype in Spain and throughout the ACB! Rubio now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA!

Small Differences: Gasoline

For everyone in the U.S. complaining about gas prices let me share a number with you… $9 …is what I pay per gallon to fill up my car! Why the higher price? Taxes, subsidies, and international relationships with OPEC. In the U.S. the average tax rate on gasoline is between 15-20% where in Europe this number can reach higher than 50%. Thus instead of paying a cozy $3/gallon in the U.S., I end up having to pay upwards of $8-9 per gallon. Yuck!

[SIDE NOTE: I will say that the mass transportation system throughout Europe is much more developed than in the U.S. (excluding larger cities of course like SF, NY, and Boston) which is one way to avoid paying the higher price at the pump and it’s usually easier to travel too!]

Training Camp in Amsterdam

As a team, we are heading to Amsterdam next week for practices and team building activities. We will be staying in a hotel all next week, eating home-cooked meals, and hopefully get to enjoy a little bit of Amsterdam as well.

Until next time! HOWDOEEEEEEEE!!!