An experience for the ages

A TRIO OF TIGERS TAKE AMERICAN BASKETBALL TO EUROPE

Basketball players in Europeby Harrison George '13

Wow, what an experience! Khobi Williamson '13, Coach Dee Vick '94, and I were honored to be part of the D3hoops.com All-Star Team and to play against a variety of European teams in France and the Netherlands. For ten days in May, we saw some amazing places, met some great people, and played outstanding basketball. This was a trip I will never forget.

Our journey began with the players and coaches meeting at New York's Kennedy Airport. We all immediately began talking about our lives and our careers, including how our teammate from Grinnell College, Griffin "Mr. 89" Lentsch, scored a DIII-record-breaking 89 points in one game, a recurring theme throughout the whole trip.

Our first stop was Paris, where we immediately began with some site-seeing. After dropping off our bags at the hotel, we spent the afternoon in Montmartre. I'm glad I decided to go and see this, because it was amazing! It sits at what looked to be the top of Paris. It was a hike to get to the top but it was a beautiful sight to see. This was my favorite part of the city.

After viewing Montmartre, we headed back to the hotel and grabbed our gear and headed to our first game, which was against the Charenton Basketball Club.

We didn't know what to expect, since we hadn't had any practice, and this team was older and more experienced (some of their players were nearly 40 years old.). When the game began, it seemed as though most of us still had jetlag, but we were able to keep the game within striking distance, trailing by two at the half. In the third period, Charenton began to pull away and stretched their lead to as many as 16 before we cut it to nine. In the fourth quarter we began to play the kind of basketball that we believed we could. We began to look like a well-oiled machine and were hitting all of our shots. The crowd was excited. After many three-pointers, dunks, blocked shots, and what was a nine-point deficit, we had a four-point lead. Towards the end of the game with 30 seconds remaining, we were down by two. Coach Vick designed a play and told us to execute and we would get the win. The play worked better than expected. Khobi received a pass along the baseline in which he gathered up and rose for a one-handed game-winning dunk. We were glad we got the first of many hard-fought victories.

The next day we started our morning early with a guided tour of Paris by foot and by barge. We all were able to take photographs of Notre Dame, the Pont Des Arts Bridge, as well as the Louvre, home to DaVinci's Mona Lisa (which is a surprisingly small painting). Later that day we were able to see the Eiffel Tower, which was a sight to see. The tower was massive and I was able to cross it off of my personal bucket list. Later the group split and we were given a couple of hours of free time to explore Paris on our own. Half of us went to Napoleon's Tomb, while I and some others went to the Champs Élysées. It was beyond amazing and after going to this I can see why Paris is considered the fashion capital of the world.

When we all returned to the hotel we grabbed our things and took the train to our next game, which was against the Tremblay Athlétique Basketball Club. This team was more around our age, with players ranging from 18 to 30. This team was good and very athletic. We were able to keep the game tight but it was difficult for us to remember the new FIBA rules (FIBA is the international basketball organization). Whistles seemed to be blown against us every other play for traveling or something else. The game was hard-fought, but we came up short losing by about 15 points. After the game the basketball club fed us, and we were able to talk to the players and coaches about France and basketball.

That night some of us went out on the town for some more sightseeing as well as to view the nightlife. We were able to meet French people as well as other Americans around Oberkampf and Bastille, which were pretty fun places to go and experience.

The next morning we all packed and bought souvenirs before taking the Thalys Train to Rotterdam and then a bus to Den Bosch, Netherlands. Upon arrival at our hotel, we dropped off our stuff and went to watch the Dutch League Playoff game, which was the championship series featuring the local Den Bosch Eiffel Tower team and the Leiden Basketball Club. Den Bosch was leading the series 3-0 and could close the series at home. The atmosphere for the game was great. The fans were amazing, and it was a sold out game. Fans used blow horns to distract the opposing team, which is banned in America I think. Although Den Bosch lost this game, they were able to close the series out in game five and win the championship.

The next morning we left early to play in a Dutch Police Academy tournament. This tournament was great for us and allowed us to bounce back after suffering a loss in the last game we had played. During this tournament we went undefeated and we were able to put on a show for the Dutch players and fans with many dunks and alley-oops on our way to the championship. That evening, we went to a local jazz festival, which is one of the biggest annual attractions in Den Bosch. It was nice and we were able to hear the different kind of Dutch jazz and music that they listened to. It was a great experience for all of us.

The next morning we all ate breakfast and departed for a huge game against the Den Bosch Eiffel Tower's Pro B Team. This was a high-scoring game for both teams, and we were once again able to wow the crowd with our athleticism and highlight-reel plays, as well as our balanced team effort. We ended up winning the game by six points after leading by double digits throughout the entire game.

After the game we immediately departed for Groningen, a university city tailored for students, so that was pretty cool to experience. Some of the students said this was one of their last few times to go out before they began finals the next week, so the nightlife was at an all-time high.

The next morning we played in a small tournament consisting of three other teams. We again went 4-0 and were able to win another championship while showing off our talents to others. Fans even began to take pictures of us while we were playing and after the games, and were thankful to see us a play. One man even came up to us afterward and said that he thought we were a professional team and that he had just witnessed the most dunks that he had ever seen take place in a game as well as long distance shots being made. Just hearing him say these things was great motivation for us.

After the tournament and taking some pictures, we were on our way to Amsterdam, known for its red light district. Before the district, however, we were introduced to something that was one of our best experiences of the entire trip. This was the Doner Kebab, a lamb and garlic-sauce sandwich that I would recommend you to try if you are ever in the Netherlands. The kebab was something that everyone on the team ate multiple times, and it was delicious!

Our last two games of the trip were the next morning in Ljuimen, a quick ferry ride from Amsterdam. We won the first game against ST4R Ballers, who included a member of the Dutch national team. Our last game was by far our toughest due to many factors. The crowd and the refs were big factors for us, and we were tired after the first game. Our five-point halftime lead turned into a nine-point deficit heading into the final period with a few players in foul trouble. We regrouped in the fourth quarter, found a groove, and turned up the pressure. With only 30 seconds to play, we took the lead by one-point. Their point guard launched a jumper with about 13 seconds and it was a scrum for the rebound. All ten players were in the pack fighting for the ball and Khobi was able to come up with the huge rebound. After the game, the crowd gave us a huge ovation. It was thrilling.

After our last game we all were able to relax and explore the beautiful city of Amsterdam. This trip was a great experience for me and I am humbled, as well as honored, to have been selected to the D3hoops.com All-Star Team. Not only was I able to meet different people all throughout this adventure, but also I was also able to experience it with my teammate Khobi as well as my head coach. The trip was unique and will be something I will be telling others all throughout my life.