(This is the second post about my college basketball experience in Asia. If you have not read the first one, please click here.)
As you might guess, basketball is essentially the same wherever you go. The goal is still to outscore your opponent. The basic rules are the same. You dribble. You shoot. You play defense. However, there were some funny differences in the basketball here that were superficial, but shocking none the less. Definitely took some getting used to.
This first one wasn’t a difference, but rather a shock to my system. I was absolutely dying every time we hit the court those first few weeks. It had been 10 years since I had been involved in competitive athletics. Since that time, I had studied much and worked out little. I had broken a few bones and had my second shoulder surgery. As I said in my first post, I had come to Asia to learn a language and, hopefully, make an impact for good. In my wildest imagination, I had never dreamed I would be on a nationally recognized basketball team.
We were training like big time programs train. Wind sprints, drills, suicides. . . we were doing it all. I was in typical physical shape for a 28 year old professional from America. I was doughy. My thoughts were often, “I can’t believe I am 28 and still doing suicides!” If the opportunity weren’t so great to meet friends, I would have quite the first day.
It ended up being the best thing imaginable for my health, as well as for my ability to engage in campus life in Asia, yet it was definitely a shock to my system to jump into training with a college basketball team!
The second thing that we immediately took note of was that the team NEVER drank water. Never. Patrick and I brought our own the second day of practice. It was then that we found out why there was no water. The coach honestly believed and preached that water during serious exercise would harm you. Severely harm you.
He believed that water consumed during physical exertion would go into your blood stream and reap havoc. Thankfully Pat and I were allowed to bring one bottle of water each to practice. The coach said that our bodies had acclimated to this malady since we were raised in America where drinking water during exercise was common from birth. Not so for the local players. No matter how exhausted, sweaty, and fatigued they were, they had to wait until practice was over to partake in a swig of water. I felt bad drinking in front of the other players while they desperately looked on, but not enough to not do it.
Third, while the players were not allowed to drink water during practice, smoking was encouraged. Seriously. We would be killing ourselves, running full-court in our stuffy, poorly ventilated gym. The weather outside was balmy and hot, at least for the first few months. I would get pulled out of a game and immediately offered a cigarette by the coach. Same coach that forbid water consumption. I would respectfully refuse. My lungs were pleased with my decision.
Finally, the team, and especially the coach, thought that my chest hair was hilarious. This was the only time in my life I can say I have felt objectivized. One day in practice, we were starting to scrimmage. My team decided to be shirts. Then the coach told us to be skins. He told the team that he liked to see me with my shirt off. Everyone had a good laugh. From that point on, he always made sure that I was on the skins team during scrimmages. The coach thought it made me look strong, or so he told me. I’m pretty sure he just thought I looked like a circus side-show freak.
Another time, we were practicing on an outdoor court. Since this was kind of a big deal, several hundred students showed up to watch us. When the time to scrimmage came, I was, of course, assigned to the skins team. Upon pulling off my shirt and taking the court, there was a collective gasp throughout the crowd. Not the cool, Justin Bieber-type gasp. It was a gasp of partial horror and partial fascination, much like two pandas wrestling atop a forty foot tree in the zoo on a small limb. You don’t want to see the pandas fall and potentially hurt themselves, but you kind of do. It was pretty awkward, to say the least.
One of the players once told me over a dinner that he had tried to grab me while guarding me in practice. To his surprise, he couldn’t. Seems that when my chest hair gets sweaty, it becomes quite slick. I told him it was my competitive advantage.
There were many other nuances and differences to the game here in Asia, but those stick out as four of the more entertaining.
In my next basketball post, I’ll share about my basketball injury and my first press conference. . .