From Russia…where is the love…the love, the love…?

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WEDNESDAY: Niaho...or should I day "DobraeUtruk" (good morning)...We are in Vladivostok, Russia, it's Wednesday morning, just finished having breakfast...errr, if you want to call it that...The host team Spartak-Primoyore "found" a Mandarin-style Chinese Restaurant for the team to have their meals...We ate there last night after arriving around 5pm to our hotel...About the hotel...hmm, should wait a little longer for that description...Back to this morning...I received a call from Pancake my translator, at 9:00am informing me that we are leaving at 9:15 for breakfast, and we will eat on the first floor...This will have made 4, count'em folks, 4X we changed the schedule for todays breakfast and practice...So, I took it upon myself to find out "why" the schedule changed so much in the last 12 hours...Get ready for this one: "Coach, the Asst. Team Manager (a person who is traveling with the team for this trip), he makes all arrangements for schedule, when we eat and what we do...", so says Pancake...I ask to meet with him and the assistant coach and Pancake before we sit down to breakfast...I inquire through the translator as to why so many changes and if I may have the schedule in hand so we can prepare our players properly for the practices and games...Pancake tells me that the Asst. Team Manager (keep in mind, the person who hired me was Sun Jun, former star National Team player and the owner, another really good person), are NOT with the team, but this person is...Now, we must keep in mind that this asst. team manager is in his mid-50's, and was a military officer in the Red Army, which means that HE on this trip MAKES all decisions for everything...I then ask if it would be possible for him to give me a schedule for the practice times that I WAS ASKED to submit to Pancake on Sunday night in Changchun City, which was then FAXed to the Russian hosts for tournament...When we arrived yesterday, our host "Illya", nice young college student, who speaks English, Russian and Mandarin Chinese, tells me on the 45 min. bus ride from the airport to downtown Vladivostok, that "Coach, we received your schedule and we have made arrangements for your practice times and when you leave hotel..."...I was a "happy" camper up to this point, that meant, no surprises until this morning's "summit" meeting with the ex-Red Army Officer...Now, good people, I am an American "species" meaning: I have "RED" blood, a "WHITE" tongue, and "BLUE" veins, meaning that when someone who I have met only once at the airport to pick me up and my translator, Joe Guan, a week ago, and have never seen him at a practice or meeting with Sun Jun, myself, Pancake and YoYo, asst. coach, TELL ME, that "you listen, I make schedule for team the way I want schedule...all changes go through me, you only coach team in gym when I say you coach...this isn't USA this is Red China..." Hmmm, I thought to my "politically correct" self, he is sooooooo right, I AM A PROUD AMERICAN who will always be vigilant as a former Navy Veteran who loves his country dearly and will defend its democracy until I can't move a limb, I will smile at this man, nod, keep him close to me, and win him over with respect and my court demeanor when I do my job daily, and let my model speak for itself...Little did I know that he scheduled "sightseeing" on this trip as well, meaning that we had practice this morning and then went on a tour of the city, meaning 25mins. in the bus stuck in traffic, then walk another 200 steps to the military museum which was interesting from a historical part until you realize that the weapons decommissioned now were outpost weapons protecting the port city from enemy attack...Inside this high elaborate bunker was the museum itself of Vladivostok's history...Wow, is all I can say...the weapons from over 200 years ago were in this museum...no pictures allowed...I saw an 8' flintlock from over 200 years ago...really...remarkable...I guess if this weapon took out the lead horse or leader first, then their enemy would retreat...I mean it had to take all of 5mins. to reload this thing...Back to the Asst. Team Manager...I have made the decision to be polite but he has definitely established the "lines" of where authority is with me, folks...The difference between him and Sun Jun is the North Pole and a Waikiki Beach, respectively...I will be respectful but cautious until I return to our city...I love our freedom as an American citizen, and I love our structure and organization when it comes to communication and basketball applications...A coach "knows" his players, and knows them well, and in this case, my "read" on the players is that the last thing they want to do is "sightsee", being on their legs, walking up steps and visiting places while waiting in traffic on average 20 mins. before we go to next venue...

Our "Bussey" in Vladivostok, today...Let's say this, the lines on his face and the wrinkled expression upon his countenance tells a story in itself...He is quiet and as "ripe" as a Walla Walla Onion during harvest time...yes, THAT RIPE...The tour bus we are on has an interpreter by the name of Kevin...he is probably 25-26 years old...speaks 3 languages like Illya did the day before...we also have on this bus, at least a dozen flys, out of type of formation, looking for anything to land upon and rest, otherwise they circle like Seattle's flys the day of garbage pickup and have become somewhat annoying unless you're into seeing how quick your hand is in capturing one...We just finished our 2nd "visit" to a tour site...The Asst. Team Manager is now very tired and I think embarrassed as he is leaning over, with eyes closed NAPPING...me, I am deep down LOVIN every minute of his actions right now...he blew it, and his schedule too...Fingers are crossed about our game day schedule...yes, he has tentatively PLANNED for us to go on another tour away from the hotel on our GAME DAY...I asked why? And was told again, "that's not a question for you to ask...the team manager makes the decisions what we do, you only coach on the court..."...Beatles Soundtrack is goin on in my mind right now: "Mother Mary speak to me, there will be an answer...Let it be..."...To my good friend Dave Burroughs, he KNOWS where I'm comin from on THAT verse...as does Hawaiian "eye"...Mike M...Okay, I'm cool now, feelin good, ready to write some "other" feel good experiences right now...

Hotel Vladivostok...I don't think Harrison Ford stayed here when they shot Hunt for Red October a few years back...On a scale of 5 Stars, I don't have any ink for "fill" to mark this star down...and if I could? Imagine the furthest star away from the naked eye, a "spec" would be appropriate...The bed reminded me of my "bunk bed" mattress when I was at my first camp as a kid many summers ago...and the pillows? Not sure that any feathers ever made into this casing...I am in room 739, next to Pancake and Doc, the team trainer, great person by the way...always smiling...players love him, respect him and so do the American players...Anyway, I look out my room window across the street and see a 22 story high rise building under what seems to appear as construction...again...as the top 8 floors were torched last month in a fire and wiped out the railings, windows etc...I was told no one died because it was not yet completed...funny, I thought I the residue of smoke on our floor when we first got off the elevator...and I was right...outside our hotel entrance, as I was waiting for the rest of the team, I looked up at our building and lo and behold, there was a room that had caught fire LAST WEEK and burned the room completely, plus wiped out the room ABOVE this floor (6th FLOOR)...keep in mind the floors are wood...1/4" carpet or Miniature Golf thickness and as green, and now I'm thinking 2 buildings, fire history, very interesting...indeed...THEN when we went to our sightseeing after lunch today, I asked Kevin, the translator, what happened to the modern building next to ours, that is closed down..."It had a fire...last year maybe..."...3 buildings, 3 fires...I'm thinking where is the Fire Exit on my floor? Will let you know my 'exit' strategy next...My posterior needs an adjustment right now...the shocks are wiped out on this bus and the cushion I have developed over the last 25 years is "wearing" thin...and here I thought I it was more of a "Rhino's" derriere...I have to keep reminding myself that this is a GA "blogit"...

Okay, wait'll you hear this one...Pancake, my wonderful "new" friend translator, whom I really love dearly, takes me aside and tells me that the Team Manager feels so bad that this "Asst. Manager" talks so much...He doesn't know why he is acting the way he is and apologizes...Well, let me tell you something, I immediately had a "summit" with the Team Manager NOT the Asst. and told him how much I respected the fact that he came to every practice, asked me questions and I felt HE was the extension of Sun Jun, the GM who hired me...He agreed and said how much he liked me as a coach and person...This was refreshing and reaffirming to me, as I "knew" that the Asst. Team Manager had his own agenda, up to this point...Let's say this: I am learning slowly, that there is a hierarchy, and I must "adjust" to it, which I am slowly understanding daily and applying great patience as a virtue also...

Dinner tonight: Duran and Steve approached me and concurred that we "didn't" need to eat Russian Chinese again at the same restaurant...So we stayed in the lobby together, as I did not want to disrespect the Players and others by sitting at the table and NOT eat dinner with them...Guess what? Yep, the ASS. Team Mgr. decided to sit down with me and discuss "why" I chose not to go to dinner...Frankly speaking, I really wasn't interested in walking a half mile back to the hotel up a couple of steep hills on loose rock...I was polite, and told him that out of respect for the players and others we did not want to disrespect anyone by sitting at the table and not eat anything...He said that "they" will prepare Western Style food for us tomorrow...I said thank you...looked away at Pancake, who now "knows" Coach tom and his disdain for this particular person, and said: "it is okay, Coach, our Chinese players do NOT like this food either..."...Oh great, I say to myself, the players themselves KNOW the difference between "their" homeland food as well as we do with our American Takeout Chinese food...

So, ol tommyboy here, puts on his thinking cap, and decides, hmmm, we need to find some good food...And to much surprise and delight, several CPOs from our beloved USN, walk into the hotel and see the three Americans sitting in the lobby and immediately say hello to us...We in turn were also happy to speak to other Americans besides ourselves and I was proud to even have the pleasure of meeting our Patriots at sea...It turns out that there are two ships in Port here and they will be leaving on Friday morning, heading off the wild blue yonder...Anyway, I asked them if they had found any good restaurants, and guess what? They had...a 100 year old establishment, less than 300 yds. from our hotel, no less, and they said the magic words to all of us: "Oh yeah, we had RIBS and mashed potatoes...", I said: "No, can't be...here? Are you sure it was ribs and taters?" The Chief Petty Officer said: "Oh yeah, we ate well..."...Of course I HAD to get that address and location, which I did as they had a guide who was with them give me the name and I took it from there...or so I thought, until the Ass. Team Mgr. did not want the two American players to leave with me...(to the Asst. Team Manager's credit, he was only looking out for me, as it is his responsibility representing the People's Republic AND the team, that nothing happens to me, such as abduction, assault, etc., as this was the first time any of the players or people from Changchun City had visited this Russian city)...So, I stood up, asked Kevin to "lead" me and took Pancake with me, told Steve and Dujuan I'd be back with some good food to make you happy...And I did return 20 mins. later...Didn't get ribs as the 6 CPOs took BOTH sides of the steer and all that was left were steaks...which I ordered along with Mashed potatoes and Steve and I had curly fries that were really good...not much salt, fresh and tasty...We definitely had a GREAT DINNER upon my return...Kevin, the Russian-Chinese-English translator was so helpful, I can't begin to tell you...We became newest best friends...His fiance' who gave us a ride back to hotel, was very impressive as well, as it turns out, she is a Russian lawyer...She went to law school for 5 years...Kevin is working on getting me some real nice "Moscow-this" pair of custom made shoes while I'm here...Let me tell you something: this style is something else...he and a friend came up with it, and it is da bomb!! I will take a couple of pictures for you and send them along...The leather is smooth and the style is unique, and anyone that knows how I "dress" for me to say anything fashionable is a shock in itself...

Tomorrow, Thursday, we will have practice in the afternoon and move from this "smokey" top restaurant into a closer-to-the-water establishment...can't wait to see if it makes "1 Star" at least...I will say this: many buildings in this city have been started, but like Greece, never completed...not sure why, but it is noticeable...Less I forget, on the way in from the airport yesterday, I actually saw more birds, different variety (even some black crows like we have) flying around...really interesting...I guess that Asian flu epidemic was in fact REAL...

You'll love this one: I went into the hotel bar and asked the bartender if he spoke English...he replied "no"...I ask him if he has a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, to which he says he drives a "Honda"...it was then I knew I may not get my enjoyable G and T...I ask him again if he has G and T, and he pulls up Gordon's...let me say this about Gordon's: if you have a lead-base paint brush that won't clean with thinner...TRY Gordon's as it will definitely "clean" anything that needs cleaning...so I tried the "Tonic" and imagined it was Bombay Sapphire along for the ride...and he told me he "drives" a Honda...I need to work on my Russian...no doubt...If I had Larry Stone with me now, Alyson Stone's father, I am sure he would have "found" Bombay Sapphire for me...

The Korean team in the tournament is staying here also...just found out the Japanese pulled out at the last minute, meaning that it is only vs. 2 teams instead of 3...Whatever, I am looking forward to experimenting again with our lineup and defensive attack...Back to the Koreans...met the two Americans that play for them, one from Iowa and the other from Jacksonville, Fla...nice fellows...it turns out that the Asst. Coach of team, Rick Ross, is from Carolina and pledges allegiance to both Duke and Wolfpack AND the Blue...never met chameleon in college basketball before...really nice fella, and I hope to visit with him again during the tournament...I have many friends in Korean basketball now, so it was fun to meet some of them again who remember me...

Man oh man, did I tell you how GOOOOOOOOD that steak was...I only ate one of two pieces and split the second one between Dujuan and Steve...they need it more than I do...One thing I have learned from coaching overseas: if you can keep your American players happy and aggressive, you will have happy times ahead...if not..."the party's over"...simple philosophy, but so true...The kids I teach in Bellevue at Eastside Catholic, know me well, and that is a given when it comes to making them happy to train and take their games up a notch...

I'm tired, bushed, fatigued and ready to hit the pillow-with-no-feathers prop with my head...The fellas across the road, building an endless building, start early, around 6ish...I gotta get up same time, blow dry my hair, and go down to the lil restaurant and get a double espresso...YES, I found my first machine in Asia...I am so excited...I love Green Tea, but when my toes started looking green, I decided a lil coffee bean wouldn't hurt me right now...

Hope you enjoy my "blogits" as much as I enjoy reflecting upon my days and time here...If you don't, that's okay too, just leave the page, it's that simple, you won't hurt my feelings one way or another...For those who "do" enjoy my ramblings and what nots, thanks for allowing me to share what's happening over here...It really helps me "get" through the doldrums...And I really enjoy sharing with you about my team and their uniquely different personalities...Coach tom

*Post Script on Asst. Team Manager: everything's cool...We have a mutual respect admiration society developing after he tried to "help" with our passing drills and couldn't keep up with the speed of the players running to run out for a fast break layup...I think it was then that he "knew" that my job indeed was one of teaching things the right way and structure...we have been smiling since...I have no animosity towards him at all...He greets me and I to him...I will win him over by the end of the trip...Shoot, I'm even thinkin of buyin him a "shot" of something, out of respect...

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