Two Days Before First Game...and the drama continues...

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October 26, 2007, Friday morning, and the drama continues here in Changchun City with the Jilin Tigers team...Just got a call from Steve Castleberry, one of the two Americans on team, who received a call from Pancake (yeah, I know, I "use" to get the calls first as Head Coach, now I get a player calling me with the info...), saying that "practice may be cancelled as the GM is meeting with the players privately and that I will call you if there will be practice this morning..."...Now THAT is a classic story in itself, in that the Chinese players have more "private" meetings than any team I've ever heard, even more than the Bronx Bombers in the Reggie Jax days of old...I mean, c'mon, are we a "team" or 10 players, two Chinese coaches and THEN the Americans? Needless to say, I have no particular reaction to this, other than I think we better win the first game at home or some of these players may be on their way to somewhere colder than what's expected here this Winter...It's really interesting, my non-reaction to this scenario right now, considering I would have been very upset if still the Head Coach and these meetings were to take place without me (one of which DID happen and I expressed to Pancake that in the future I would like to be included in these "special" meetings with Chinese players, "to learn and observe" their reactions, body language to what is being said to them by a non team person...He said that this is the way the CBA is, foreigners are not included in "special" Chinese players meetings...I then informed Pancake that there is NOT ONE NBA foreigner today that would be excluded from a "team" meeting...EVER!! That "team" means just that: TEAM...He said to me at that time: "I feel you Coach...I feel you..."...Imagine my reaction to that expression from a Chinese translator...Guess he's watched a number of HBO movies over the years...

So, as I sit here pondering today's delay, I only wonder about our "new" Head Coach, Gao...I really like this coach...He is a teacher, and a very good one...He is positive with the players, yet will speak with a voice inflection that needs no translation and my concurrence with his reaction to a not-so-smart play...He also suffers from Diabetes at the age of 43...He told me that he injects himself with insulin daily and has to be careful of what he eats and drinks...I gotta tell you, as coaches we do "suffer" some physical abnormalities that GMs have no clue about unless they too played the game and coached as well...What a non-player GM doesn't realize is that we really love our jobs, preparing practice plans daily, making notes on certain opponents tendencies when we're looking at film; thinking about words of wisdom and humor to inspire players, both individually and as a team, and of course the challenge of being technically prepared for the competitions...Once you have this adrenaline "flow" in your veins as a former player, you never lose it as a teacher and coach, trust me...I had to share the aforementioned because I worked for a GM back in the day who was so caught up in himself that he really never "got it" when it came to the people who worked with him, for him and the Club...especially when people busted their humps everyday for the "team"...he was more into making "money" for himself than what the people did to represent the team in the community for parents, kids and coaches...This "quirk" finally caught up to him, and he learned a hard lesson, but I guess he's happy because he's got "his" money in the bank after all these years...God Bless him...

Just got a call from Pancake...practice is "on"..gotta run...will complete later...

Post Practice Reflections: the "cuckoo's nest" is still intact, folks, as what I'm about to share with you now is hard to believe...I've never been one to seek vindication and/or understanding in my many years of coaching both domestically and internationally, but the issues that follow this team are quite extraordinary to say the least...When I got on the bus, I noticed that we had fewer players than the full contingent of 16 members plus Team Mgr., Asst. Coach YoYo (just returned from the U of Memphis visit with other CBA asst. coaches), Head Coach and Trainer, plus Pancake...I sit next to the Head Coach and he greets me well and I say "Ola" which is Chinese for "okay"...in Greek "okay" is pronounced "okala"...language is really intriguing to me as I make my way around the globe...back to the "Light Bus" story...so we now are not making our way to the Auditorium this morning, but going to our normal practice facility, and I don't ask why, I just go along for the "ride", as there is no need to know what is going on, they'll tell me if they choose to, otherwise they'll keep their "personal" issues to themselves...Once we arrived to the gym, Pancake catches up to me and says: "Coach, you must keep this to yourself, but we have 7 players who are on "strike"...I said they're what? "They are on strike...the substitute players, plus team captains are not happy with management about all the changes and especially their contracts and chose to "strike" this morning before we got on the bus...Do you understand this word "strike"?"...I replied of course, a strike occurs when employees are upset with management over their work conditions and wages...I then ask him if Coach knew anything about this, and he said "no", as everyone was to be on the bus at 8:30am to go to the Auditorium for practice...He was shocked and hurt by this situation at this time and "do you feel me, Coach" question at the end of his sentence...Wow, talk about the "nest" that's been built so far this early season, and now this...Now, I knew "why" I am here still, to help this young coach and young team, get through the muck that has evolved over the last couple of weeks...I ask Pancake to join me in conversation with Coach Gao, as I wish to let him know that I "feel" for him now in this current issue with the team, and if there is anything I can do to help him, please don't hesitate to ask me, as I shared that my experiences in the NBA also had players "hold out" over contract issues, only never two days before the first game...He tells Pancake that he appreciates my feelings and that there are no "secrets" with me, that together we understand what we must do to prepare the team and try to be successful, and thank you for staying with me and the team this season..."...Dang, I got one of those emotional "flushes" one experiences when you least expect your behavior to react to such words...As I said before: I like this young coach very much...he is wise and secure in who he is and what he represents professionally...I predict that someday he will become the Chinese National Coach...he's got that kind of pedigree in him...And I'll be rooting for him all the way too, when that opportunity arises for him...It'll probably be several years out, but when it inevitably happens, you "heard and read it" here first!! Okay, so now we have practice this afternoon (supposedly the "strike" is over) around 11:30pm your time on Thursday and 2:30pm our time...And we're headed to the Auditorium...I will describe the archaic "space" known as their arena...It was built by the Russians in 1951 and the asbestos ceiling tiles are STILL intact...Yesterday afternoon's practice was at this Auditorium, our first in this facility...Now, you gotta visualize this: we walk onto the floor, and at both ends of the court are suspended 60'x20' color banners of each player on the team!! And across the floor as you look up towards the last row (this place seats 4500 max) there is the most incredible "sheet" nylon poster of the team, unlike anything I have ever seen before: no seams, no overlays, an incredible 60'x200' suspended wall covering...on the opposite side wall is the another one, without pictures, just Chinese character writings, stating the following: "If we win we will love you...if we lose we will love you...but if you do not give your best effort we not love you"...Now that is what I call true "fan appreciation" for the love of the game, as it is indeed a game of "best effort" and always has been...And this theme compliments my basketball summer program: Best Effort Camps and Clinics, both programs "free" to kids and volunteer youth coaches...Back to the "relic" stage about to be opened again for business in two days...The floor is slick, no not slick, it's a smooth as my bald head, little traction...it's cold, as the only "heat"is radiated behind the benches for games, hah, who says Red Auerbach's tactics in the Old Garden didn't originate from this facility...I am going to get the "Stick It Pad" you see teams use today when they get ready to check into the game...That will really help us and our defensive positions also...I'm going to make sure that it's kept on our side of the court, and if the opponents choose to "step and wipe" on it during a FT attempt or side out play, that's fine...I gotta believe that the materials and item itself is made in China, no? Anyway, it's better than it was last season, according to Pancake and a couple of players...Chubby Checker would have had no problemos teaching the "Twist" on this floor, trust me...One end of the court has a basket that is probably 91/2 feet as the rim is bent down somewhat...I brought it to the attention of YoYo, and he said it will be corrected by game time...The seats on the bench are recycled cafeteria plastics seats (remember those in high school) and let me tell you this: they're dirty beyond grime...I took a tissue and got it wet and wiped one of the seats and the tissue was beyond dark brown, it was just plain dark...Well, glad I went through this exercise as I am bringing a washcloth to wipe down my seat on the bench EVERY GAME...I gotst me some new threads and definitely don't want to have to get it cleaned after ONE game, right? We ended up scrimmaging for two quarters and then did some conditioning drills after that...It was an eery experience to me, as the players were extremely "quiet" and almost starstruck by the nylon images suspended at both ends of the court...I watched as each of them looked at themselves and marveled in their own way to this feature and honor...Fortunately, the coaches are not included in this display...Good thing, I probably would have looked like a "poster child" for the Fuji Film Blimp, remember that dirigible? We got through the scrimmage and practice without injuries and that was a GREAT sign and sigh of relief for the coach...

My take on the "strike" issue with the "Unlucky Seven"? The level of importance to doing things the right way when it comes to administering a professional basketball team is way way low, definitely NOT a priority, as you can probably imagine by now...What will happen to the players who chose to do this? No idea, but I would think there must be some concessions by management if they are to enter the season with a team intact...Fingers crossed here, for sure...Will let you know what Wang Bo says to me about this whole thing...Guess who I ran into for the first time in two weeks? SunJun, the old GM, the Larry Bird of China basketball, at our hotel and going to a private dining room with a couple of his friends...He sees Steve C-Berr and myself and comes over and shakes our hands and I give him a hug and ask him how he is doing and all, knowing full well he doesn't speak a lick of English, so I do what I do best, "sign language" fishing pole and card playing and he gives me a "thumbs up" on both with laughter and a huge smile...Little did I realize this "wizard" knew well in advance what was about to go "down" the next day...the "strike"...Anyway, his "signing" to me was that he would call me soon...not sure if that'll happen, but wanted him to know that I am his friend and miss him...Nice moment in Changchun City...

I keep getting asked about my diet and eating habits...Let's put it this way, I munch on a breakfast bar in the morning, which I am going to need some more sent this way soon, and have my Green Tea, having "weaned" myself from coffee grounds...For lunch, please don't go "oh no, not YOU tom!!" when I tell you where I eat lunch 3-4X a week: McDonald's...Yep...Fish Sandwich...4 pieces of fried wings and thighs and Not-so-French Fries and a large sweetened Ice Tea...The fish sandwich is not bad, as it is the only mayonaised based additives I've found in China...But, I am going to stop this "visit" also, taking the first step today and not accompanying Steve C-Berr to MacDs...I have dinner on occasion in the Western style dining room, which is a terrific covered buffet...The names of some of the dishes are as entertaining as any Chaucer tale, believe me...I will have a list of the titles of some of these offerings and we will both have a chuckle together...Classic!! How are my sleeping habits now? Really good...Drs. Pepto and Pismo (Pizzmo, use your imagination on that one...) have taken a "leave of absence" from my daily, weekly, monthly life at this time, thank God, and I sleep undisturbed by the churning, burning machinations of my stomach...I really enjoy watching the old black and white movies produced by Chinese directors...these classics depict a story of oppression by the Japanese over many years and how this rule and order shaped the country into what they are today: farmers, working laborers, teachers and intellectuals, all independent of one another but ever so sensitive to their cultural ties towards communism...As I said before, their standards and operations, both civic and militarily don't scare me or bother me as much as our dependence globally upon their resources for manufacturing goods, at the expense of cheap labor...The need for equal rights when it comes to a salary structure is something that will be the greatest challenge and achievement this country could ever experience, in my opinion, and that doesn't mean much here...This city is well maintained and kept clean, for the most part...other parts of the city have structural and plumbing necessities, that I am not sure will ever get the attention it demands until their currency comes in line with the Euro and Dollar...Imagine this: One US dollar equals 7.50 Yuan...One US Dollar in Russia equals 25 Rubles...3 Chinese Yuans equals ONE Russian Ruble...and yet this country has over 9 Trillion Dollars in their coffers...No wonder we "mint" currency as often as we do, it would be too easy today to counterfeit our dollars...Right now, in China, they have a HUGE issue of counterfeit currency affecting the common folks...Everytime I use Chinese Yuan to pay for something they always inspect it first, to check for counterfeit...Street vendors evidently are the "preyed-upon" victims here in China, as their lives are one without a proper education nor the advantage of news information, thus relying on visits from Police and other civil servants who have to communicate and investigate their business transactions and get descriptions, etc...Okay, I'm tired now, and my fingertips feel like a pianist's after a couple of hours practicing "new" notes he's created for music...Less I forget, Papasan Pete Newell and my younger brother, Roger, live together in Rancho Sante Fe, California, where the firestorm raged for days this past week, and had to evacuate their townhome on Monday morning...For awhile there, we had no idea where they relocated to in SD, but finally got information yesterday that they were safe from harm's way...I spoke with Papasan this morning, afternoon his time, and he was quite talkative, sharing with me how upset that he couldn't have come back two days earlier as the fire didn't get "that close" to us...He was more worried about his personal effects in his home and some guys sneaking into the development and stealing items from him and his neighbors...Nothing to report there, all household effects in order and no imminent danger from the fire at this time...He did bemoan the fact that "can you imagine this, I had to pay $175 per night to sleep in a hotel!! I mean, for what? The water is the same, the soap hasn't changed, the bed wasn't that good, and they charge you $175..."...Told him he'd probably be able to get a writeoff since he was displaced and all...He liked hearing that part...by the way, he's 92 strong years old...haha...Shout outs again to C-Berr's Moms, Barbara, sorry my blogging hasn't been as steady as your desire to read what's happening in Changchun...hope this update helps you...You got a wonderful son in Steve...He's a GREAT young man, and you should be so proud...He works his tail off everyday, and tries to improve his game at both ends of the court...I realize now that he has never really been taught Post Play in his young basketball career...He's making remarkable strides, taking his game up a "notch"...Shout out to my family, especially Bo, who is prepping for the GMAT Test to enter grad school for business...Shout out to Big D, hope his trip to the fair ways of the Oregon coast was fun and relaxing, and the last shoutouts to Greg Witt his family, and Larry Stone, the "Stoneman" who built the platforms for our exposition game last June...remember that event? The 11' hoop game? Still think about that event often...I'm hoping my Eastside Catholic Crusaders will have a great post season in football this year, as they have an excellent teacher/coach/model in Bill Marsh and his staff...Blessings to all, thanks for sending me your emails and support thoughts...I love them all...Coach tom

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