Do you believe in Magic...as the song goes on...

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November 17, 2007...Saturday afternoon...on the road again, in the deep south east of China for the next two hours...Where are we headed? Hmmm, good question...I know it has X's-I's-Gs in the name of the airport we arrived, but couldn't for the life of me pronounce literately the name...sorry, hope you understand the perils of traveling in a foreign country and the language has characters not letters for the most part and this makes translation difficult...Now to the exciting part of this trip again...We won...we won..we won again...This time out it was versus the #1 team in the League: Bayi Red Star Army Team (kind of like the Military Academy Stateside), and the reigning Champions...They're considered the Celtics of the CBA, and have the most players on the National Team, 6, which I thought was 4 until I heard differently this morning...Where to begin: we were as focused as I've ever seen us before a game, really, and that "sign" to any basketball coach is a positive read on his/her team...Our pregame meeting at the hotel 2 hours prior to our departure for the gym was really good...Coach Gao had Coach YoYo read a story a true story about a young girl who needed eye surgery and the family could not afford the operation, so the little girl started collecting bottles, plastics and other recyclables on her own and began to help "save" for the operation along with her parents...Little did the girl realize that her mother was terribly ill and passed away a couple of years later, never complaining and still working up to the end to help pay for her daughter's medical attention...Well, it ended up that the Mother took her money to the hospital with her and asked the doctor to please apply it to her daughter's needs and not her own if he would be so kind...The doctor was so moved by this he gathered other colleagues and shared this incredible story of love and sacrifice with them, and soon there was a "fund" for this girl's operation after her mother passed away and soon her surgery was successfully completed...So Coach Gao goes on to tell the team that "I know this has nothing to do with you and basketball at this time, but I want you to know how important it is to never take anything for granted, to understand and accept adversity as a life lesson and to know that there are people out there who care for others when it seems there isn't..."...Well, I gotta tell you something, he was so passionate with his explanation of "why" he had the story read, that I really thought I knew what the essence of the whole story was..."caring for one another even when you are in pain yourself..."...The players were non-responsive like most basketball players when a coach speaks to them, yet their body language spoke otherwise as they looked at one another and nodded, passive in verbiage, but "knowing" that this game was going to be special...I sensed that also and when it was my turn to speak at the end, I kept it simple and stated: "Don't be surprised by winning this game tonight...anticipate it, visualize the feeling that you came in ready to meet the challenge, both physically and fundamentally and left victorious...."...The other two coaches also spoke of the tradition of the Red Army team and how teams allowed them to intimidate them and that had more to do with their mystique than anything...

Game Time: The Bayi arena is small in comparison to NBA arenas and conveniences, trust me...in fact, there are very few basketball arenas in China that could match the venues in both D-1 and NBA markets...It'll be interesting to "see" how the NBA plans to "capitalize" on this market someday...and they will, trust me...This is the first road venue where I actually saw a lot of kids with parents...it's noticeable because it caught me by surprise too...The ages of the kids with parents and other peers was between 4 and 15, boys and girls...Of course this is the reigning Champion and perhaps the other teams are not a "model" of success that parents want their children to watch elsewhere...I don't know but it is somewhat of a phenomena...

Game Recap> Jilin NE Tigers 86 and Bayi 77: Steve C-Berr came out in the first qtr. and established right away that he was going to go right at Wong Zhi Zhi, former NBA 1st round player with the Clippers and then Dallas...He's about 6'10", left handed, shoots the 3 as well as anyone skilled that's left open and is about as aggressive as porcupine with no quills...Steve got into this guy's comfort zone early and set the tone for us, no question...He plays with great spirit and heart, and under a lot of pressure for this game and the next two, as the new GM brought in the former Post player here from a year ago, to "try out" in practice vs. Steve, as the deadline for making changes comes up at the end of the month...Think about this: EVERY WEEK we've had some type of distraction going on, and now this to start our road trip (I found out the day of our second game vs. Shanghai and was told to tell Steve "not to worry...it's only a tryout..."), and Steve who is one of the hardest working players I've ever had the pleasure of teaching and working with, has this "anchor" upon his shoulders going into that game and the next 4...so what does he do: goes out and gets 30 points and 14 boards and LEADS us over Shanghai...then last night, the "try out" player arrives in the morning goes through shootaround with us and then sits behind our bench as Steve is given the "nod" to start...I had no idea that Coach Gao was going to start him as this was the first time Steve would have started for the team under this coach...So as Steve is getting ready to go on the court, he gets a pep talk from his newest close friend and fellow American teammate D Tate and then I catch him on the way to Center Jump...Hey Steve! Yeah Coach..."go out there and have fun..."...That's all I said to him...And did he ever...he outplayed their "superstar" and we won...hmmm, that means that with Steve in the lineup playing 30 mins. or more we're 2-0 and he's averaging 23pts. and 11 boards...Now I'm wonderin "how" are they going to justify changing players IF Steve continues to have success in the Post and the team keeps winning? Good question, Tom, I'm sure they don't want you to ask that...Okay, I'll speak up when asked, and I know I'll be asked...We led after one qtr. 26-24...down 4 at half 47-43, then up by 8 at the end of 3, I believe (I'm still waiting for the stat sheet after ANY freakin game...), and then the basketball angels from Jilin traveling with us, guided our perimeter 3's like you wouldn't believe, thus eliminating any discrepancy of calls and issues with the Officials because how can you call something that isn't there when the ball goes in the basket...we were up at one point by 17 with 6 mins. to go, and then got lazy in our halfcourt closeouts, allowing back to back 3's and giving them life with 4 something to play...Coach Gao took a timeout and we regrouped and I was ready to strangle Wong Bo, our team leader and minutes per game leader, over 45 or 48 mins. average...I know, I feel the same as you do: "Why?"...it's a Chinese 'thing' here for coaches to play National Team players as many minutes as possible, thinking that they will get the benefit of calls etc...Dr. Naismith I am sorry to inform you, the translation of "your" game was misquoted in 10,000 different characters in this country, thus the reason for "strange" things that represent basketball now in China...I am hoping to convince Coach Gao, to rest Wong Bo in the last 1:30 of each of the first 3 qtrs. and then he gets another two minutes at the break and is refreshed...right now, he's a liability on defense in the 2nd half as far as I'm concerned when we need stops...He knows this and apologizes, now I have to convince Coach Gao...I think he'll listen to my logic...hope so for our team's sake...

Lockeroom Aftermath: Wow, talk about happy "campers"...this group was so elated and excited for the outcome, I was caught up into as well, coughing all the while as we all hugged and bumped chests and NODDED, similar to that aforementioned "nod" in our pregame meeting...eerie, yet real, I know there are coaches out there who at one time or another have had a similar experience, winning a game that you weren't suppose to...Isn't it a sense of satisfaction to and your staff to know that your preparations and focus on team prepared them for that moment in the lockeroom after the contest? I really think so...

We are in Xingtai, Fujian area of South China...going to play vs. a really quick and fast uptempo team as I stated before...their name is SBS or Fujian team...As I said before well coached by J Prada, former assistant coach with Paul Westhead at Loyola University, los Angeles...Paul by the way, is the former WNBA Head Coach of the Phoenix Mercury, 2007 Champions of the WNBA...he is currently on the staff as PJ Carlesimo's assistant...I mention this because Paul will introduce a progressive style of uptempo offense that will have teams wondering who to guard, switch and help out by the time the mid season rolls around...the Sonics might be losing now, but trust me, between PJ and Paul, you've got a couple of really sound basketball minds with a young team that will be exciting to watch develop...My personal thoughts on losing the Sonics: it's a terrible shame that a storied franchise such as this one, with all the wonderful stories over the years and characters who wore the Green and Gold when their careers began or ended here will be lost stories of old, I'm afraid, because there is a generation of young people who will miss out on the historical influence of the Sonics to the communities at large...I think of all the people, current and past who represented the Sonics on the floor, off the court, over the phones, in public relations, on playground events supporting youth sports and education, and more importantly the "model" they gave to young aspirants, captivated by the aura of gifted athletes who once were a part of this special community known as the Northwest...I still find it hard to read and believe that Mr. Bennett will indeed abandon this locale in the end...

Okay, I'm coughing again, so I gotta get some needed rest and take some medicine, a concoction of honey and bear liver extract and something else that they won't tell me, but it seems to be working better than NyQuil at this point...How's it taste? Hmmm, let me try it again here and I'll tell you...Imagine honey mixed with silly puddy, you know the kind that your kids use to play with and eat too, and we all thought that they would die or get sick doing so...and they didn't...so we tasted a little bit ourselves and could NOT figure out for the life of us WHY would they eat THIS!?!..yeah, that baaaaaaaad...arghhh!! Take care, have a great weekend, and those kids out there that I've been fortunate to train over the last 4-5 years who are now "licensed" to drive and are reading my blogs: DRIVE safely, drive with care and more importantly drive with a purpose (visualize where you're going, how your getting there in traffic and KNOWING that there might be jam somewhere along the way, so relax, the Pizza won't go cold and your friends will still be there...)...God Bless...Coach tom

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