Home Unsweetened Home...2 losses...but the Chinese Turkey was pretty tasty...

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November 24, 2007...Saturday morning on a flight to Beijing to play two away games vs. another alphabet and linguists challenge...This I know, I was never an Asian in a previous life because there is an incredible mind discipline that is required to learn Chinese, Japanese and Korean, all languages that I have been fortunate enough to experience listening to, and picking up personal greetings in my coaching career...I say this out of respect for the various cultures that we as human beings occupy on this planet, and with great reverence towards each culture's way of life, from Family, business, holiday, birth, death and of course the celebrations of marriage and New Years, which seem to be their "Times Square" extravaganza that is more traditional than our imbibing "party atmosphere" socials...Get this: the Chinese literally celebrate their new year with family gatherings, friendly gatherings, office gatherings, community gatherings, organizational gatherings and any-kind-of gathering you wish to celebrate in the New Year...and it lasts a couple of WEEKS!!! Now, understanding this, there are two things to keep in mind and remember: they won't do business during this time with anyone, they won't start wars, they won't hurt anybody, and they will be very respectful of others (which they are already for the most part in my observations), meaning that we can rest assured that this fast accelerating culture is on the edge of influencing the standards of living, wealth, capitalism (under more of a socialist rather communist infrastructure>their last General Assembly in October passed resolutions allowing the "freedom of expression of religious beliefs...as long as it is NOT public and without the approval of the provincial government"<, class separation being more and more defined by the large number of educated citizens and the labor forces that are loyal to the country...This I predict: as long as they do nothing to educate children and adults on the hazards of smoking, given the terrible smog issues of these rapid developing business zones in every major city, they will have an epidemic health issue BEYOND anything that the modern world has EVER seen or heard in this century...I would venture to say that at least 8 out 10 men ages 21-60 SMOKE cigarettes!! They smoke on the job, they smoke in their cars, taxis, homes, in public places (even some of the arenas), restaurants, yet there are some venues where it is not allowed but they are in such a minority and isolated that the only benefit would be to the workers themselves who are not exposed to second hand smoking...Get this: there is actually a cigarette filter that is "Vitamin C Enriched" and comes in a pack of 10...It costs about $4 USD, and many OLDER men in their 40s on up, start using this method of smoke-aides...Now I don't know about you, but if they, the Chinese can develop this type of "filter" with Vitamin C blending with the smoke of a cigarette, they gotta be able to come up with a "Smog-free Filter Mask" that has Multiple Vitamins, right? When it hits the market, I'm headin to LA and New Joisey with suitcases full of same...put your orders in early!! Another interesting tidbit on their cigarettes: the peasants smoke cheap cigarettes...the affluent packs that cost between $6-$30 A PACK!! Yes, $30 a pack...The leaf is government owned and operated meaning that money is being made off every pack of cigarette sold in this country...I know that they use these funds for road improvement, social welfare and development of technology and education, but the real issue here is that the monies gained should go towards education and awareness and prevention of smoking, otherwise they will be faced with the catastrophic costs of dealing with major health issues, which I'm sure they are now BUT keeping under wraps...$6-$30 per pack!!! Wow...Okay, enuff of my observations and commentary on Chinese culture from my Irish perspective...on to my basketball trilogies...If I offended anyone with the aforementioned observations, I apologize and hope it helps you understand how important it is to teach our children NOW on the hazards of smoking while there is still time...If they are given the education of vitamins as a necessity for good health and THIINK that smoking with a Vitamin C filter is cool and won't give you cancer...Oh boy, somebody pass out the "smart pills" please...

November 20th, 'our' celebration of Thanksgiving Day in the RedBuds Hotel...Myself, Steve Castleberry, DaJuan Tate and his bride, RaRa, together with Babacar, sat down to our traditional T Day meal after practice...We only had an hour and a half to "enjoy" our dinner together, as we had to catch a cab and go across town to the Chinese players' hotel where we would review a video of our next game, which was last night...Forgive me if I don't expound on the misery of late, suffering through two consecutive home losses when I thought we had turned the corner as a Team on our last road trip...Back to the Chinese Thanksgiving Dinner...the day before I met with the Manager, Andy Zu about seeing whether or not we could have a "special" American traditional dinner prepared for us in the hotel...I asked him kindly if this were not an imposition upon his Chef and staff...He was so excited that we would even consider staying at the hotel to eat there and have the confidence in their Chef to prepare such a meal...He told me to come back after our morning practice and visit with him again, but he saw no problems with the affair...I returned to the hotel and together with C-Berr, we met with Andy and the Executive Chef, who was more than willing and excited to take on this request...I wrote out our menu: COOKED Turkey...Mashed Potatoes...Green Beans...Gravy...Cranberry Sauce (that one was never translated properly as we ended up getting "bolognaise sauce" as the apparent "red" sauce that I was talking about...go figure...), and of course Pumpkin Pie...Folks let me tell you this, the Chef tells me he "found" a Turkey in Changchun and will cook the whole bird for us, "no problem" was the answer always during this brief meeting...I came away and so did C-Berr with the idea that, really, here in China, we will have Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie...Now all we had to do was practice this afternoon and show up for dinner 6 hours later...6:30 pm in the RedBuds Western Restaurant, 2nd floor, table reserved for a party of 5...Here is how the dinner was served: we had salads with thousand island dressing that had a 'kick' to it, and let me tell you: the legumes had no chance to NOT be consumed by this table...Good start so far...Did I mention the fresh sesame' rolls we also asked for? Served...ummm and good...then came the Chef's Special concoction> "Pumpkin Puree Soup", so far so good...and then the main course: each plate had a Matterhorn-sized serving of mashed potatoes, healthy serving of green beans, slices of red Turkey that went halfway up the side of the potato mound, and hot dark gravy...About the "red" Turkey...I'm checking this featherless bird out like the USDA/FDA/ATF agencies as I have never seen a "red" Turkey sliced or slices for that matter in my life...I tell Babacar to "hold on a minute" (he's Muslim) until I find out that this really was a bird they prepared and not a young pig (seriously)...Now you gotta see me trying to speak Chinglish regarding the following questions: 1) "could you ask the Chef to come to the table, please..." Answer: "you want more soup?"...and here I thought I was really making progress after 3 months on this floor in the hotel...2) "No, I need to find out how long the Turkey was cooked for...can you get the Chef for me...? Answer: "Just a moment, please...and out comes the Chef with the Cranberry Sauce ala Bolognaise presentation...3) "Niaho Chef...the soup was delicious...thank you so much...I am curious, is this Turkey or Pork...?" Answer: "This is small special Turkey, found today in Changchun, we soak in special Chinese sauce and cook until meat fall off bones...no pork, special Chinese Turkey..."...Me: "Whew, smiling at Babacar, looking next at C-Berr who has already consumed 3/4 of his plate and also DTate who leveled his mountain of potatoes bypassing "whatever that is I'm not going to let my potatoes get cold..."...and the Chef and his 4 servants looking at me to see if I will NOW eat my "red" Turkey with hot dark gravy on top...Folks, it was "derlicious" as only Pancake can say in his melodic monotone English...I took each bite and looked at all of the attending supervisors, smiling and thumbs upping everyone who made eye contact with me...Fortunately during this brief exchange, there was a Chinese translator seated nearby who overheard my questions and their answers and came to the rescue to interpret the pained responses of the Chef at this time, only then was he beginning to relax when he was able to share this 'special' Chinese recipe with us...All of us finished our dinner well and next came the Pumpkin Pie, and it had lil bit of whipped cream (we each had two slices) and fresh boysenberry jam if we wanted more sweetness to it...Now that was tasty as well...Overall dinner experience, based on a 1-10 scale: ********* count' em, NINE STARS...Trust me, the Chefs in China take GREAT personal pride in their cuisine, from freshness to presentation,meaning that you can't find a 3 or 4 Star restaurant in Changchun that won't have some delicacy that appeals to your Epicurean desires...Before I move on to our Friday night loss by 7 points to a team that again we should have beat, let me say this, what happened at our afternoon practice preceding our "Thanksgiving Dinner" was an incredible scenario...Remember I told you that "expect the unexpected and that way there is no shock and despair...?"...Well, as I suspected, the unexpected happened which C-Berr and myself knew was expected to happen...Pancake tells Steve and myself to "report right away to the Manager's Office, he want to speak to you and Castleberry now, you must hurry...", this coming on the heels of my leading our warmup drill...So, Steve looks at me, I look at him and we both figure, well what the hell maybe we're both going home on the same ticket...Turns out the Manager had a sportswriter in this meeting, imagine Steve Kelley sitting in on a Sam Presti meeting with Sene and an Asst. Coach, and through Pancake's translation wants to know if (1)"do you mind if I smoke..." (of course not, my meter's still "good" for another 20+ years...)...(2) "would you like special Green Tea...Now he's talking, I breathe in the smoke from 2 cigarettes (Team Manager also in this meeting), and there's 4 of us "filtering" out the smoke (you don't open windows in Changchun when it's 26 degrees outside...it's too cold and you might catch a cold before you catch second and third hand smoke cancer), so I figure "cool, at least there are 6 other lungs workin with me here in this meeting that AREN'T smoking...Anyway, the tea table is set, the conversation for the benefit of the sports columnist, who by the way was mute the whole time BUT was watching me with great curiosity and me him as well (geez I'm glad I don't get "graded" for my colloquial liberties here, forgive me Sister Mary Margaret, rest her soul), and the Manager looks at me and says through Pancake: "it has been one month now that we have been together, you have had a chance to eat with me, drink with me and see how I operate, what is your opinion? Do you think I am doing a good job? Tell me..."...oh hell yes, y'all know I'm going to 'milk' that cow right now, and I reply in my most politically and ambassadorially correct way (new Chinglish word created in Changchun by Coach tom, similar in meaning to 'cordially', but a lil more pissazz to the meaning I think), that indeed we have worked well together, you have been positive with the players and supportive of their efforts even under the most trying circumstances and embarrassing losses, and for that it takes a strong leader to do this...I am enjoying the opportunity to help you and Coach Gao and the players with their development and ongoing skills improvement for the success of this season and future seasons...It is unfortunate that we have faltered in the 4th qtrs. of recent games, but I believe as long as we can learn from our errors and continue to play hard and together, we have a chance to turn things around..."...He smiled and thanked me and the Team Manager also acknowledged my comments...Understand this: when I address these people about these kids and Coach Gao, I truly mean every word about their character, spirit and willingness to learn and improve...my only issue is that our "learning curve" is somewhere between New Zealand and Antarctica...That is where I get really bamfuzzled by our losses: "what are we learning here, what can we do differently that will help each us to coach and play more consistently...?...The Manager now moves onto Steve, whose hot tea has become ice tea since he is nervous as you could imagine for the inevitable "we like you a lot...BUT..." comments, exchange, and lo and behold, the Manager fulfills Steve's vision: "we really appreciate everything you have brought to the team, Castleberry, you are a true professional (UNBELIEVABLY TRUE statement there!), the players respect you, the coaches appreciate your efforts and you played very well in the last 4 games, but now, the CBA and Chinese Government, wants many teams who are not playing so well to make changes, and we are going to change you with Babacar...We hope that you would stay and train with us and coach newell to improve your skills and help Babacar with his contributions to the team, and also that you accept our offer of your contract staying the same, and you can travel with team on road trips also..."...Well Steve looks at me and I smile, one because as "sad" as he felt coming in, the same sadness became joy because he earned the respect and right to "stay" with this team because of his spirit and work ethic, meaning that he will help "bang" the other centers in practice: Bear and Babacar...I was so happy with Steve's response because he truly understood right then and there, that it was over for him this season, his first in China, but that he earned the respect of the coaches, teammates and press to warrant an invitation to stay...I then chimed in and said that we would also like to help the Junior team if possible when not in conflict with the Men's team...that too, made a favorable impression upon all that were sitting there, that these two Americans are "unlike" any we have ever encountered professionally with the Jilin Northeast Tigers...I then ask if we may go back to practice as we have an important game tomorrow night and I need to work with Babacar's preparations...They excuse us, and on the way back, Steve and I have a wonderful conversation about how he "earned" this right to stay, when other Americans will not get the benefit of an invitation and return back to the States...Steve is such a GREAT Team Player, I can't begin to tell you...NOTE to Steve's Parents: you have raised a wonderful, honest-to-goodness Son, that you would be so proud of and I know each of you are, but let me tell you, he's special, and I am blessed for having the opportunity to have met him and now to continue developing his skills so he can continue to play professionally...(and by the way, the 'reason' I was invited to the meeting according to Pancake is because I recommended Steve in the first place and spoke so highly of his work ethic and professionalism, and they felt I was like a "father" to Steve while he was here and playing...Sheeet, now I really feel old...Told Steve don't even go there with the "Pops" crap, etc...we both laughed at Pancake's information...

Postgame Loss/Reflections from 2nd in week home loss: I can now relay this reflection as my Advil has kicked in and I don't have a headache anymore thinking about it...Here's our "stat" line the last two home losses: Defensively> we forced 18 turnovers...they shot under 45% on average...but shot above 38% from 3 pt. line...we were outrebounded on average by ONLY two boards...Offensively> we TURNED the ball over on average of 18 times for the two home losses, and then we shot under 40% from 2's and under 16% from 3's...Now my "logic" and less than statistical mindframe tells me that if we force 18 turnovers and are even on the boards that our defense is not doing so bad, right? Right! But then again when WE turn the ball over 18 times, half of which (or more) are unforced>ballhandling, 3 seconds, poor passing etc.), then we have to shoot better than 50% from the 2's area and 45% from the 3's as our FTAs and FTMs are on average 10-12 MORE than opponents...Simple logic I think...shared these thoughts with Coach Gao and he agreed, we need to spend more time in our practices working on execution and taking care of the ball...Technical note here to youth coaches: if your team is turning the ball over regularly, look at your previous week's practice regimen...Did you have any ballhandling drills included in your warmups? Did you practice halfcourt situations with live defense, so players would understand "timing" and execution? Did you emphasize "crisp" passes as a practice discipline so as to carry over to game proficiency? These are all elements that are needed consistencies to be an effective and successful halfcourt team...I refuse to go into anymore detail about Friday's loss...our record right now is 3-8, like a weak April-May-June pitcher's record...Babacar, our new replacement Senegal/American Post player, will help us eventually, but we missed Steve last night for sure...

Upcoming Sunday night game: November 25th...This team we're playing has a couple of pretty good Americans playing for them, Damon King, shooting guard/point guard around 6'2" and a 6'9" athletic PF/C Major Jones...Their record is 4-8 and they have their issues, having lost their last two home games as well...Okay, so I'll let you know how we do in that one...I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and weekend with your Families...I was able to connect with mine via phone today, Friday evening your time, and it was a pure joy to speak with Ashleigh, Brian, their son, Carter, our son Bo, and Elaine...Paigee, our youngest was in Arizona having TDay with her close friend Jackie Calabrese and her family...I was happy to have been able to connect with all of them over the last two days...To all who sent me wishes and updates, thanks so much as always, for taking the time out of your busy family lives to share with me what's happening in yours...God Bless, safe travels and I do miss all of the "weekenders" whose season gets underway next week, I believe...Coach tom

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