Today is my birthday and unfortunately it coincides with the first game as a professional that I have to miss due to a sickness/illness, injury… etc. Being sick is not fun especially when I really feel like I let my team down when I am not dressed and ready to go at game time. I’ve always tried to play through but sometimes there are things that just say stop, take a seat. This brings my back memories of when I broke my nose in high school against Gonzaga (our rival) and just played with it broken the whole game without even knowing, I just knew that it swelled up because I could really see it! I remember one of the coaches coming up to me and saying “What the heck happened to you?” I just told him I got hit, once the trainer saw he sent me to the hospital and surgery followed a couple of days later. This game I am missing tonight has just brought back some US memories and I will share my first one with you guys.
My first year in the States
Once upon a time… Just kidding…. a long time ago I made the decision to move to the US in order to continue playing basketball there and of course go to school. Those two should go together until you finish college (unless you’re Kobe, LeBron etc). My first year was definitely hard. I moved over the Atlantic with my good friend and teammate Alex Ardelean and we had no idea what was waiting for us on the other side of the immigration desk at Dulles Airport.
We were fortunate enough to have some amazing coaches in high school. Coach DeStefano, coach Murphy and coach Feldman have been of great support throughout my time in the US, even long after I graduated high school, but this story is about more than that, it’s about those first couple of months in a foreign country.
During the first year, my host family was a very nice family from Manchester, MD. The Jacobs’ have hosted many student athletes before , and one of them being my friend Andrei Capusan who also attended St. John’s College High School, and then went on to play at Lafayette College. It was a cozy little house that I found great for our transition. Food was home cooked and it was great, really made some part of the transition easy. Now the not so great part, Manchester was about 70 miles (roughly 115km) from my high school. Without traffic it would take us about one hour and 45 minutes to get to school, with traffic a little longer, maybe two hours or so it all depends on traffic getting out of DC. (Side note: I just want to specify that my guardians made this drive daily, not just to take us to school but because they worked very close to our school so I think that says a lot about their characters)
Looking back at this, it seems like.. wow, what the heck was I doing in a foreign country and living so far away from my school!? It wasn’t so bad, we just got used it because that is all we knew. If you put your mind to it, anything is possible. We were fortunate the family had a van and we were able to sleep while driving to school or back from school (if we were not doing homework). It wasn’t an ideal situation but the Jacobs made us feel welcome and somewhat like at home. They knew about the transition to the US and how hard that would be for us so their experience with foreign students was of great help.
Now let me guess, you have a lot of questions? How were you able to function in school? How did you practice or how did it work when you had late games? Well… It worked out. We found ways to make it work and not think about it.
Usually, we practiced right after school, around 15:30 if I remember correctly and we got out at about 17:30… So not too bad, besides that, it was rush hour when we had to leave so that made our trips even longer. We usually got something to eat right after practice and headed home. (I’m talking strictly about the in-season part).
Game day….well that was a little different. Varsity plays the last game of the night so on weekdays we played fairly late, I think around 19:30. We would not get home until midnight or so and then had to be back up around 5am. Not an easy trip to make after a game but like I said before you sort of get used to it. During the winter it might have been a little rougher because those commutes did seem a lot longer. One winter day, school was cancelled but practice was not, so Coach D decided to make the drive up to Manchester to pick me and Alex up. He thought it wouldn’t be that far, he thought 45 minutes, maybe an hour? When he got there he was in a bit of shock because I think it took him about two to get there. He then realized what we have been doing all year long without complaining or saying anything about it. We had a greater goal in mind.
For me it was to play in the NBA, that is and will always be my one and only goal regarding basketball. There is no shame in failure as long you know you gave it all you had, and I am proud to say that so far I have no regrets regarding that. My high school coach had a saying “Aim for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”. My goal has always been high, and now that I think about what he said I think he was right. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high but in order to do so you have to make sure you put in the necessary work to make that final goal attainable. In Manchester, my friend Alex and I used to walk to the local middle school in order to get shots up when weather was nice. I think it was about at least a 1 kilometer walk if not longer. We used to walk together with our basketball and just talking and day dreaming. Together in another country just walking the country roads in the USA, as J Cole would say it…” had a dollar and a dream”.
My first year in the US was not all good and that is where I am trying to go with this story. Moving to a new place, to a new team, to a new country is always an adjustment. The quicker you adapt the quicker you will be successful no matter what your job is. That has definitely helped me in my professional career because so far every country I played in and every city I played in was different from the others but because of past experiences I now know what to expect or how to act in different situations. I am very thankful for that experience even though some of you might think its crazy, or nuts or madness. Its part of who I am today and taught me about sacrifices one has to make in order to get somewhere in life. I am sure I could have gone more in depth and if you would like me to do so just let me know.
Astazi este ziua mea si din pacate, coincide cu primul joc la nivel profesionist pe care trebuie sa-l ratez din cauza unor probleme medicale. A fi bolnav este evident neplacut, in special cand am sentimentul ca mi-am dezamagit echipa nefiind echipat si gata de joc.
Intotdeauna am incercat sa fiu pegatit si sa trec peste orice tip de problema insa cateodata, trebuie pur si simplu sa spun STOP si sa iau loc. Imi aduc aminte de momentul in care am suferit o fractura nazala, pe vremea liceului, impotriva echipei Gonzaga (rivalii nostri) si am jucat asa tot meciul fara sa-mi dau seama. Tot ce stiam era ca aveam o inflamatie pentru ca era evident in spectrul viziunii mele. Imi aduc aminte unul dintre antrenori venind la mine si spunandu-mi „Ce naiba s-a intamplat cu tine?” la care i-am raspuns ca am fost lovit mai devreme. Odata ce preparatorul fizic m-a vazut, m-a trimis imediat la spital, iar doua zile mai tarziu, am avut si operatie.
Acest meci pe care il ratez in aceasta seara, mi-a adus aminte de anumite momente petrecute in Statele Unite si voi impartasi primul dintre cele mai relevante cu voi astazi.
Primul an in Statele Unite..
O data ca niciodata… glumesc.. acum mult timp, am luat decizia de a merge in Statele Unite pentru a continua sa joc baschet acolo si evident totodata si scoala. Acestea ar trebui sa mearga brat la brat pentru toata perioada pana la terminarea facultatii (daca nu cumva te cheama Kobe, LeBron, etc.)
Primul an a fost cu siguranta dificil, am facut drumul peste Atlantic impreuna cu bunul meu prieten Alex Ardelean si nu aveam nicio idee ce avea sa ne astepte pe cealalta parte al ghiseului de imigrari la aeroportul Dulles.
Am fost destul de norocosi incat sa avem niste antrenori extraordinari in liceu. Domnii antrenori DeStefano, Murphy si Feldman m-au sustinut dealungul intregii mele sederi in Statele Unite, chiar si dupa ce am absolvit liceul, dar povestea este mai mare de atat, mai specific, despre primele luni intr-o tara straina.
Pe perioada primului an, familia mea gazduitoare a fost una foarte placuta din Manchester, MD, Familia Jacobs, o familie ce au mai gazduit elevi-sportivi in trecut, unul dintre ei fiind prietenul meu Andrei Capusan, care la randul lui a urmat cursurile St. John’s College High School, mai apoi urmand sa joace pentru Lafayette College.
Locuiau intr-o casa foarte primitoare, pe care am considerato intotdeauna perfecta pentru tranzitia noastra. Mancarea era gatita in casa si foarte buna, a ajutat si acest aspect. Acum aspectul ceva mai neplacut.. Manchester era la aproximativ 115km distanta de liceul meu. Fara trafic major, ne-ar fi fost necesare aproximativ o ora si 45 de minute pentru a ajunge la liceu, evident, cu trafic, mai mult, poate doua ore in functie de cate persoane paraseau DC-ul (doresc sa mentionez ca oamenii care erau responsabili pentru mine faceau acest drum zilnic, nu doar ca sa ne duca pe noi la scoala ci si pentru ca lucrau in apropiere, asadar asta spune foarte multe despre caracterul lor).
Uitandu-ma inapoi la aceste lucruri, am sentimentul acum… ce oare faceam intr-o tara straina, locuind atat de departe de liceul meu. Nu era insa atat de rau, ne-am obisnuit cu rutina pentru ca doar atat stiam ca este de facut. Daca iti pui mintea la contributie, orice este posibil. Am avut noroc, familia care ne gazduia aveau o masina de capacitate mare si puteam sa dormim in timp ce mergeam la si de la scoala (daca nu cumva scriam teme). Nu era evident o situatie ideala, insa familia Jacobs ne-a facut sa ne simtim bineveniti si oarecum, ca acasa. Stiau ca tranzitia noastra catre Statele Unite era una foarte dificila asadar experienta lor cu studenti din strainatate a fost foarte utila.
Am sa presupun ca aveti o multime de intrebari.. Cum ne-am descurcat la scoala? Cum erau antrenamentele sau meciurile la ore tarzii? Pai.. totul a functionat. Am gasit modalitati sa facem totul sa functioneze si nu ne-am gandit foarte mult inapoi.
De obicei aveam antrenamentele chiar dupa scoala, in jurul orei 15:30 daca imi aduc aminte corect, terminam in jurul orei 17:30, asadar nu foarte problematic, insa la orele respective traficul era intens asadar drumul spre casa dura si mai mult. De obicei mancam ceva chiar dupa antrenament si plecam acasa (vorbind aici strict de perioada de sezon sportiv).
In zilele cu meciuri, era diferit. Echipa mare juca intotdeauna la ultima ora a zilei asadar in timpul saptamanii, destul de tarziu, in jurul orei 19:30. De obicei nu ajungeam acasa decat dupa ora 24:00 si trebuia sa fim trezi la ora 05:00. Nu a fost intotdeauna usor, ma refer la drumul spre casa dupa meci, insa in timp, ne-am obisnuit. Parea mai dificil pe timp de iarna pentru ca drumul parea uneori interminabil.
Odata, intr-o zi de iarna, scoala a fost anulata, insa antrenamentul nu, asa ca antrenorul a decis sa coduca pana la Manchester sa ne ia pe mine si pe Alex. Avea impresia ca drumul ii va lua aproximativ 45 de minute, poate o ora. Cand a ajuns la noi, era intr-o oarecare stare de soc, dupa, in jur de doua ore de condus si si-a dat seama ca noi faceam acest drum tot anul fara sa ne plangem sau sa spunem ceva in legatura cu asta. Aveam un tel mai mare in gand.
Pentru mine, acel scop era sa joc in NBA, si ramane cea mai mare tinta in ceea ce priveste baschetul. Nu consider ca exista rusine in a pierde atata timp cat stii ca ai dat tot ce ai putut da si sunt mandru sa spun ca in privinta asta nu am niciun regret. Antrenorul meu imi spunea sa „tintesc catre luna si chiar daca nu voi ajunge acolo, voi ramane printre stele” Am avut intotdeauna teluri inalte, iar acum cand ma gandesc la asta, avea dreptate. Nu-ti fie frica sa tintesti foarte sus, atata timp cat muncesti suficient pentru a-ti oferi o sansa sa ajungi acolo. In Manchester, eu si cu Alex obisnuiamsa mergem pe jos pana la scoala locala pentru a arunca la cos cand vremea era potrivita. Cred ca distanta era aproximativ de un kilometru. Mergeam impreuna, doar noi si mingea noastra de baschet, vorbind si visand. Impreuna intr-o tara straina, mergand pe drumurile orasene ale Statelor Unite, asa cum ar spune J Cole „ daca as avea un dolar si un vis”.
Primul an in Statele Unite nu a fost tot lapte si miere si cam asta este ideea povestii. Mutarea catre un loc nou, o echipa noua, o tara noua, este intotdeauna un compromis. Cu cat te adaptezi mai devreme, cu atat mai devreme va veni si succesul, indiferent in ce camp de activitate. Aceasta mentalitate m-a ajutat indiscutabil in cariera mea de profesionist, intrucat fiecare tara in care am jucat si fiecare oras in care am jucat baschet au fost diferite iar experientele trecute m-au ajutat sa stiu la ce sa ma astept sau cum sa ma comport indiferent de situatie. Sunt foarte recunoscator pentru tot prin ceea ce am trecut, indiferent de cat de ciudate par unele dintre situatii. Toate sunt parte din cine am devenit si m-au invatat despre sacrificiile necesare pentru a realiza ceva important in viata.