Saturday, March 8, 2008

Slam Dunk Dutch Funk

Dit is mijn (eerste) team
This is my (first) team

“Offense or defense?”
“Defense, please”.

It’s ten o’clock PM. Meerstroom College gymnastic hall. East of Utrecht, close to Galgenwaard Stadion. Ladies and gentlemen, fans and castaways may I introduce you to my first basketball training with a Dutch team? Please, before reading consider that it’s three years I don’t play basket anymore. No surprises that after less than one hour of running, shooting, passing I feel deadly tired. But I can’t give up. Oh, no. Never. I stretch my muscles and I dry the sweat from my face. I do my best defending on the ball handler. The amateurish team is called The Eagles and is formed by guys in their late twenties. I’m the only foreigner. “Where do you come from?” a tall guy asks me. “Ah, Italy. We had another Italian in the team, a few years ago. Mauro. Wonderful point guard. But unfortunately he left us moving to Groningen”.
Sander, Wilco, Neils, Roel, Thjis, Maarten and Wieger share the same passion for basketball, a sport which is anything but popular in the Lowlands. One thing surprises me. The Eagles have no official coach. The training exercises reminds me the ones I used to do when I was 15 years old playing for the glorious Polisportiva Lame (English native readers, please don't laugh too loud!) in Bologna. While we had this exotic Spanish coach named Santiago, here it’s Maarten who explains the offensive schemes and the right defensive movements to his teammates and me. He speaks in Dutch, summarizing to me the salient points. Tonight we have to practice on how to attack a zone defense. At the same time we need to improve our defensive skills. Zone 2-3. Zone 1-3-1. Zone 1-2-1-1. “Defend stronger. Don’t let him pass de bal, ehm the ball easily” says Maarten to me. “We prefer to play man to man, but our next opponents use zone press the 90% of times” as Roel explains me. The opponent is called Midland and stands on the bottom of 3de Klasse F Regio Championship where The Eagles keep the second place. “Nevertheless, we won’t underrate them” smiles Roel. He’s the funniest guy in team and has played basketball in Belgium and Finland while studying there. “Goed!” says Maarten.
After theory, it’s time to practice what we just learned playing a 4 vs 4 all around match. I steal a ball and fail a easy two point jumper. Gosh. I need a lot of training before being again the decent player I used to be. “Well done, Lorenzo. Lekker!”. Niels reassures me. He's the playmaker of the team and he’s the only Eagle who doesn’t speak English. And yet he still encourages me when my legs aren’t able to take me close to the basket and all I can do is serving creative assists and trying useless three pointers. Luckily it’s already 11 PM and the training ends. Under the shower Sander and Roel sing something in Dutch. I would like to reply with something by Reflexy, but I'm still not allowed to do that. Copyright is copyright. Dura lex, sed lex. In the meanwhile someone else is discussing about something else. Football? Women? Quantic Physics? I can only wonder the topic.

"So, see you next week, same day?" I tell in my Little Match Seller English (TM) before leaving.
"Sure" They answer.
"Perfect. See you next Monday guys"
"Actually today is not Monday."
"Oh! Ouch! It's just because, you know, I've to join this other club and I made confusion..." Shit.
"No problem. See you next Thursday, Lorenzo. Same time. Same place.
(Ja, op Donderdag. Why am I always so distracted?)
"Have a good match on Saturday, goodbye!
"Dank je wel. See ya. Tot ziens!

Unlocking my bicycle from a hippo shaped bench in the school courtyard I feel satisfied. My first approach with Dutch basketball has been good. The Eagles are friendly guys. The trainings look useful and not that complicated. I am optimist. Now the real problem is cycling back home avoiding cramps. And having no idea of the right direction to take.

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