After our first night out on the town, the team met for a 9 am breakfast (some of us are still struggling with the food) before our clinic at the LeisurePlex, a recreational center just outside of Belfast. The nightlife was quite kind to us. Well, sort of. But those are stories for another day.
The clinic for the feisty Irish lads was a blast. The team put the nearly 60 youngsters (some of them weren’t that young actually, ranging from age 8-16) through a series of drills focusing on ball handling, passing, shooting, rebounding and defense. They seemed to love our drills and accents.
The culmination of the clinic involved splitting our groups up and playing a good ole “match” (not game). Of course, the team led by Ian Goldberg, Joel Michel, Adrian Sills-Takyi and myself blew the other team out of the water. Our crafty passing, wicked step back jumpers and ferocious defense were too much for the poor lads matched up against us.
After the scrimmage, we had a chance to shoot around and act like kids (idiots) with some of the clinic’s attendees. Dave Nowacki had the pleasure of losing to one of his kids in knock-out while I also was publicly humiliated, attempting to play defense on a 9 year old when the wee one slid the ball between my legs. I quickly regained my pride, however, when he attempted his lay-up and I decided to throw the ball against the far wall. It’s quite sad I know.
Tour #2 Through Belfast
For the second straight day, the team was treated to a guided bus tour from some people who had personal experience with “The Troubles”. Today, we were also accompanied by PJ and Francis (Fra). PJ and Fra are both former professional basketball players whom Tom Foley became very close with during his stay in Northern Ireland. Their insight and personal experience were invaluable.
The murals were once again a focal point of the tour. They are too prevalent and passionate not to be. There has been much debate over the course of the past five years as to whether the murals should be removed in order to help with the peace process. Many of the communities that have created them, however, feel that peace can be sustained even with their presence and that removing the murals will not erase the unfortunate past. Recently, some murals have begun to pop up that are removed from the historic conflict. For example, the mural that criticizes the American-British alliance was not too popular with some of the Bush supporters on the team (they aren’t a dead breed just yet). Some businesses have even begun to advertise in mural form.
On this tour of the city, the team visited the historically significant Bombay Street. In the early days of the conflict, nearly every house on Bombay Street was burnt to the ground. Widely recognized as the origin of the conflict, Bombay Street sits directly on the Catholic side of “The Berlin Wall of Belfast”. The 30-foot high fence remains to this day, much to the dismay of a great deal of the city, and was used during the conflict to separate the two communities.
This tour simply helped to cement the severity of the conflict that we had been introduced to just yesterday. Both PJ and Fra supplemented much of the history with personal anecdotes, which involved stories of murdered friends and classmates. The team truly appreciated their company and assistance.
Our First Game
For our first competitive game of the year, we were met by a well-balanced Star of the Sea team. Fresh legs and unparalleled coaching (I’m trying to get a little more playing time as you can see) eventually prevailed after four ten-minute quarters.
The final score ended up 77-70 in favor of the Fords. With three different line-ups, each playing in 5-minute shifts, Haverford was able to build a few big leads through the final three quarters by forcing turnovers and scoring easy baskets on the break.
But Star of the Sea would not go away. Thanks to a front line that was active and quite clever around the hoop, the Northern Irish squad reduced several Haverford leads in a matter of minutes. Led by #21, Kevin Foley, the home team created a lot of problems for Haverford at certain stretches in the contest. Ultimately, however, the young and fresh legs of the Fords were a little too much.
Several Fords newcomers had strong showings. LT Edwards’ relentless activity, Joel Michel’s slashing style, Ian Goldberg’s pressure defense and Bo Friddel’s physical play all supplemented the experienced Haverford upperclassmen nicely.
A great local crowd showed up to vocally support both squads. Many in the crowd were the youngsters that had attended our clinic earlier in the day. In the tight quarters of the local gym, the cheers seemed to reverberate off the walls for minutes at a time.
Some of the FIBA rules are less than popular with the team (wide lane, 24 second shot clock, different ball), but we are trying to adjust as best we can. As has been widely publicized throughout the years, the international referees received their fair share of criticism from both of the teams.
Looking to continue our winning ways, the next game will find us matched up against a strong Jordanstown squad on Tuesday night.