Updated Tue, Oct 18, 2011 2:18 pm
Former Ohio University basketball guard Tommy Freeman will write a monthly blog detailing his travels as a professional basketball player in England. Freeman is the all-time leader in three pointers made at Ohio and is in his first season in the British Basketball League (BBL).
As many of you know I am playing in Worcester, England for the Worcester Wolves. We are in the British Basketball League which is a 12-team league. Looking back on my first month in a foreign country, there are many differences in the lifestyle, weather, food, and style of basketball. Over the next few months I hope to share some of my experiences and accounts of being a professional basketball player in England. I hope you enjoy some of the stories and get a little laugh out of these blogs.
I had gotten notice three days prior that my flight would be leaving from Indianapolis. I can recall being in such a rush to pack up the most important necessities to fulfill my 100-pound limit that I could bring onto the flight. Of course I brought t-shirts, socks, shorts, underwear, a razor, my toothbrush, jeans, and lots of sweats, but the objects that took up most of the weight in my bags were my Xbox 360 and my 200+ DVDs. I had in my mind that these objects would be the most important, becuase I'd be so far away from home. The Xbox had always been my escape from the daily grind of school and basketball that I used to slip into my own fantasy world. The DVDs I had compiled over my four years at OU and often got teased because I kept all of them in alphabetical order on my shelves. Through Xbox Live I was able to talk with my friends from home and recently have been able to talk with my youngest brother Zach while playing Call of Duty.
I arrived in England in mid-September, and I did not know what to expect. I had been dropped off by my uncle at the Indianapolis airport, and after switching a few pounds over from one bag to the other, I was on the plane with very minimal hassle. I had a layover in Newark for an hour a half. Once I found my gate and grabbed a few slices of New York-style pizza I sat down to charge my phone for the last time in the US while I made my last second calls. I called my dad, brothers, and a few other family members that I hadn't even had a chance to talk to since I had got the e-mail with my flight information. I boarded the plane with an eight-hour flight ahead of me. Luckily, the flight was late in the evening so I could grab some shut eye on the way. I had lucked out on my flight from Indianapolis to Newark and because there were extra seats on the plane I was able to move up to an exit row where I had plenty of legroom. When I boarded the plane outbound from Newark it looked as if my luck had changed. I was in the row with a husband and wife with a small child. Don't get me wrong, I love kids but an eight-hour flight with an infant usually is a recipe for disaster, or at least minimal sleeping for anyone near them. Once again I lucked out. The husband's seat had something poking him in the hindquarters. It delayed the flight about 20 minutes because we had to wait for the maintenance crew to come and switch the cushion out. I figured that we would be on our way at this point only to find out that the stewardess had moved the couple a few rows forward and moved an elderly woman next to me. Things were looking up. I would be able to grab a nap on the way to Birmingham, England where my coach would meet me to pick me up from the airport.
I arrived in the morning on the first plane into Birmingham. The customs line was non-existent and I walked directly up to the agent. He asked me a few questions about what my business was in the country and how long I would be staying. The entrance paper asked at what address I would be staying. I was not sure at that point so I left it blank. The agent questioned why I had left in blank and I informed him that I would be staying in one of the team apartments. He was familiar with the Worcester Wolves and allowed me to pass through. I could hardly contain my excitement while I was walking through the concourse. I was getting my first taste of England. What would be different? What will coach look like? Will I even recognize him from the pictures on the website that I had seen before leaving? All of these questions ran through my head in anticipation for what was coming next. I waited for about 45 minutes and then, strolling through the airport, I saw a familiar face. I did recognize coach. He had on team gear that I had hopes of getting in the near future. We walked out to his car. I did not know what kind of car to expect and I would have been very wrong if I ventured a guess as to what it would be. It was a four door hatchback, green with two racing stripes painted from one end to the other with team logos on each side. We placed my belongings into the car and were on our way. We drove 30 minutes from Birmingham to Worcester where he showed me the gym, rec center, and finally where I would be living.
The next few days were spent getting acquainted to the town and my teammates. We spent all of our time together and they gave me a taste of what to expect for the next eight months. I arrived on a Thursday and practice did not start until Monday so I had a few days to find my way around and get used to the time difference. I spent most of my time on Skype with various friends and family telling them of my adventures so far and informing them that I had made it safely. I was looking forward to starting practice and seeing where I stacked up against other guys on the team. With this being my first time playing abroad I had no idea how things would work or what my role would be on this team. After all coach had brought in five out of eight new players to get a fresh start with guys that were hungry for success. Practice began with us putting in new sets and practicing the plays five on zero until mostly everyone on the team had them down. We ran and ran the first two weeks and after that we ran some more. The entire team was tired beyond belief but we were all getting our wind back. I was accustomed to this. It seems everywhere that I play the coach wants us to be the best conditioned team in the league. I was growing tired of playing against the same guys over and over in practice. The first exhibition game was quickly approaching and I couldn't sleep because of the anticipation that I was feeling towards stepping out on the court in a Wolves uniform.
The Reading Rockets were our first opponents. They were from a lower division than us, and coach explained that if we played like we were capable of then we would have no trouble. The game started slow as it was a combination of first game jitters and guys trying to find some sort of rhythm while playing with each other. We fell behind but regained the lead by halftime although it was only by a slim margin. Needless to say coach was not too happy with us. We bucked up and held the Rockets to only five second half points. We realized that if we could play defense like this against some of the teams that were in our division, that we would be a tough out for teams that were used to using us as a doormat. We had a week to get ready for our first teal test. It would be against a Guildford team that had a familiar face on their roster.
The Guildford game came around and I drew the task of guarding Martell McLemore. He was a 2010 graduate of Western Michigan and I can remember playing against him when I had my career-high of 30 points in the Convocation Center. I did not know what to expect from the game, but I knew we had a great chance of winning if we played together and battled as a unit. The game was close throughout with many lead changes. To my surprise I was scoring a lot more than I expected to. As the final seconds ran down we found ourselves on top and able to pull out the win in overtime. I was pleased but not satisfied with my performance. I knew I could play much better than I had, even though I finished with a game-high 29 points in my BBL debut. We celebrated the first win of the season and looked to the next team on our schedule, Plymouth.
In preparation we spent time in practice focusing on stopping their inside game. In their game the previous weekend, they had dominated inside and if we had any chance of winning we would need to limit the amount of rebounds and inside points that their bigs scored. We also took time that week to attend netball tryouts. It's a game that is a cross between basketball and ultimate frisbee that is played by girls only. I cannot speak for my teammates but it was a nice distraction from the speed workouts and practices that we were being put through everyday. When game time rolled around on Saturday we started the game playing how we had planned. We attacked their bigs inside and got them into foul trouble. However, once they were out we didn't stick to it and keep attacking inside. We were down by only a few at halftime, although we had not played well in the first half. We began the third quarter with the hopes of starting the season 2-0, but by the end of the 3rd quarter they had pushed their lead to over 20 and we were dead in the water. We were crushed to suffer our first loss and we made it up in our minds that we needed to seek revenge when we played them in a weeks time.
We talked about the same ideas the next week at practice and all stated areas that we needed to improve if we had a chance at going into their place and stealing a win. Coach defined everyone roles so we had no doubts what the team needed each individual to do in order to play our best basketball. When we arrived at Plymouth and I was amazed at the arena that they played in. The amount of seats, although not many compared to the Convo or even the Muncie Central Fieldhouse, was probably about five times the seats of our gym. The lighting shined down on the court to give the players the sense that we were playing on a stage. They also had some beautiful cheerleaders and for the first time since I had been in England my jaw was on the floor. After refocusing myself and reminding myself why I was there, I went out to shoot and get a feel for the gym. I loved the rims, the open background, and the way that the court felt beneath my feet. We got off to a good start and used a second quarter series of stops to build a 13-point lead at halftime, I personally had a slow start but my goal was to look for my shot in the second half. We came out and built upon our lead and now at the end of the third we were up by 23. We were looking like we might blow them out, but basketball is a game of runs and to this point in the game they had not went on one. This was their time. They chipped away as their crowd began to get behind them to try and surge them to victory. Luckily for us we were able to make a few more plays down the stretch and finish the game off while beating them by 11. The mini-bus ride home was bearable after the win although my body was aching from an injury I had suffered earlier in the week after a spill I took during the game.
As my first month comes to an end, I like the direction that the team is headed. Our camaraderie is good and I believe it will be a key to our success as we progress through the season. I recently bought a 22-inch television with my first paycheck, so I am getting comfortable and settled in a little more than when I first arrived. I look forward to being able to travel around the country and see some of the historical sights. I also am looking forward to going to London and seeing how different it is from the small town of Worcester. We travel Friday to play Glasgow. It is a 12-hour round-trip journey. While I'm not looking forward to the drive, I'm looking forward to the game and seeing where we are compared to other teams in the league.
I hope you have enjoyed reading a little bit about my adventures and I appreciate you taking the time to read it. Please do not be afraid to tweet me any questions you have about basketball or life over here in general. Until next month take care of yourselves.
Tommy Freeman will write a monthly blog for WOUB.org about his adventures as a professional basketball player. Contact Tommy on Twitter @tfreefor3