The Trip Around The Globe With
Taj McWilliams-Franklin - Part 2
Editor's Note: Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin keeps a journal during her time playing for Wisla Can-Pack Krakow in the Polish League this winter. This is Part 2 of her blog installments.
At the end of our first story, your intrepid heroine was going to be welcoming her old friends from Prague into the wonderful world of Krakow for the final 16 match of Euroleague. I was happy to see Lindsay and to know that Delisha Milton-Jones would not be with the team. I'm saying that with respect not spite. She presents huge matchup problems with our team, with her quickness, savvy, and talent. She had been injured and was still making her way to 100%. Trust me when I say, it was a blessing for our team. She is a beast in Europe. She is only the 3rd player to reach a certain amount of points in Euroleague, and the first American. So that shows you how consistent and tough she has been playing all these years. I pulled out my normal business casual look and most players in Europe do not know what that means, so I got the normal whistles and wow looks from our girls, but I wanted to blend into the coaching staff style, with my own flair. I wanted to know how I would do on the sidelines.
This Euroleague series was gonna be strange for me either way. One thing was it was the first time I was a member of the team and was not going to play and was NOT injured. I mean could not even warm up. I would have to sit and be still. The refs over here do not like other members on the bench to stand up. They pay a lot of attention to that then their reffing of the game I feel. This also was a kind of test for me as to the kind of coach I would be. Could I sit quietly by while my team made mistakes that I had no chance of helping fix, except through small words of encouragement during time outs and substitutions? The suspense was killing my little stomach, so of course that morning and afternoon, I ate mostly air. I was sooo nervous. I felt like this team (Prague) was so unpredictable. They had so many great shooters, and if the night was right, they could hit them reliably from all distances. Without Delisha, there was a gaping hole in the middle. She truly brought the toughness out of the other players, but that meant one of our bigs would have to guard someone a little quicker. The game began and ended pretty well for us, with a few hiccups in the middle. I think the fact that we were aggressive from the start threw them for a loop. DJ Whay played her usual brilliant game. She led the team in the first half with 13 points and was held to under that in the second half. The Prague team had many weapons but limited plays to utilize them. It also helped that their one true center had 3 fouls in the 1st half. And with DMJ not available they had to resort to using their 3 player as the 4 at some parts of the game, and a newer post player from Ukraine. Our team won the game and the usual Wisla Wild Ones (the fans) were rowdy and loud the whole time.
Our trip to Prague would happen in the next few days. I enjoyed the Czech Republic both times I played for Brno. The history, like many European cities is too rich to ignore. This game was the most important, because it was the close out game. We had to win it, so there would be no last minute doubts or heroics from Prague. Many players on our team have been to the Final Four of ELW, so they know what it takes to get there, thus I was not overtly worried about anything in particular. Our early morning flight (with a connection through Munich) left almost on time. When the world goes by your eyes at a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet--even the clouds look like ants. My journey to Prague started this way. We were in good seats, it was semi full and it had been a while since I was on a airline that didnít minimize the economy leg room to put in more and more seats. Thanks Lufthansa!!!
Everyone else was knocked out on our early morning jaunt, I was reading my book, "They Call me Coach," by John Wooden. I was looking for something in those pages that would help me to understand that the feelings of wanting to compete and not being able to. See, I think that is what "retired" athletes face all the time. How to reconcile the feeling of wanting to play but not being able to, either cause physically we can no longer play or mentally our game has diminished. It is what separates those of us who are retired from those of us still playing. When game time arrived, my stomach was in knots, as usual. When the ref threw the ball in the air, I was the calmest I have been ever. It seems that my knots, nerves and worry simply disappeared. Now saying that was true throughout the game would be false, but for the most part I was ccc (yup, cool, calm, and collected). This game was scary because DMJ was playing and even though she had not played in 8 weeks, I was still worried because she is a catalyst. For the second game in the series, their center was in foul trouble in the 1st half again. So that took a load off of us. She ended up fouling out early in the 4th quarter and that pretty much left DMJ and the Ukranian defended the middle. Our center, Ewelina Kobryn did a marvelous job of just simple plays around the basket. Erin was attacking and probing with great intensity. Nicole just virtually shut down the shooting touch of the darling of Czech Republic National Team, Eva Vitechkova. I mean Nicole was her shadow. I think Eva got in 2 good solid looks from the 3. But was a non factor in both games because of Nicole's defense.
The team celebrated this win and the move to the Final Eight with a few fans that had made the five hour drive down from Krakow. It was cool, but i slipped downstairs to open the door and was pulled into the fray by our GM, Piotr. But I did not feel like this had anything to do with me, so I moved away while they separated. Now many of you might feel that you are part of a team, it all involves you win or lose. For me it is normally true, but those feelings of separation for me were evident. I was a bystander on the fringe of the team. I was happy for them, because it meant bonuses for everyone (yeah!!!). And I know how hard it is to make it to this point. Plus the organization so far seems top notch and professional, which is sooo hard in this day and age. But for me, it seemed I watched it and disconnected. Even during the game, I remained cool because I saw it as happening to someone else. Maybe that is how I will be able to coach, without having a heart attack. I will be able to turn that emotional switch that powers me to play and be a better player even at 41 off; and summon my inner calmness and peace. It is hard to explain, but I now know I will be able to handle both retirement (one day) and coaching (one day).
After the game, I got to spend the evening with 3 of the best folks in the world. DJ Whay and Ben Greve and DMJ. Erin hurt her foot during the game, and remained back at the hotel to rest it. Some players left in personal cars to head back to Krakow, but I remained because I do not get the time during the WNBA season to just chill and hang with players. We had a long dinner, we talked and laughed and acted crazy--well maybe that was just me with the crazy part; but it was a great time! Me and DMJ sat in front of my hotel and talked for about an hour after dropping off Ben and Lindsay. We talked about religion, life, basketball, husbands and other subjects. It was great for me, to spend time with someone I love and admire, who is at the same point in her life as me (well 5 years ago for me and 3 kids), but close enough. It was nice and I miss that camaraderie sometimes in the WNBA. We are often hustled here after games, doing this and that interview and the bus is taking them back to the hotel or to the airport. The organizations do not want you socializing with this team because of this or that. I think that the human component of all sports is the sportsMANSHIP involved in it. I know we will not all get along on the court and some people take those attitudes off the court, but I genuinely love playing and like everyone I have played against and with (of course there are some exceptions). It is what keeps me in this game along with the competition; meeting and getting to know all these dynamic personalities, cultures, thoughts and skills of so many different people.
Thanks for spending your time with me today. See you again, with bells on (well not actual bells but something like that.)
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