It’s official, the 2012-13 season, my 11th season overseas, is in the books. It was another crazy season that began back in July 2012 with me being drafted by Mobis Phoebus of the Korean basketball league. Two months later, Mobis released me and 4 weeks after that I found myself in Abu Dhabi of the UAE playing for Baniyas sports club. It was definitely a memorable season both on and off the floor with never a dull moment in the UAE. Everyday at practice there’s always the unknown questions of: will our gym be available or does volleyball have dibs? How many players will show up today? (Side note. My coach would put together 3 practice plans daily. One for 10+ players to show up, one for 5+ players to show up, & one with just me showing up) There were many times this season we would be lifting in the team weight room and security would show up, kick our team out because soccer had priority. Oh, I should mention that it was the under 17 year old team that had normally had priority over us. I can understand, sort of, if the pro team kicked us out because when all is said and done, they are the money making team with the real professional athletes. In the UAE, basketball is a far 2nd or 3rd place when it comes to sports popularity. Inshallah, they will be number one soon enough because this country has the money, players, coaches, & resources to make it happen. Just need time and patience.
At the beginning of each year, for the past 24 years, the city of Dubai has been hosting an international basketball cup. I was fortunate enough to be called by another team here in the UAE to represent them in this 10 day tourney. However, it wasn’t until an injury to one of the players that I got the call. Let me explain. The 24th annual Dubai cup is a 10 day tournament that consists of teams from the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Philippines. You can have 3 foreigners on your team and the UAE representative was defending league champions Al Ahli. During this time, since my team is not participating, we were on a break from games and just practicing down in Abu Dhabi. However, one of Al Ahli’s american power forward, LeRoy Hurd, suffered a season ending achilles tear right after group play. Al Ahli’s general manager contacted my coach to see if I’d be interested in playing with the the rest of the tournament and of course I happily agreed. My first game would be in the semi-finals of the cup vs heavily favored Al Riyadi of Lebanon. This team featured former Arizona Wildcat and NBA veteran 7’2″ Loren Woods. (Continue reading)
The UAE league plays out a lot different than most leagues around the world. Here, the league consists of 4 separate competitions or as they call it here, cups. The first cup, which we just finished, was the Federation Cup. This cup consisted of 8 teams split into 2 groups. My team, Baniyas, was in Group 2 along with Al Nasr of Dubai, Al Sha’ab and Sharjah who are both from Sharjah. We played these 3 teams twice, both home and away and were then seeded accordingly with the other group of 4 teams. My team put up a valiant effort finishing 1-5 in group play and obtaining the coveted overall 4th place seed in our group. Not the best start but it should be noted that the general manager of my team forgot to get my FIBA letter of clearance from my last team in Korea and therefore was ineligible to play in our 1st game against Al Nasr. After group play finished, an 8 team playoff is formatted where the #1 seeds will play the #4 seeds from the opposite groups, while the #2 seeds from each group play the #3 seeds. Since we were #4 seed, we got the pleasure of playing and being demolished by the #1 seed Al Ahli (click here for post game blog post). The winners from the 1st round of playoff play advanced to the semi-finals where they would compete for a top 4 Cup finish, while the losers advanced to the consolation bracket to battle for 5th, 6th, 7th & 8th place. In our first game of the consolation bracket we beat an undermanned Al Nasr team, advancing us to the 5th place game vs a Dubai Select team. (Continue reading)
We are coming off our best win of the season last night by defeating Al Nasr on the road 92-69. So what if it was only our 2nd win of the season and we are now 2-6. Who cares that Al Nasr was without their American import, 6’11″ Vincent Jones. When you are sitting 2-6 in the league, you take any win you can, however they may come. When you’re playing against a team who’s American import is sitting out, you draw a lot of attention. My teammates benefited from that with 2 players scoring their career highs in this game. Because of all the double teams and lack of height inside, I was able to dominate the game with my 1st triple double of the season and a near quadruple double of 23 points, 25 rebounds, 10 blocks, and 8 assists. So what if my triple double was against a bunch high school varsity players trying to knock me out of the game by treating my body like a jungle gym most of the game. It was nice change to be able to ice my swollen head down after the game instead of my aging ankles. (Continue reading)
Playing basketball professionally in U.A.E., you find yourself in many predicaments that you just wouldn’t be in anywhere else in the world. Let me explain. In this league, you only get 1 American or “professional” per team. There are only 7 teams in the league. The rest of my team consists of Emirate natives who all work other jobs and play basketball at night. They don’t even call themselves professional basketball players…neither do I. In a sense it’s a glorified Men’s recreational league that has one freakishly tall player who the team pays a salary to score half of their points, grab two-thirds of the rebounds, and also teach them by example what it takes to be a professional at this game. There will be somedays where we will only get 6 guys to practice. In fact, only twice this season we’ve had 10 guys at practice and have been able to play 5 on 5. This makes things difficult come game time because half the team doesn’t know the offensive plays because the last week in practice we’ve been playing 3 on 3 or 4 on 4. One night we actually just played 4 on 5 and the guy not being guarded was only allowed to pass. A “designated quarterback” if you will. Our first game of the season I was informed right after warmups that I couldn’t play because the general manager had forgotten to get my playing license done. This is standard procedure everywhere you play. Your team general manager contacts the FIBA department and tells them where I most recently played and then FIBA contacts that previous team and retrieves my letter of clearance from them and gives it to my new club. This process could take anywhere from 1-2 hours and since I arrived 2 weeks before our 1st game, there was absolutely no reason not to get that finished by our season opener. (Continue reading)