It’s been a very interesting summer to say the least. I will take you through the highs, lows, and sad…
1) Our Louisville basketball team gained so much knowledge through our competition. Normally foreign trips are great bonding experiences but this summer was much more. We now know what to focus on. Our strengths and weaknesses are there in front of us.
2) FIBA Basketball – Although much different than the NBA and college, there was so much to pick up and learn. I walk away from competing against Brazil, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Canada and Venezuela with a lot of food for basketball thought. Some will really help our style of play at Louisville.
3) Puerto Rican People – Overly nice and accommodating. The Ritz Carlton where we stayed was first class and all the people who work there are fans of the National team.
4) The Players – It was tough in the beginning, as they were out of shape and not overly motivated. But after training in Louisville, they became a much more motivated team. Although small and with only one NBA player, I’ve enjoyed working with them.
5) The Restaurants: Much better than expected. El San Juan, Ruth Chris and BLT Steak and Il Mulino in the Ritz Carlton were all outstanding. The federation arranged a private Johnny Walker tasting party. I now know how Blue, Black, Gold, and Red taste. It was my first tasting of Scotch and after trying all of them, it will be my last. I don’t know how my dad and uncles drank that stuff. If any of our Louisville fans get over to the Ruth Chris at the Intercontinental Hotel, there is a bottle with my name on it half full. Have at it; you have my permission!!
6) Another great high was spending time with and watching Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa compete. They are great people and both are doing well. Francisco would like one or two more years in the NBA. Both have not changed, which is a good thing,
7) The mascots – Bompy was the star. He dances and gets the crowd to laugh and have fun. The others are good, but not Bompy good.
8) St Regis Property – Terrific resort and golf course. Played there once and we were invited to Carmelo Anthony’s private party. Four boxing matches and entertainment. Melo rents the whole property for a long weekend and invites teammates, friends, and New York Knick staff.
1) Pan Am team – I was shocked that everything was so poorly organized with this team. It was assembled incorrectly with no one to blame, because everyone is involved with the playoffs in the Superior Pro League in Puerto Rico. The pro league consists of 12 teams, with each team allowed three non Puerto Rican players. They have a draft but no salary cap. If you get paid consistently, then you’re lucky as only two teams generate income. Most teams lose money and others break even. It is highly competitive but is way, way too physical. I call it basketball rugby.
2) Lack of size – Two of our tallest players decided not to represent their country. People blame their agent, as he is also one of the Superior team owners. I believe that to be false. If your heart is not there for your country, then you’re better off without them. The shame of it all is that with them we could have done serious damage.
3) Mo Harkless – I really became extremely fond of this young man. Long and talented with a great attitude. He could become a great defender. With him, I thought we were still highly competitive. A few days ago we received an email that Portland wanted to do their own MRI on his sprained ankle. Everyone said that he would meet us in Mexico City. I told them that we will not see him. Once Portland had him, he was not returning. He would get therapy and work at preparing to be a Trailblazer. All that time, hope, and energy gone. I wish him so much luck!
4) Devon Collier – The Oregon State graduate finally got in shape, but separated his knee cap in our game against Canada in the Tutu Marchand tournament. He improved probably more than anyone. He’s a tough kid, but left the locker room with a knee the size of a soccer ball to root his team on. Fans gave our guys a standing ovation, which is never seen in Puerto Rico after a loss. We finished the fourth quarter with the under 6’5 team.
We now head to Mexico City after all the time invested with a small, injured team. We will go small, with guards playing out of position. Renaldo Balkman will have to play a lot of the five spot. He’s a lanky 6-8 player and will have to mix it up with much bigger opponents. He’s a tough and dependable player.
We really cannot press with this group — at least not consistently because the recent storm took our practice time away. We go with a great deal of pride and emotion to Mexico City. This team wants to lift the spirits of a country very down at this time — which leads us into the Sad!
1) When I arrived the sales tax went from 7% to 11%. This is a great hardship for the poor. The problems with the country are almost impossible to solve. The government is 74 billion dollars in bond debt. Detroit I believe was 14 billion.
2) A thousand people a week are moving away with most of them traveling to Central Florida, which has become home to ambitious Puerto Ricans looking for work. These are motivated, talented people leaving to gain employment.
3) There is no immediate hope on the horizon. With Cuba opening their doors and tourism slowing down, many lives will suffer.
4) Water shortage – Some areas of the country will not have water except for four of seven days in a given week. Much rain is needed to stop the rationing.
5) I was told that when the National team plays, every arena will be packed. That was false, as the arenas were only half full. People just cannot afford the price of tickets.
Well that’s the synopsis of the Good, Bad, and Sad of Puerto Rico.
This team is grossly undermanned and quite banged up, but they will compete with the thoughts of lifting the spirits of their country. I get to share in that goal.
It’s been demanding and time consuming, but well worth the effort. I’ve met many wonderful people, learned so much, and cannot wait to return home to family and our players.