A combination of basketball, community service and sightseeing made this weekend very busy, yet a lot of fun. Saturday morning we drove about 20 minutes to Gdansk to visit the area of the city known as Old Town. It was absolutely beautiful, minus the rain, and I'd love to share more about it but after almost three weeks, I finally have some basketball news to share!
Sunday marked the start of our first tournament. Our team hosted three other teams, two from our league here in Poland and one from Belarus. The tournament was in honor of the late Margo Dydek, a very successful professional basketball player from Poland who played for the team here in Gdynia as well as 11 seasons in the WNBA on multiple teams. She was a very well known player, partially because she was the tallest female basketball player at 7’2” but mainly because she was a great player. Dydek passed away last May after suffering a heart attack.
For our team, these were our first games and we went 1-2. These were unofficial preseason games so won’t effect our record but were definitely good learning experiences and helpful for our team to improve. We lost our first game to Mazitol Lider Pruszkow 85-67. In our defense, it was our first game against another professional team and our opponent had already played 7 games before playing us. (I know, no excuses, but knowing that helps the confidence just a tad.) We were happy we had another game later that night to redeem ourselves and we did just that. In our second game of the day, we seemed to find a little bit of rhythm and played much better. We won 78-63 against another Polish team, Artego Bydgoszcz. Our final game was the following evening against BC Horizont Minsk, a professional team from Belarus. This game was very close the whole time. After falling behind and making runs to tie the game multiple times, we trailed by only 2 with less than a minute left but weren’t able to pull it out and fell 71-64. Although we only won one game, I think the weekend was really helpful to not only get a feel for what the intensity will be like during the season but also for our team to start to gel and become more familiar playing with each other.
Prior to our third game there was a ceremony to not only honor Dydek, but also to officially present our team and it was probably the most extravagant introduction I’ve been a part of. They had us leave the gym and one by one we walked back in as they announced our name. That may not seem too cool, until you add in some colorful lights, a little bit of smoke, holding the hand of a young girl while you make your entrance, and a mascot dancing around while wearing a WNBA shirt and it’s nearly a Seattle Storm introduction at Key Arena. I’m not sure if that will happen every game or maybe it was a one-time thing because the game was locally televised, but either way it was a fun and unique introduction ceremony.
In addition to the basketball games, we also participated in some more community service. We split up into a few groups and visited local schools and a hospital. I was in the group that went to the hospital and it was a very cool experience. We went to the pediatrics department and visited with between 15 to 20 children ranging from about 6 months to 10 years old.
I went with two of my Polish teammates and before going they told me to speak in English to the children and their parents because they would like that. So I tried my best to start a conversation, however I think out of all of the people we visited, two of them were able to respond. This made it a little difficult to get the complete experience of talking to the children and their parents but it didn’t eliminate the value of the visit. Despite the language barrier, the expressions on their faces when we walked in offering smiles, hugs and a few gifts made the whole trip more than worth it. May sound cliché but a smile is universal and that was very apparent during this time. After the hospital, we went to a school where we passed out more gifts in exchange for smiles, high-fives and even a few screams of excitement. The children were so thrilled to meet us, or maybe just for the gifts, but I’d like to think more so to meet our team. These were two very memorable experiences and I was glad to be a part of them and give back to the city of Gdynia.
We had today off which was nice. Afterall, I am the second oldest on the team and after three games in two days my body was very appreciative of some rest. This week we will have a couple days of practice and then play a team from Sweden on Thursday and Friday.