Russell Hoops Girls Madrid 2017 Tour
The following blog is from the Russell Hoops Girls Tour to Madrid in August 2017, written by current BA London Lions player Christina Gaskin, the head coach on this tour!
So after a smooth experience checking in and a slight delay in London, we were on our way to Madrid. As the first girls group touring from Russell Hoops, consisting of ten players and two coaches, it feels special to embark on a tour that will likely lay the foundation for many trips to come.
I think the girls might have cleared the plane of hot chocolates. After a bit of a bumpy landing in Madrid, we headed to the hotel, dropped our stuff before walking across to the restaurant for dinner. Evidently a GCSE in Spanish doesn’t get you enough to be able to request for meat to be well done, but a quick and trusty Google translate got the job done. But we weren’t quite in the clear yet. A few of the girls ordered hamburgers and much to their surprise this consisted of ham (yes, a slice of ham) in a burger. Ben heads back to our waitress to try to explain that the burger in the photo is not to the burger they received. The waitress says “bad photo”. We chalked it up as a cultural learning experience and a note to self “ham-burger”, really does mean a slice of ham in a burger. But a few moments later and the chef must’ve realised that he still had the burgers on the grill, because out they came with burgers in them. Hooray burgers with burgers after all.
Food aside we spoke out about our individual ambitions for the trip, which mostly centred around, learning, improving and experiencing a new cultural environment. Personally I am very grateful to be on this trip with such pleasant and personable young women. I am excited to teach them as much as I can and hopefully learn some things along the way myself!
So today was our first full day of basketball and that it certainly was! We started this morning with a team practise working on some offensive and defensive movements. The gym was probably only 25 degrees at this point. After the overall tally on the practise meant “blue team” won, the “white team” had to negotiate a consequence. You can tell it is the summer holidays, because they took a fair few minutes to decide how to complete their challenge of the whole team crossing the halfway line (without their feet) but just their hands touching the floor. Eureka moment after a monumental few minutes of some interesting suggestions, when (correct me if I’m wrong), Katelyn suggested maybe a wheelbarrow would do the trick!
Following the team practise the girls were fortunate to have a coaching clinic by top Spanish national team guard (and European gold medallist), Elena de Alfredo. Elena had various new and challenging drills to share with the girls. It was difficult and frustrating at times, but imagine taking the fundamentals of what you have learnt so far and inversing it. The girls have a lot to take away and work on and personally I am excited to see how far they can progress, so watch this space! Lunch by the pool followed by some R&R and of course an opportunity for some competitive races/challenges, by some!
Later in the afternoon we arrived at the gym for the first competitive game of the trip, note it was probably closer to 35 degrees in the gym now. We played a very talented and skilled Spanish side that, after the first quarter, took a lot of the girls by surprise. It was undoubtedly difficult to take such a defeat, but we are here to experience new environments and expose players to different levels of the game. Playing national league basketball in England is not the highest level and although initially daunting I was proud to say the girls showed me and the other coaches a lot about their character today.
Not to be too dramatic, but this will be a defining moment in their basketball journey. You seldom remember games you win by 30 or 35 year after year. But you certainly remember losses like these, they make you want to improve, they expose you, highlight your weaknesses. It isn’t easy to take, but nor is the journey to becoming a great player. A lot learned today and a great amount of opportunity ahead! Despite the margin, there were moments in which each and every player was successful on the floor today and with a few small adjustments we can make some big improvements for the next game. But first we have a castle to explore in Madrid tomorrow! P.s. Can someone let the girls know, basketball may be a better pathway for them than a musical career.
After a fairly intense day of basketball, the girls were very much looking forward to a recovery and cultural day. After breakfast at the hotel, we set off on the bus to the city of Madrid where our first stop was Retiro Park, in which we headed to the lake where people were boating and after scoping it out, we fancied our chances.
So we set off (note to self, some were better at rowing than others) and after a few laps around the lake and a few bumper-car-like crashes, the girls really picked it up. After enjoying the sights of Retiro Park we wandered towards the Gran Via which is the main shopping strip within Madrid, comparable to our Oxford Street in London. The girls dashed in and out the stores, NYX was Ben’s personal favourite, but we also saw the likes of Nike, Adidas among others. PS. Tamara seems to only buy winter clothes as if she is preparing for a tough winter. Who knows maybe she is on to something.. Some of the girls did pick up some bargains, finding tops for as little as three Euros.
We then did what I shall call the “step o’meter” challenge as Ben lead us to Lunch, enough said! We sat down at Five Guys which definitely filled a spot. We were picked up promptly and headed to the Royal Palace. When we got there and walked in, Tamara had to practise some of her GCSE Spanish, as the guard cautioned us to not travel in a group among the palace and to keep our voices down. This conversation probably took four times as long as it would have done in English but we were off. The rooms within the palace were incredible, the level of meticulous detail continued to surprise us room after room. This even included the (or should I say “one of” many) dining rooms within the palace. This dining room seated 55 people at the table alone and that didn’t include the economy class seats that surrounded the perimeter of the room. The girls and I joked about sitting down at opposite ends of the table and having to phone each other to ask when dessert would be coming out.
Some of the ceiling decor was incredible, but one in particular just looked as though the painter had really just had enough, so he just used whatever paint he had left to create an abstract sky, am I right Cassie?
After the tour we were lead on to a large open courtyard that was surrounded on one side with huge stone arches that looked out onto a fantastic view. A short walk back to the bus and we were on our way back to the hotel where we grabbed our swimming stuff to take a refreshing dip in the pool. The girls showed off their synchronised diving (needs some work), 10 for effort, 3 for entry, 6 for style. As the sun was going down we headed to the local shopping mall where we grabbed some tapas, browsed some stores, before heading back to the hotel to put our feet up.
After a relatively strenuous rest day exploring, it was back to business today for the girls. Louise forgot her shoes in the morning session, she is still anxiously awaiting her punishment, (if you didn’t know before, now you do, Louise). But having said that she did a fantastic job in the game today, so perhaps I may reassess.
Anyway, first up team practise this morning where we pulled out some specific pointers from our game on Tuesday night. The girls really seemed to understand what was being asked of them and were eager to put it into practise. We spoke collectively and individually about our key areas for improvement from the game and we walked away from practise having got better collectively. It was hotter in the gym today than yesterday, probably closer to 38 degrees. But again the girls showed real resilience, they were hungry to get better to be able to bounce back from Tuesday’s defeat.
Next up we had another professional player, Cristina, to run the clinic. For a solid few minutes (while I was introducing her), the girls did think that I was talking in third person about myself. Perhaps I should’ve specified.. but then again I thought the clue was in my description, but perhaps they listen to me less than i thought. As well as playing, Cristina also coaches locally, so it was a great opportunity for the girls to learn. Cristina took the girls for a Q&A session where they were very enthusiastic, they had asked so many questions that by the end Cristina was genuinely concerned they may steal her identity.
The girls took a lot onboard in the clinic and there was a great sense of positivity in the air as we headed to the pool for lunch. Some of the girls are yet to acclimatise to the fact that meals almost always come in two courses here and still act surprised when the second dish comes out. Tamara be-headed a dead fish (sorry RSPCA) and Divina commented that the eyeballs are actually really nice, just one of many strange comments throughout the day… Some of the girls played musical chairs as they were joined by a few wasps, cough cough Hannah. After some lovely Paella that was enjoyed by all, we headed towards the pool.
It didn’t take too long for the competitions to commence. Synchronised diving seems to be out, but relay races are right back in. A few wardrobe malfunctions on dives allowed Ben to get ahead in the coaches versus players relay. Which… I think means someone is due to buy me an ice-cream but I can follow up on that later.
After a reasonable recovery session in the pool, we headed back to the hotel for a short rest before this afternoon’s game. Today we were playing a team from the local Tres Cantos club. The girls were very excited to implement what we had worked on in practise and you could see that right from the tip. We took the lead early and never really looked back. We played with much more intensity, energy and the desire to compete. Nothing was a surprise to us anymore, we fought hard and played with a greater level of confidence. Each and everyone of the girls had their moment to shine, whether it was Maisie’s floater off her baseline penetration, Katelyn’s sharp shooting, Louise’s’ dominance inside, Divina’s defensive efforts, Cassie with the blocks and hustle… and I could go on. But I am mostly trying to highlight that I know everyone’s names now! ????
The girls felt proud of themselves after the game today and were great sportswomen, talking to the opposition and socialising. Except Katelyn, she doesn’t like people, or breakfast apparently. A great win after a great day of getting better.
Off to ham no burger for dinner now, do I order the burger and chance just getting the ham? *UPDATE* this is Ben’s favourite restaurant, yet the restaurant doesn’t seem to return the favour. Ben likes to have all butter and no oil with his roll to start… Except he didn’t receive his butter until course two. But let’s backtrack… Ham no burger wasn’t on the menu tonight, so after being told that “no the Spanish traditional soup couldn’t be served warm instead of cold” he opted for a vegetable dish to start, except they only had two and they had already been ordered, alas he settled with the Cod stuffed peppers. Except ben doesn’t eat fish. Next came the mains, which when everyone else got theirs had a suitable amount of chips. Not for Ben, it was all chicken no chips. I know what you are thinking, surely we must have more luck with dessert? Ben wanted Vanilla ice-cream (bland I know) but wait.. there was only two and the girls ordered them already. He settled with Pineapple after taking quite a fancy to it when he saw Maisie’s. Can it get worse for Ben, yes it can… Ben receives the end of the pineapple, you know the bit with the skin still partially a part of the slice..
Stay tuned, Ben’s dining struggles will check back in tomorrow.
Last day of the tour and you can see it at breakfast this morning. A slightly earlier start, everyone has their boots this time. We were a little more adaptive with practice, to accommodate the tiredness. But we were still able to work on a few specifics ahead of tonight’s game.
Next up was a coaching clinic this time by a renowned coach from ACB club Fuenlabrada. He took the girls through some different finishing options and dribble moves offensively. The girls struggled initially but they seemed to pick up most of the moves by the end of the clinic. With a lot more repetition you may see some European inspired finishes on the court this year, watch this space. But note, Cassie was ahead of the game with her notorious, “go-to” one step finish.
Next up we headed to the pool, the much anticipated section of the day for all! A great cool down and recovery session for the girls, some lunch and we were back to the hotel for a longer rest than usual.
In tonight’s game we played Tres Cantos again, except they brought some more talented girls than the previous day. They didn’t fancy another defeat! The girls came out setting the tempo early and despite struggling to score initially we kept up the pace. We began to move the ball around a little more than the two games previously and we had some really great defensive contributions from, Katelyn, Charlotte and Davina, to name a few.
Louise did an excellent job dominating inside and it was nice to see her making some more aggressive moves. Despite their evident tiredness, the girls fought back from a 17 point deficit to bring the game to 6 at the beginning of the 4th quarter. With some great team defensive possessions we held this gap, which gave us a fighting chance to hold on and steal the game. The enthusiasm and support from the whole team made for an exciting finish! A couple quick tactical timeouts at the end to talk game strategy weren’t enough to combat Tres Cantos’ sharp three point shooting and we wound up losing by 6.
Despite the close defeat, I couldn’t have been more proud of the attitude and resilience of the girls today. They showed a real desire to fight, to tackle the challenge that tiredness and fatigue brings. They’ve set a benchmark now for themselves and their season. I’m excited to follow their progress and I thank you all for allowing me to have a small impact on their basketball endeavours! P.s. Katelyn “no breakfast” Martin, thanks for the leg workout today as we travelled through the airport!