Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Some say basketball is more a mental game than a physical one. Others would say that success in basketball is more timing than hard work. I like to think that it is a combination of all that, along with a little luck. One thing is for sure, if you are mentally stronger than the opposing team, then the game and score will take care of itself.
We are coming off two important wins in both Israel and the Euroleague. The first was the mid-season Israeli Cup and the second game was on the road against Union Olimpija Ljubljana. We knew both would be difficult, hard-fought games that would be determined by focus and physical play.
An Israeli Cup win is always a mid-season goal for Maccabi, and I must say it was a game I will never forget. I guess you could say that we beat the opposing team mentally before they ever had a chance to be in the game physically. I know basketball is a physical sport, but in this particular game it turned into a much talked about wrestling match. In the third quarter, one of the opposing players of Netanya and I both went up for the rebound. The pressure of the mental game really got to him and in the intensity of the moment, he lost his cool and tried to take out his frustrations on me. Fortunately for me, I have some good teammates who reacted quickly and I was not harmed in the would-be brawl. Personally, I was doing everything in my power not to fight - I just wanted to move on to the next play of the game and hopefully win another cup. This was a game where professional composure made all the difference. One thing is for sure:
the mental fortitude of professional athletes is something that should never be overlooked. All the time spent in the gym, watching film and preparing for games mean nothing if you can't mentally handle the pressure that is on you once the game starts.
Our other big game was a Euroleague battle in Slovenia against Union Olimpija Ljubljana that ended up being a tale of two halves. We had won our previous game against them at home, two weeks earlier, by 37 points, so many people probably thought that we would be over-confident and take this game lightly. Fortunately, that is not our character as a team and we knew what was at stake. Adding fuel to the fire was a rumor circulating that the head coach of Olimpija was already predicting their victory in the game.
The first half of the game we played OK. We made some mental mistakes that had us down by 8 points at halftime. They made some good shots and defensively forced us into some bad decisions, but we never lost our cool and we headed into the locker room still believing we could win the game. At halftime our coach David Blatt gave us a loud pep talk (read: we got yelled at), which was exactly what we needed. He asked us to look inside ourselves and play the way we know how to play, individually and as a team.
The second half of the game was a completely different story. We played with a small lineup and used zone and switching defense to try and stop Olimpija, which caught them off guard. We didn't suddenly turn into different players:
we just decided focus and force them to play our style of basketball. We played hard, smart and, most importantly, together to eventually win the game by 21.
Even though I have been playing professional basketball for eight years now, I am still learning and being reminded all the time of what it takes to improve and to succeed. A positive and strong mental attitude, physical hard work, playing together and, most importantly, staying humble are what it takes to succeed at the highest levels. I was reminded of that over the last few weeks and I believe that the rest of my team was, too. We still have long way to go this season and we will remind each other every day what it takes to be the best team and group of professionals we can be.
DAVID BLU - TEL AVIV, ISRAEL