|Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. You can contact Paul by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Janel McCarville has experienced just about everything since last summer - from unemployment, injury and tragedy to the on-court high of recording a stellar double-double and near MVP performance at Final Four before ultimately climbing the winning podium with her team-mates.
In another Paulball hijack, the Spartak Moscow center summarises her personal journey during one of the most fascinating and eventful seasons you could ever imagine for any player in EuroLeague Women. Take it away J-Mac!
Hi everyone - tell me this hasn't been one crazy year!
Janel went from unemployed to playing with maybe the best player on the planet in Diana Taurasi in a matter of days.
Having already spent a year in Moscow, I was excited to be heading back last summer hoping the problems we had experienced during the previous season were over. With only about two weeks to go before I was intending to head over and re-join my team-mates at CSKA Moscow, I told myself the year ahead was going to be better than the last. I had convinced myself it had to be - it surely couldn't get any worse.
With about a week to go, I suddenly received a call from my agent who told me CSKA Moscow had folded. I was so angry that I wasn't going to be on this great team anymore. No more playing with Hammon, Lawson-Wade, Wauters, Korstin and Douglas. I am not quite sure exactly what the time-frame was between the phone call to tell me I was suddenly unemployed and the one to tell me I was hired again but you had better believe that at the time, it felt like forever. I then heard Shabtai Von Kalmanovic and Spartak Moscow were interested and without delay (I joke you not), I just knew that I would be playing for a EuroLeague Women Championship!
My Birthday was rapidly approaching and we were all getting excited. ‘Shabs' hooked it up as he always did with VIP tickets to Beyonce on the 2nd of November and then we were going to party on the 3rd for me. Everyone was so excited for Beyonce and I remember how I couldn't stop thinking how happy I was to be there at that very moment with all my friends and still playing in a great city like Moscow, over 5000 miles from home with some of the coolest people on the planet. We arrived at the the office to meet up with him and there was just an awkward feeling all around and that was so not like his office.
After a while, the drivers were huddled outside and people were rushing inside and we didn't know what was going on really because nobody would speak with us at first. Diana Taurasi was told what had happened first and I felt like something was wrong with her family. In fact, I was so scared for her because I could see the look on her face. My heart sunk deeply, because I have felt the pain of losing someone so important to me.
When we were told the details of how he had died, my heart couldn't sink anywhere else. It actually wanted to shrivel up and hide somewhere deep inside me where no one would see it. I have experienced death in so many ways during my life. From my closest grandmother to uncles, aunts, friends from school, friends of the family and my mother but this was different. This had me so rattled and experiencing such a feeling I have never had before.
After the news, everyone went their separate ways and I did not go to the Beyonce party. Instead, I just went home and believe me, when I tell you I sat curled up, ducked down as I could possibly ride in that car.
A week earlier we had a game and afterwards, I went out with him alone for a meal at one of the best spots in Moscow. It was all about me and my future. It was really rather fun being one-on-one with Shabtai. He always made you feel you were the most important person in the world with him. This happened to be the one day a week he gave his driver off, so I sat in the front seat, where he would usually sit and consequently, all that kept running through my mind that night was it could have been me and not surprisingly, I hardly slept.
The one thing that's hard to overcome about playing overseas is the loneliness we get in not having someone to help the time pass a little easier. That was why having my dad (Terry) come over for 3 weeks so awesome. Having never been to Russia, I took him to Red Square and I couldn't help but think how he might feel, with peoples former thoughts of Russia compared to the one I know. He experienced so many things while being there and I had so much fun with him that the time just flew past and it was soon back to fighting the daily grind for me.
To The Final Four We Go!
Playing Fenerbahce at their spot is no easy game folks. With nothing to lose, we knew they were going to come out strong and they sure did. It was neck and neck the whole game and in the last seconds of overtime I went up for the last rebound of the game and ended up coming down on someone's foot and rolled my ankle badly. I didn't do much the next couple of weeks trying to get my ankle right because we had the small matter of a date with Ekat in Valencia to keep.
It's different playing EuroLeague Women games and Russian League games because you have a rule in Russia that two Russian players must always be on the court. Substitution plays a role and how to match up as well. The reason I bring this up is you cannot look ahead too far. We had to prepare for Ekat in a way that suited the Russian perspective and then the EuroLeague Women one. Believe me, with their squad, this is no easy task.
We had already lost twice to Ekat during the season going into the final game of the year in the Russian league. We had lost to them in the game just before Christmas by 8 at home and in the Russian cup by I believe only 2 points and that made for an interesting final game ahead of our EuroLeague Women clash also.
Just two days before this game in practice I pulled a muscle and was not able to play. I felt like ‘you know what' because of how important this game was. It was somewhat a different feeling in the locker-room this time. When the game actually tipped off, we had this attitude that we weren't backing down for no-one that night and ended up winning by 14, taking not only that game but also winning the regular season title. Everyone stepped up in this game and played their hearts out. It was one of our best team games, and course you know Dee balled out!
Final Four Time
We left on the 4th of April and headed to Madrid. The trip was about five hours, so imagine how happy I was when I had got myself an exit row! Some airlines in Europe seem to have the smallest area for your legs ever by the way, I can't even call it leg space because there isn't enough room! Ha ha, okay that was a bit of a rant but anyway.
We got to Madrid and had our welcome meal at 23.00 while on the 5th, we had practice and then a game with Rivas the following day against a fellow Euroleague Women team and the home team of Madrid. Since we had a day off on the 7th, we went touring Madrid and saw so many beautiful buildings and shops, we (Netty, Marina and me) even went on a bus tour.
We then flew to Valencia on the morning of the 8th and practiced in the evening. Each team is only allowed 1 hour but we had time before this to prepare (by the way, I love clowning with Sylvia during this time) as its more of just a time to review and get some shots up. After shoot-arounds in the morning, most people napped and then headed to a coffee break two hours before game time.
Well, for the Final Four we got new uniforms and we were so excited to black it out. We had been planning it for weeks, we were going to look so good, 'all black everything'. Ha, ha, well we all showed up at coffee break looking good and feeling strong with our blacks on! Nobody really said anything but we just all felt it - that was until we got on to the bus only to be told that we are wearing white for this game. Initially we all thought it was a joke but sure, it wasn't. We all busted off the bus to change so we would be a little late. It turned into a pretty hectic situation fast and in the end, it was funny and took the edge off things a little bit for us.
There was little time for celebration after the game because we knew our work had only just got started. The biggest game of the year was ahead of us and you only get one day to prepare although both physically and mentally, we have been preparing all year long, and so one day is enough at this point. We watch 15-30 minutes of film and then have a one hour practice to go over scouting and plays while of course you have to get those jumpers in!
The Big Game Day
Game day -and finally the day we could actually go 'All black everything '. When you are sat in the locker-room before the game with all your gear on, it does finally sink in that you are playing for a EuroLeague Women championship. When the final horn sounded, I had no real instant feelings of excitement if the truth be told - nothing. My thoughts before the game of me playing in a championship game weren't there any longer.
It was just a hard fought game against a very strong Spanish club Ros Casares with and against women I have watched on television when younger, saw in the Olympics and played against in the WNBA. Only then do I realise I have truly lived out a dream this year, and I remembered my thoughts when I signed with Spartak last summer about the fact we were going to possibly win (another) EuroLeague Women championship.
Every single one of us took a picture of ‘Shabs' with us into the game. We all had him tucked away in our socks, trainers, in pants pockets while the coaches had photos in their jacket pockets and friends by their hearts. He was with us all season long but never did we want him with us at a game more than this one! He is so badly missed by us all.
Just For The Record
I want to congratulate Ekat on a great season of EuroLeague Women play. You have a great squad and many talented players, including Gundars Vetra as coach. The rivalry is strong, but I want to clean up the t-shirt for a minute. It was inspired by your gold shirts after the Russian cups, which I'm sure you all loved wearing! I love playing you all on the court and that's where me and my team-mates rivalry will stand and remain - firmly on the court.
Like I said at the start, tell me it hasn't been a crazy year!
Continue to follow Janel McCarville at www.twitter.com/JanelMcCarville