| ||Jeff Taylor has been covering European basketball since 1997, when he first worked on the television program SLAM. He has been a basketball writer and broadcaster since that time, traveling the continent and covering the game in depth for FIBA Europe since its launch in 2003. |
The moment Mike Hall had been praying for arrived at long last on 13 January.
He had a contract in his hands.
Hall, having battled back from a ruptured Achilles tendon, was officially earning money as a professional basketball player again after signing for Spanish Liga Endesa and EuroChallenge outfit, Fuenlabrada.
Looking to shout out his feelings to the world, Hall, who had played professionally in America, Italy and Turkey, went on Twitter.
He tweeted: "Sitting here with tears in my eyes looking at my first contract since my injury....I'm blessed to be doing what I love again!"
Hall, 27, had had an emotion-packed, whirlwind week.
Fuenlabrada, whose leading center Gustavo Ayon left for the NBA's New Orleans Hornets before Christmas, needed reinforcements on the frontline.
The sense of urgency grew when the Madrid-based club discovered big man Leo Mainoldi had a knee problem and would miss games.
The team then suffered a hammer blow on 7 January when 2.11m center Mouhamed Sene suffered a season-ending knee injury in the win over Unicaja Malaga.
Fuenlabrada acted swiftly.
They signed Haitian center Robert Joseph, a 33-year-old who had spent his entire career in the LEB, and he played in the midweek EuroChallenge win over BC Nizhny Novgorod on 10 January.
Fuenlabrada also invited Hall to try out for the team.
|In sport, one man's bad luck can be another man's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Mouhamed Sene's serious injury opened, completely unexpectedly, the Fuenlabrada doors to Michael Hall|
He impressed, so they signed him, too.
Hall's voice shook with feeling when he remembered what had just happened.
"My agent called me, and I ran to the airport," he said to Basketball World News.
"I was at home, just waiting for something to happen and I got that call.
"I was packed within an hour.
"I said, 'When do you want me to leave?'
"I got here and the coach (Porfirio Fisac) just told me, 'Calm down and do what you do, just rebound and play defense and you'll have a place on this team.'"
WINNING AS A TEAM
While Hall was trying out, Fuenlabrada won a thrilling game against BC Nizhny Novgorod in the EuroChallenge with Joseph playing an important role.
Because of the changes in the team, no one expected Fuenlabrada to hit the road and play well at Valencia.
But they did, and even won, 77-69.
Fuenlabrada hustled on defense, shutting down lanes to the basket.
They made life miserable for Valencia sharpshooter Rafa Martinez.
The club also got a heroic 27-point performance from Kirk Penney.
After the win, the players gathered in the middle of the court, arms over shoulders, and danced.
"It's always a team thing," Hall said.
"When you have people cheering for you, it doesn't matter who's scoring for us, who takes the shots, that's how you win and that's how the game is supposed to be played."
The victory was their eighth in 16 Liga Endesa games and kept them in the hunt for the Copa del Rey.
A ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTIONS
Hall looked exhausted, and pensive, as he walked out of the Fuenlabrada changing room after the win at Valencia.
"I've got so many emotions going on in my head right now," he said.
He had scored six points, corralled six rebounds and played terrific defense in 20 minutes.
"Just to come back to a team like this, to a game like this and to win on the road - I'm just so happy and amazed right now and thank Fuenlabrada for the opportunity just to get back on the court and for coming after me."
Newcomers Hall and Joseph look as if they already have a close bond with their teammates.
"This team is great," Hall said.
"You've got guys pulling for each other, cheering me on like I've been on the team for years.
"I feel right at home, feel comfortable out there. I feel great."