“Alright Brendan, you’re going to come off these two screens, get the ball, then just look to score or pass it off if you don’t have anything. Ok?”
With seven seconds left, in my first game as a member of the Trinity College Dublin basketball team, my coach, who I had met just a week earlier, was entrusting me with the final shot with our team trailing by two points. As I sat on the bench, in a crusty gym in Longford, Ireland, surrounded by twelve teammates, a handful of whom I had met for the first time that day, I had a thought that would recur frequently for the next four months: how the hell did I get here?
My journey really started with an email. After weeks of nervously procrastinating the task, I sent a message to an email address listed on the Trinity Basketball Facebook page introducing myself as a hopeful future team member. The page, which had a like count around 550, was outdated to say the least; honestly, I just hoped to get an answer telling me the team was still operable.
After a couple of weeks, I received a reply, albeit from an entirely different email address. Surprisingly, the message came from the team’s head coach, who was thrilled to hear I was coming over to study abroad in Dublin. I was invited to attend a pre-season meeting and practice with the team. Nothing was set in stone, of course, but I knew now that I would at least have the opportunity to prove myself.
Fast-forward to late August. Fresh off the plane and searching for the first Guinness of my Irish experience, I receive word that my first foray into the Irish basketball scene would be at the team’s opening training session. In other words, I had about a week to get ready.
The ability to “get ready,” of course, requires access to a basketball court, which I had naively assumed would be a fairly straightforward task. But, as my teammates would repeatedly remind me throughout the season, basketball is a minority sport in Ireland, so finding an open court to shoot around was about as easy as finding a cricket pitch in the U.S.
Thus, when the moment finally came for me to step on the court for practice, I was very much out of practice. Regardless, I proved myself quickly. Some of the skills that I had developed in America gave me an immediate advantage, namely as a scorer. Though the competition is solid, the Irish style of play is significantly different from that of the U.S. Individual ability and athleticism are largely overshadowed by team development, a model my coach explained is religiously adhered to across Europe. Rapid ball movement, three-point shooting, and lots of cutting, are tenets more appreciated than taking a player off the dribble one-on-one. As a result, I was able to mold well with the team while also finding an increased number of opportunities to score.
After a few weeks of training, our first game was announced. We would be traveling to Longford, a town located northwest of Dublin, for a scrimmage against the local Longford Falcons. The prospect of this trip thrilled me because it would be my first major excursion since arriving in Ireland. My excitement, however, simultaneously cast me as a lunatic because, for my Irish teammates, this trip was about as exciting as going to grocery store.
Which brings us back to seven seconds left. Trinity basketball is down by two points, and my coach is telling me that I will be getting the final shot. I will never forget sitting in that huddle and realizing both how absurd and incredible the situation I had gotten myself into was. I was 4,000 miles from home, in an Irish community center, playing the game I love in front of a collection of schoolchildren, parents, and just regular Irish folk with nothing to do on a Saturday evening.
When the whistle blew, my teammate fed me a perfect pass, and I had a few seconds to make a decision. I scanned the court and saw a hole near the foul line and accelerated towards it. I left the ground, got sideswiped across the head (foul calls are a little looser abroad) and put up a jumper as time expired. Swish!
As I turned towards the bench, I was relieved. The pressure was gone, and I knew I had earned my teammates’ respect. Their emotion, however, was a little more heightened. They ran towards me like I had just handed them each a million dollars. Hugs, pats on the back, (lovable) sideswipes across the head, and smiles surrounded me. We were going to overtime, and I was over the moon.
I ended up playing twenty or so more games with the lads of Trinity College Dublin. They elevated my study abroad experience from good to great and allowed me into a community that I will remain a part of for the rest of my life. They were friends and brothers, and I’ll be seeing them soon. Thanks for the good craic boys.