We arrived at the airport with the team's TV crew, which accompanied us the entire trip. Fans organized a cheerful sendoff at the airport of about 75-100 supporters who sang us songs of pride and brought us gifts to take with us on our journey. It was encouraging to have the support of the club and also the loyal fans. The long trip to Japan had begun. Fourteen hours of flying (not including layovers) and then an hour drive to the hotel. I was spent!
After a short night's rest we got up early and went to local Kitakyushu schools to do demonstrations and meet and greet with the students. It was a lot of fun! The kids were thrilled to see us and couldn't wait to play basketball with us. Afterwards, we took lots of pictures and signed autographs for the kids. Each team went to two schools and each school was in attendance at the games and created quite the atmosphere.
The tournament consisted of four teams representing the continent of the championship they won. There was a team from Australia, Japan, Canada and Turkey. The competition began with our first game against Japan. It was great to get my first official game in with the team. We worked extremely well together and ran away with an 83-46 win. The next day we played Canada, who proved to be our toughest competition. Three of Canada's national team players made this team a fierce competitor. After a close contest that went back and forth most of the game, we pulled away with a 53-47 win.
After the game against the Canadian team, our club got some much needed rest and some of us went into the town to enjoy traditional Japanese foods and visited the Kokura Castle. The next day would be our toughest. It was our last game of pool play and a win against Australia would put us in the finals against Canada. But, both games would occur that day. We had a smooth start to the Australia game grabbed hold to a big lead and never looked back; 78-48 was the final.
After a quick lunch and a short rest it was time for the final. Both our team and Canada struggled to find the basket early in the game. The first quarter was low scoring, but once the game established a flow it was similar to the previous match against them. It was tight the entire first half. We pulled a small lead in the third quarter, but Canada raced back with a strong performance by their core players. With a minute to go in the third quarter, Canada led by one. I fouled a player going to the basket, he fell and suffered a injury that forced him to leave the game. I'm aware that in sports injuries happen, and even though it was a complete accident I still feel terrible about it. I play basketball with a lot of respect for the game and my opponents and would never hurt anyone intentionally. The end of the third quarter was very sour. To start the fourth, we saw a new determination in the Canadians. The injury served as motivation to their team and they came out firing. They held an 8-10 point lead early in the fourth. We sensed the game slipping and were also mentally effected by the injury, but focused up and went on a big run to end the game and come away with a 77-62 victory. The Kitakyushu Champion's Cup we came for was now ours!
After a banquet that recognized us as champions we did some post tournament interviews with the TV crew and celebrated the victory. We received a phone call from the club's president and I sensed this was going to be something much bigger once we arrived back to Turkey. Wow is all I can say! This was a real championship greeting! Part of the airport was shutdown and filled with fans. I don't know the number of people that were there, but I would guess 1,500 or so with banners, signs, flowers, wreaths, torches, fireworks. It was the most amazing celebration I've ever been apart of. There was media everywhere and people going absolutely crazy! I felt like we were a team of national heroes. After the police escorted the team through traffic we had a brief photo shoot for the website and congratulated each other one last time. What a way to start off the season!