Continued from Part 2…
The gym in Herceg Novi, Montenegro was brand new — as in the team had just started regularly using it for practices when I arrived. It looked great: a shiny floor, a few thousand seats, that construction-just-ended dust on some of the seats. The building even smelled like new construction. Some of the glass surfaces still had that blue tape-like adhesive on it that goes on glass while the building is still being worked on.
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But the building’s heat didn’t work.
I’m big on having control of the heat. I moved from my hometown of Philadelphia to Miami for the weather. It’s 65 degrees in Miami today as I write this; the balcony door is closed and heat is on. I’d choose to be uncomfortably hot before being cold. I definitely didn’t like playing a cold version of basketball.
Now, if you look up Herceg Novi on the map, you can see that it’s right on the water, on the Bay Of Kotor. Kotor feeds into the Adriatic Sea; Italy is on the other side. The water keeps the winter temperatures moderate. It was between 45-55 Fahrenheit all winter in Herceg Novi.
While that’s a pleasant winter for the living/walking around part of life, would you agree that being in a building without working heat during a 48-degree day would not be very comfortable?
Good, because it wasn’t.
And it’s not like we players on the basketball club were sitting around staying warm — we had to practice in that cold-ass gym.
We practiced in hoodies and sweatshirts. Our coach wore a large coat, even while in the gym; I never saw him without that coat on the whole time I was in Montenegro. We practiced a lot, which I actually enjoyed; my jumpshot never felt better than my time in HN. I couldn’t miss.
I was the only American player on that team, and I knew there were more eyes on me than on anyone else. I knew I couldn’t slack off, not even in practice sessions, and that no one would accept the cold gym as an excuse coming from the big, bad, athletic American; I was supposed to be physically superior to these other guys just by birthright.
Even though that didn’t make sense, I could argue my point, be right and unemployed, or shut my mouth and be a professional playing basketball for a living in a place that most people from where I’m from would never get to go to.
So I practiced. Hard.
Running faster than everyone. Jumping and dunking every time I was near the rim, even in warm-up layup drills. Exerting myself more than some of my veteran teammates thought I needed to. But they weren’t American, and I’d seen how average-practicing American players could be released from their contracts —quickly — if they didn’t impress, even in practices.
My aim was to impress, and to do so every day. Twice a day. Five days a week. That was our practice schedule, with a game every Saturday.
I accomplished that; my time in Montenegro was one that I was most proud of to that point of my basketball career.
But I came home from Herceg Novi with ravaged knees. It’s not good for the knees to put so much impact on them when your body isn’t warmed up.
I never got fully warm, ever, in that gym. My best games that season, in fact, were all road games.
All that hard practicing and running and dunking had caused tendonitis to flare up in both knees; when I finally got back on a basketball court in the USA, I could barely jump. I played some football-looking guy one on one at LA Fitness and the guy was out-jumping me for rebounds, scoring over me. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I couldn’t understand what the hell had happened to my body.
Though I could still play, I was now ground-bound, like Michael Jordan playing for the Washington Wizards. Though only 26 years young at the time, I thought my knees were done. My only hope, then, was to focus on my jumpshot more, to ensure I had a go-to weapon for the rest of my playing days, since it obviously wouldn’t be my athletic ability.
I’d already started working on and displaying my shooting a lot more even before Montenegro; many of my highlights from playing there were of me making outside shots.
It was around this same time that my YouTube videos began to gain popularity, and I hit a critical point where three realities converged:
- I had hundreds of videos published online,
- There wasn’t yet much competition (the rest of the basketball-instruction world was still 5 years away),
- YouTube had become mainstream: everyone was watching videos
Over the next five years, my (non-playing) business took off, while I kept playing and finally melded Dre The Shooter with Dre The Athlete (who I got back after months of jumping rope, sprints and weight lifting that offseason).
I share this story (and a lot more) as part of the lead-up to my next book, Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life. It’s coming out February 22; you can preorder Work On Your Game here, and get all the free preorder bonuses here.