2017/18 Power Packs

Road Trippin’ PER Hollinger pt. 2

By John Hollinger

BARCELONA, SPAIN – I’m 4,771 miles from FedExForum, but being this far away from Memphis isn’t a problem because of the distance. It’s not a problem because of the language either.

It’s a problem because of the time zones.

Technology has done some amazing things to make it easier to stay connected while on the job, even in places that are much more remote than this one. But the little problem of the sun’s revolution around the earth remains a stubborn obstacle, both due to the unavoidable, crushing jetlag, and to the more inalienable fact that Memphis and Europe are seven hours apart.

As a result, tracking your team while scouting Europe is virtually impossible to do in real-time. We normally play 7 p.m. games in Memphis, which means they start after 2 a.m. in Europe and end near 4:30 a.m. Maybe you roll like that, but I’m sound asleep then.

However, this trip flipped the script: The time zones help provide an unexpected highlight.

When the team is on the West Coast, the games start late enough that it’s plausible to wake up for the ending – a 9-hour difference. Such was the case on Saturday morning (Friday night in the USA), when the Grizzlies were playing on national TV in Golden State, while I was waking up in Madrid and trying to hustle out the door to catch a train to Barcelona.

The time difference meant a 4:30 a.m. tip-off; combined with jetlag that has me wide awake early in the morning, it meant I could watch the entire second half. (A momentary advantage for jetlag, but the need for sleep always returns with a vengeance later – at some random point in the middle of every day, a tsunami of drowsiness will wash over me and leave me faceplanted into the bed).

Better yet, I had a cheering section with me. After going at it alone in Bilbao, I met up with our European scout, Davide Prati, in Madrid. We had gone to a game Friday night, and arranged to meet for breakfast while we watched the end of the Grizzlies-Warriors game in the hotel restaurant.

As I packed my bag and got dressed, things did not seem promising – the Warriors juggernaut led by as many as 24, and held a 19-point advantage on us after three quarters.

And then, out of the blue, we had one of our best moments of the season, rallying for the biggest comeback in the NBA this season … while across the Atlantic, the two of us were pumping fists and high-fiving in the midst of assorted huevos and Manchego cheese, all to the utter bewilderment of nearby restaurant patrons.

And then, out of the blue, we had one of our best moments of the season, rallying for the biggest comeback in the NBA this season … while across the Atlantic, the two of us were pumping fists and high-fiving in the midst of assorted huevos and Manchego cheese, all to the utter bewilderment of nearby restaurant patrons.

Time remains a barrier, but this was one example of how keeping up with the Grizz is much easier with today’s technology than it was even a few years ago. I can watch my DVR in Memphis from a hotel in Spain, download games to my laptop minutes after their completion, and call people from nearly anywhere with Skype or WhatsApp.

Nonetheless, you still wish you were with the team in moments like the one against Golden State – a highlight of our season thus far.

But Davide and I had work to do. We had come to Madrid not to alarm Spaniards trying to eat their breakfast in peace, but to watch a showdown between two of Europe’s biggest powerhouses, Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow, on Friday night.

There were 9 players with NBA experience in this one, as well as a few European stars who easily could have made the jump and at least two draft prospects. (League rules prevent me from discussing draft prospects at this time, beyond grudgingly admitting to their existence). The game proved as entertaining as we hoped, a close battle to the end with a lively crowd in one of Europe’s better arenas, as Madrid prevailed 95-85. Apologies to the NCAA, but quality-wise, this likely will be the best non-NBA game I see this year.

The next day, after the Grizzlies had sent us off to the train station in high spirits, we went to Barcelona to spend two days watching the Adidas Next Generation Tournament, featuring some of the best under-18 talent in Europe.

Tournaments are scout magnets -- it’s usually a much more efficient way to see players, since you can see several games in the same day without having to change cities. As a result, virtually any multi-game format will draw flocks of scouts – the upcoming D-League showcase, for instance, or the college conference tournaments in March. This one is no exception, and we see several familiar faces from other teams.

It’s also one of many situations where a good overseas scout can really help. Davide has already seen most of these players before, ones that I’m seeing in person for the first time. Between that and the background info he has from his contacts throughout Europe, he he can quickly give me the lowdown on the better talents as I’m watching them play.

This is old hat for him by this point. A native of Switzerland who lives in Italy, he’s been our overseas scout for nearly a decade after working with our general manager, Chris Wallace, in Boston; somehow, along the way, he turned into a raging Alabama football fan. (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard an Italian-accented “Roll Tide”). Davide will fight the time zones again in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, watching ‘Bama go for the title against Clemson just as we had done with the Grizzlies two days earlier.

But before we split up, we had one more interesting game to see, a Spanish league game on Sunday between FC Barcelona and Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro. It held some interesting players for us to scout, but also had an important Grizzlies connection.

While FC Barcelona is more famously known as the origin point for the Gasol’s careers, it’s also where we found another high-scoring Spaniard: Juan Carlos Navarro, who played all 82 games for us in 2007-08 and rained in 156 3-pointers that season. In fact, it was only this weekend that our Troy Daniels tied one of his team records by making at least three triples in five consecutive games.

Juan Carlos still plays for FC Barcelona, and although he’s 36 years old and doesn’t play as big a role as he used to, he still could beat nearly anybody in the world in a game of H-O-R-S-E. In this game, he turned back the clock for a night, showcasing the full repertoire of trick shots – including a running one-legged 3-pointer from the left corner – as he scored 18 in Barcelona’s 100-76 rout.

It’s a wrap for Spain. Unfortunately, the arena and the hotel are about all I get to see of Barcelona, one of the world’s most beautiful cities – with two days packed full of games, there’s no time for paella on the beach or strolling down the Ramblas this weekend.

Instead, I’m up at the indecent hour of 4:30 a.m. on Monday for my flight to Belgrade … and once again, I’m stuffing my bags as I try to keep track of the Grizzlies. They grind out a close win over Utah, making it twice in three days that our squad has me proudly inhaling breakfast en route to my next stop.

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