Myself, Jontae “Now U Know” Vinson, and Kenny “K-Ups” Crudup represented the Hooptainers in Ukraine, where we faced the Ukrainian National Team and Junior National Team.
It took over 12 hours to reach the city of Kiev. With the increased security and attitude of the residents, we could tell we were no longer in the U.S. Some of the kind people we met never met a black person before and we were the new attraction .
From Kiev we took another flight to Odessa and then a bus ride to Yushania. This beautiful city is located right on the coast of the Black Sea. The weather reminded me of home, nice warm Cali weather.
We arrived at Hotel Ella, which was just down the block from the gym. We were scheduled for a little rest to get over the jet lag that many of us had for the 15-plus hour commute. We were given a very filling full course meal which included authentic Ukrainian dishes and freshly squeezed juice (not like Tropicana processed stuff). Later in the evening we went down to the beach and were greeted by many surprised residents, to see the world famous Hooptainers on their beach . But after taking photos with a lot of onlookers, we jumped into the cool waters of the Black Sea. The highlight of the day was when Jonate dunked Kenny into the water (lol)!
After we left the beach, we got ready for our first practice. At first we encountered a little difficulty getting into the gym, the guards did not know we had a scheduled practice. So we thought that they were trying to hate on and not let us get warmed up for our game. After about 30 minutes, the discrepancy was resolved and we were able to practice without further incident.
After practice, we had dinner and then the three of us went for a walk through the city. Unlike Los Angeles, people in Yushania walk more than they drive. We signed more autographs.
Day 2 in Ukraine
Barely any of us got any sleep, but we had scheduled appearances at the local church followed by two practices. Then we watched the Ukrainian National Team play against the Ukrainian Junior National Team.
The first practice was pretty good. The three of us made up most of practice squad 1 and we went against the main players from the Sports Power team. Sports Power jumped out to an early lead but once we got into the rhythm of the game, we settled down and regained the lead with the help of Jontae’s rebounding, Kenny’s strong finishes around the hoop and my slicing and dicing through the defense. Hooptainers basketball at its best, you know how we do .
After the scrimmage, we rested. Our bodies were still getting used to the time difference and the jet lag. After the power nap, we went back to the gym to watch the Ukrainian teams practice. Their national team had two 7-footers and the junior national team had a strong front court with several 6-10 players. During their practice, local fans tried to get our autographs but security wouldn’t let them enter. Me and Kenny love the kids, so we went outside to where they were so we could connect with them. We would not let the guards stop them from being able to meet real American ballers.
It was very difficult to get in touch with anyone back in the States. Our phones did not work and we did not have access to a computer in the hotel. However, we were able to convince our translator to let us borrow his laptop. It felt like the days of dial-up connection all over again.Tomorrow was show time, we were to scheduled to play the Ukrainian National Team.
Part 2: Game #1 – Hooptainers/Sports Power vs. Ukrainian National Team