I have just recently completed my 13th season as a professional basketball player. This season also included some changes. I had to leave home earlier than I ever had to leave before. I’ve abroad longer than usual. Even with these changes, this season has definitely been great for many reasons.
Coming into this season I prayed continuously to return to a place I fell in love with ten years ago, a place where my wife and I got engaged, a place where I would want my kids to be fully indulged in the culture. That place is Japan. My prayers were answered. On a hot July evening I was making a food run for the family and got a call from Serbia. I have a lot of Serbian friends, but this named wasn’t in my contact list. I answered the phone hesitantly and the voice on the end said, “Jawad Williams, how are you? This Coach Luka”. To summarize our convo, Coach Luka said “I am now the head coach of Alvark Tokyo. My goal is to put together a team to compete for championship. I’ve been following your career for quite some time and I feel like you are the guy I need to help me win”. When I found out that coach and I had mutual friends and business associates, I knew this could work. I asked my usual questions and before we hung up the phone. I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to play.
After sealing the deal I was notified of my expected arrival date. It was earlier than I ever had to leave, but I understand what it takes to create a winning environment while implementing a new system, to a newly built team. So off I went, I had to sacrifice my summer, which are always short to get prepared for the upcoming season with my new team. While my teammates were new, I was reunited with some of the guys I played against when I last played in Japan. Joji Takeuchi and Shohei Kikuchi, were now my teammates. The GM from my old team was now working with my team. The team’s manager/ assistant was there when I used to play against this team. The familiar faces helped the transition. Also being that I had been in Japan and was accustomed to the culture and food already there was no real transition period. Everything went smooth.
From day one my teammates and I worked extremely hard. Two a days, film sessions, weight lifting, we did everything with a purpose and a focus to be the best team we could possibly be. While it wasn’t easy at all we did it without complaining. Well not complaining 90% of the time. The results of hard work showed in our games. Even when we would lose three to four players for few days out of the week to the Japan national team, the guys who stayed behind continued to work. When injuries and fatigued occurred, our medical staff was there putting in long hours to get guys right. Another thing that stood out was that either before or after or both guys were in the gym working on their games. The constant hard work allowed our team to finish second in our division and fourth overall, which put us in the playoffs.
Even during the playoffs we hit a couple bumps in the road. In the first half of game 1 in the semifinals, I took a hit while going for an offensive rebound. The hit put me on the ground for a couple minutes and I couldn’t catch my breath. After getting evaluated I said I was good to play. What I didn’t mention was the popping I felt in my rib area. I figured maybe I dislocated a rib or two and it was popping back in place; so I wrapped up continued to play. After winning the series I thought it best go see a doctor. That’s when I found out I actually fractured a rib and had been playing through it. With the news of the fracture, I had two options. One sit out cause I can’t go, or fight through the pain and help secure a championship. I chose the latter. I mean its only one game, it was only a chance to be a part of history, it was only a chance to leave my legacy.
The ups and downs of the year paid off. We secured a championship. We became the 2017-2018 Japan B League Champions. Winning on any level is never easy. If it was everyone would do it. There is no better feeling than being rewarded for hard work. For me this is my fourth title abroad. The smiles of family meant the most to me. They know first hand what sacrifice is, because we all give up something, whether it be time, friends, or just comfort. With the season being over its time for me to balance my training and recovery, while also helping to prepare some youth to not only be great athletes, but great individuals through our non profit organization Strive To Excel. Check out the website www.strivetoexcel.org. Talk to you all again soon. Till then, never get tired of doing the right thing. PEACE!