by March 25, 2008

By Jake Appleman

I got a call from Ben almost three weeks ago. Saying that, like a Miller Lite slogan, it was a good call would be like saying that the 50 LeBron dropped on the Knicks was decent.

As it turns out, SLAM and Adidas wanted someone to go to Germany and hang out with the USA under-18 national team at the Albert Schweitzer International tournament, taking place in Mannheim this week. Apparently, I was that guy.

I’m still blown away that this is happening. (Big shout to Mats, Team USA, SLAM, Adidas and anyone else who had a hand in making this happen.) I’ll be flying out tonight and I’ll be at the tournament through its conclusion on Saturday. Then I’ll head elsewhere in Deutschland to meet a lot of extended family for the first time.

(Note: the tournament started on Saturday, but due to other commitments, I wasn’t able to go immediately.)

I’ll be missing the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, which is sort of sad, especially if CBS has Bill Raftery doing games. (Note: Does anybody else want Bill Raftery as their extra surrogate grandfather on thanksgiving? “How are the mashed potatoes coming, grandpa? “They’re good, I added, ONIONS.” “Will we have leftovers?” “BRING YOUR LUNCH!”)

Anyway, I’ll miss a few tourney games, but I think I’ll live.

(Note: If this Dirk Nowitzki injury is a German SLAM curse–I did the cover story on Dirk last year and am leaving right after he gets injured and returning shortly before he was originally supposed to come back–then I pass some of the blame to Mark Cuban for not emailing me back. Can’t a guy try and ask a billionaire and his star German for some Hefe-weizen input? I mean, this is about German hops, right?)

Since I’ve never seen any of them play, yet sill want to let you know something about Team USA, I’m posting the few things I think I do know about them. By posting this now, I’m hoping to do two things: 1) Familiarize you guys with these players a little bit, so when I send my updates you’ll know who I’m talking about and 2) Like an ice cream truck on a warm summer’s day, serve a little good humor (and glaze pun-donuts with cheez whiz, apparently).

Oh, and the USA dropped Israel by 22 in their first game of the tournament.

Travis Releford: Lock down defender headed to Kansas next fall; let me interview him for a Punk in SLAM, which is always a guaranteed 12 minutes of laugh out loud fun—or not; likes 50 Cent more than Kanye; aside from liking 50 more than Kanye, he seems like a really cool kid—like I said, I’m excited to get to know him, and the rest of his USA teammates, a little bit.

Cashmere Wright: “Electric scorer,” according to Rivals.com, headed to Cincinnati; doubtful that he’ll know what I’m talking about when I try to kick it old school and ask him for his “Cashmere thoughts”; probably has less knowledge of the “Cashmere” Seinfeld episode than the previously alluded to Jay-Z song; game comes without a glaring red dot, which is fantastic.

Erving Walker: Undersized, explosive NYC point guard seems born into the familiar Big Apple PG refrain, but don’t quote me on that; going to Florida, where he will make a copy of his own gym key so Billy Donovan can never lock him out; may at some point enjoy a T-Bone with Tebow or call Athens with Calathes.

Oscar Bellfield: Heading to UNLV, where he will run with the Rebels; last name combines two actual things (a Bell and a Field), which I have a natural appreciation for; probably doesn’t chew towels in search of a cotton-based, mouth-drying nostalgia.

Jeff Shelton: One of two American army brats on the team; currently attends an American high school in Cadiz, Spain (I’ll go out on a limb and say that I’m the only SLAM writer to have gone grocery shopping during a siesta hour stop-over in Cadiz); according to this ESPN article, the 6”1 point guard, “has impressive athleticism with very explosive leaping ability. He will surprise a bigger defender by trying to dunk on him when he attacks the rim off of penetration.”

Wally Judge: Headed to Kansas State; last name is “Judge” and, ironically, will most likely be (somewhat) replacing Michael Beasley; probably does not know that Ryan Jones prays in front of a Judge (Mike) statuette.

Brendan Lane: Only a junior; has committed to the Pacific Ten Conference; has narrowed his college choices to half of said conference; may have a fear of the Atlantic Ocean.

Brent Shuck: Like Shelton, Shuck attends a United States Department of Defense Dependent School (DoDDS); last name is Shuck, any affinity for corn is currently unknown; goes to high school in Germany and high school’s name is Ramstein (seriously), where classes include Du, Du Hast, and Du Hast Mich.

Erik Murphy: Is neither a midget nor Vincent Chase’s manager; still has a year left in high school; has given a “solid Verbal” to Florida, which may or may not mean anything (I gave a solid verbal to a buddy of mine the other day and we never met for that elusive beer).

Andy Shannon: Appears to be a late bloomer; apparently a good shot blocker that may or may not still be looking to commit to a school; did not drunkenly compete in a St. Patrick’s Day scavenger hunt, running through downtown Philadelphia like a highly visible hipster tool-kit.

Jeff Withey: 7 feet tall (that’s a lot of feet); headed to Arizona; probably won’t ask Kevin O’Neil what William Gates is up to; hopes to one day see the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Anthony Stover: Either 6”10 or 6”8, depending on which part of this web page you believe; still has another year of high school; looking at Florida and some other west coast schools; probably likes stovetop and most definitely likes stuffing.

I should holler from the other side of the pond at some point if my hotel room has a working internet connection. That or I will check in through my peoples at Five Magazine…in German. Or not. If for whatever reason you don’t get a blog post update, you should get at least two voluminous reports on my time in Deutschland upon returning.

I feel like a sober Will Ferrell in Old School when he’s telling the kids how excited he is to potentially go to Home Depot the next day, except that the Home Depot is a basketball tournament in Germany.

But really, I’m more excited than T-Mac listening to Dikembe Mutombo deliver a sonnet after Houston’s twenty-second straight win; more excited than Peter Vecsey on Isiah Thomas appreciation day; more excited than Ronaldinho’s future orthodontist’s calendar, were he to call; more excited than Lester Freamon when McNulty told him what he was up to; more excited than the first time I heard “Fortified Live” and Mr. Man spit, “cut ya @$$ in half and leave you with a semi-colon”;

(Photo Courtesy of Time Magazine.)