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What it's like to play in a city hit by a terror attack

brussels

Paris, Istanbul, Ankara and Brussels have been among the many cities hit by terror attacks in the past few months. Of course, basketball is played there too –  often at a very high level – and players are tangentially effected by such terrible events. We wanted to talk to a bunch of them about how exactly those attacks disrupt their lives on and off the court. Overall, their approach is pretty stoic in the face of a scary situation while doing a job on a foreign land. We let them explain in their own words.

* Tremmell Darden has been a member of European powerhouses like Real Madrid, Olympiacos and Unicaja. He signed with Besiktas of Istanbul last year.

* A Euroleague champion with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2014, guard Ricky Hickman has played for Fenerbahce of Istanbul the last two seasons.

* Gerald Robinson Jr has averaged 11.1 ppg and 3.3 apg in the Eurocup for Nanterre, a team in the western suburbs of Paris.

* Donald Sims has played the last couple of seasons for Basic-Fit Brussels.

Ben Woodside joined Turk Telekom of Ankara last season after playing with Kristaps Porzingis at Baloncesto Sevilla last year.

* Ben McCauley is a 29-year-old forward who plays for Istanbul Buyukeshir.

Donald Sims: “When the attack happened, we were headed to practice. A teammate told us as we were walking to the gym and then the coaches told us too. We actually had another practice scheduled that day, but we were told to go home and stay in and stay safe.”

Ben McCauley: “The day of the Brussels attacks, I heard my teammates talking about what had happened and how a Belgian player with a Brazilian passport had been injured. When they said that, I remembered Sebastien had a Brazilian passport. So I asked, ‘Is his name Sebastien Bellin?’ They said it was and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh’. I didn’t know how badly he was injured, but it was pretty sad and shocking to hear that it was somebody that I know and I have played with. I messaged him on Skype, but he hasn’t responded yet.”

Donald Sims: “I’ve been in that airport a dozen times. When they described where the bombs were, I knew exactly what they were talking about. It’s a very surreal moment. It’s very scary.”

Gerald Robinson Jr: “It was shocking and scary. I had a friend visiting me in Paris when the attacks happened and we were kind of doing the tourist thing in the city the day before. It makes you sit back and reflect and cherish life because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“We were in the hotel finishing dinner and there was a game on TV. We first heard rumors about an attack at the airport and terrorists taking hostages and things like that. Different sources said different things, but all were talking about more deaths and injured people. I called back home quickly to tell them I was OK.”

Donald Sims: “You never think it can happen that close. We live like 10 minutes away from the airport.”

Ricky Hickman: “It’s been difficult seeing the events happen the last couple of weeks. It’s happened in Istanbul and Ankara. The whole thing makes you more careful and mindful of your surroundings. I live on the Asian side of the city, which is 20-25 minutes away from the European part, which is where the attacks are happening. It makes you a little nervous even if it’s not a highly-targeted area when there’s terrorist attacks 20 minutes away.”

Ben Woodside: “It’s never good when you wake up and you hear about a suicide bombing in the city where you’re staying at. It’s eerie. It’s not a comfortable feeling at all. You just have to make sure you’re vigilant and you’re not at the wrong area at the wrong time.”

Tremmell Darden: “We know the threat is real and is out there, but as you can see things around the world are going haywire. I basically stay in my area and don’t venture out too much. As much as you want take in all the sites, you ease up on the touristic stuff.”

Donald Sims: “After the Paris attacks, you kind of keep it in the back of your mind because Paris is really close. They caught people from Brussels that were involved in the Paris attacks. You kept it in the back of your mind that something could possibly happen, but it was still a shock.”

Gerald Robinson Jr: “They canceled the games in France for a few days. The atmosphere on the team was kind of like we were all in awe. It’s a sad time and it definitely changes your routine. It’s like you limit yourself in the things that you do. Especially during that time, I know a lot of guys wouldn’t go to heavily-populated places. You were just more cautious. Guys wouldn’t go to the mall or restaurants, cafes and things like that because they were worried.”

Ben McCauley: “All I really do is stay in my apartment, go to the gym, practice and go home. I try to stay safe. This is something I’m doing more now after the attacks happened. My girlfriend visited me after the attacks… I wanted to take her to the historic places. And yeah, we did that a little bit… But not as much as we would have done before.”

Tremmell Darden: “My wife and kids are here with me. They go to schools here and they were both actually born in Europe, one in France and the other one in Belgium. My 9-year-old son, the older one, gets a little more wary and scared. At times, he’s a little bit on edge. My other son, who’s six, is still too young to understand. As a parent and with some of the things I’ve been through, I know that when you show panic and change your attitude it trickles down to your kids and they are going to panic and have fear about different situations. Even if the threat is there, I try not to change how I conduct myself or my attitude or my everyday habits because I don’t want my kids to be nervous about what’s going on.

“Normally, I just tell them that we’re covered by the cloth of God and can’t live in fear and we have to do what it is that we’re supposed to do. Yes, things can happen but we don’t sit up and worry about them.”

Ricky Hickman: “I’m with my wife and my son in Istanbul and she tries to be positive and we’re just trying to make sure everybody back home knows we’re safe. They show the worst of the worst on TV and that makes people much more nervous.”

Ben Woodside: “It’s difficult when your family is away in America. It’s nerve-wracking for them. When I learn something has happened, I try to contact them and let them know I’m OK. But obviously not a comforting feeling for them when your family members live in a city where multiple bombings have happened. I think it’s a little uneasy for them, but they are supportive still.”

Donald Sims: “When I talked to my family after the attack, I just wanted to ease their minds and their concerns a little bit. My fiancée came to visit a few months ago. Just as easy, she could have come that day. They are real worried, but I tell them those things can happen anywhere, not just Brussels.”

Tremmell Darden: “Any time there’s a very serious threat somewhere, the U.S. embassy sends out an alert advising us not to go to certain areas because they’ve received some kind of information that there’s a possibility that something could happen. A lot of times, they are pretty thorough. What happened in Ankara, the alert came out from the embassy and it ended up being an attack in that area. They also said something could happen in Taksim (an area in Istanbul) and something did. There’s an eating place we would go to in Taksim, but on that particular week when the alert came out after a game, we said, ‘We won’t be going there this time’. We just follow the directions that we’re given.”

Donald Sims: “Me and my teammates went to see the new Batman movie, but we went to Antwerp to do that. We didn’t do that in Brussels, which is what we would normally do. I guess we’re taking precautions.”

ricky hickman

Ricky Hickman: “I’m pretty sure some guys have privately thought about leaving. When you sign a contract, you’re here to do a job and it’s difficult to walk away from that. But if staying doesn’t feel right in your heart and want to go back to your family, I can understand people leaving.”

Ben McCauley: “The atmosphere on the team changes a little bit after an attack happens, but we have to continue to work and do our job. We’re still here to play basketball, but of course we talk about it and make sure we share the information we have.”

Gerald Robinson Jr: “No one on our team thought about leaving, but I know that a player for an opposing team didn’t travel because he didn’t want to play in Paris.”

Donald Sims: “My first game after the attack was the same. If anything, it was a relief to hit the court and see the fans. That kind of takes it off your mind a little bit. You’re reminded about why you came over here to play the game.”

Ben McCauley: “I haven’t heard from other players about leaving. You have to consider it’s almost April and the focus is on finishing the season strong the last two months. Had it happened in November, maybe we could talk about going to another team or a different country.”

Gerald Robinson Jr: “It didn’t affect my play. Basketball is actually the time where you can be free and you can forget about all the things that are going on. It’s like a safe haven where you can go out there and live in the moment.”

Ben McCauley: “If the terror attacks continue in the summer when I’m home, if it gets worse… You might think about it before returning here. It it’s just one time, it’s over and the safety is OK, I have no problem coming back here.”

Ricky Hickman: “If people pass on playing on Turkey, that’s on them. I’m not going to tell anybody that’s not the right thing to do because you’re responsible for your own safety. If you feel you’re in danger, you’re not going to be comfortable and basketball is probably not going to be priority No. 1.”

Tremmell Darden: “Things are happening all over the world. It’s not just one particular area. Things are happening in America and other countries. The threat is going to be there wherever you go. If you love the game of basketball, you don’t have to worry about those things.”

Geralrd Robinson Jr: “You have to think you have to continue with your normal life. The only thing you want to do is really pray and have faith that everything is going to be OK. Because that’s the reason that attacks happen – to push fear into people’s hearts.”

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