With the NBA lockout threatening the 2011-12 season, Orlando Magic rookie Justin Harper decided to play overseas until the labor dispute is resolved. Harper, a 6-foot-9 forward from Richmond, Va., signed a contract with Strasbourg IG, a team in France's top professional league.
Harper has played in six regular-season games for Strasbourg, which owns a 3-3 record.
He's averaging 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. That includes a season-high 20-point performance in SIG Strasbourg's 93-80 victory over Roanne on Nov. 12.
Harper is writing about his experiences for the Orlando Sentinel. This is the second installment of his overseas diary.
STRASBOURG, France — The games here are really intense.
Especially when you go into opposing teams' arenas, there's a lot more energy. Not necessarily hostile environments, but you can just really feel the energy being a lot different to what I'm accustomed to in college basketball.
The guys play harder — and they should, because people are playing for their jobs. They're playing to put food on the table, so there's a lot more at stake. Of course everybody's going to be playing harder.
When you look at World Cup games in soccer, you see that all of the fans have drums and horns in the audience, and you see all the flags and all the fanfare that goes into it.
You see all that same stuff at the basketball games. The energy is great, especially when you're the home team and you've got that behind you. It's really a great atmosphere.
I think I'm playing a lot better now.
My last game was me just really going out there and just playing as hard as I can on both sides of the ball.
I've been able to really improve on the defensive side of the ball. That's what I'm trying to do: just trying to be a better all-around basketball player by the time I leave here.
There's not a whole lot going on other than basketball because we practice so much.
We have three days a week where we have two practices a day.
We usually go around an hour and a half or two hours, just as hard as we can, starting off with some drills and warm-up stuff. And then we move on to scrimmaging. Our coach does a great job of incorporating everything in our game plan for the next game into our practices throughout the week.
I've gotten used to the routine. It's pretty good.
Other than that, you're just trying to get your rest. I hang out with my teammates when I can. But there's not too much time to go out and do what you want to do. But when we do, we have fun. It's a great town here.
After basically each home game, they have an event in the VIP section of our arena where we go and interact with the fans after the game. Luckily, we've been taking care of business at home. After a win, we get to go up there and kind of celebrate and socialize with our fans and the staff. It's real cool. It's a great opportunity to learn about the people within the city and what they do and what their lifestyle is like.
A lot of people from other countries are interested in the big cities in the U.S., like New York and L.A. They ask me a lot if I've been there and what it's like there. The people who haven't been there want to go to those cities and experience that.
My French is terrible. I haven't learned too much French other than the basics and just being able to say "hello" or "goodbye" and "please" and "thank you." I can definitely improve in that area.
Our coach, he's great. He speaks great English. He's pretty funny, too. It's just been a great experience over here. Maybe I could spend a little more time to learn some French now that I could be over here a little longer.
There's no difficulty communicating with Coach in the middle of a game. If so, I kind of just ask him to repeat himself if I don't understand it.
For our longest road trip so far, we went to Orléans. That's near Paris, and that was about a five- or six-hour bus ride. It was pretty brutal coming back after the game, especially since we lost that game, too.
I keep tabs on the NBA's labor situation.
There's not really too much I can do but kind of shake my head.
I think of how many people who aren't players in the NBA are affected by this in such a negative way. They're not getting the opportunity to work and make money. They're counting on us to get a deal done so they can get back to work, but it's just not happening.
When I think about that, I think about how grateful I am to be in this situation. I'm still able to make money and improve my skills in basketball at the same time. And I get to continue to play; I just love to play. Seeing all these issues with the labor situation just makes me take a step back and be thankful for the position I'm in right now.
Hopefully, they'll be able to figure out something. But all I can do is just hope for the best.
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