July 29, 2013

Unruh reflects on 'trip of a lifetime' to Estonia

East Coast All-Stars website

Editor's note: This is the final entry in a two-part series of updates from Tallinn, Estonia, by Northern Colorado senior guard Tate Unruh, who played for the East Coast All-Stars in the 2013 Four Nations Cup.

By TATE UNRUH
UNCBears.com

TALLINN, Estonia -- Well, my time in Estonia has officially come to an end, and I get excited thinking about how enjoyable it has been. A lot has happened since my last update so you're in for a treat. 

On Thursday [July 25] we had our first game against Belarus, which operated like a machine! [The team was] very hard to guard, and it played really well together. We were down by 15 points late in the third quarter, and then we got it going a little bit. We hit a few 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, and Russ Smith (Louisville) was getting in the lane and making things happen at will.

We ended up coming back and winning that game by three, 71-68, and it was pretty exciting, to say the least. 

The following day we played Slovakia and it was clear that we had found our groove playing together. We forced a ton of turnovers and shared the ball really well, leading to a lot of great looks at the basket. We got the win Friday by an 18-point margin, 93-75, which was important because in case of a three-way tie, the tiebreaker came down to point differential. 

Saturday was the biggest game for us against home-team Estonia because we had put ourselves in a, "Win and we're in" situation. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. [Estonia] fed off the crowd and got off to a hot start from three-point land, and they didn't really cool off all game. They had a couple guys who could really play! They were both [6-foot-7] or [6-foot-8] forwards who could do it all: shoot, pass, defend and, quite frankly, we didn't have an answer for either of them.

[Estonia] ended up beating us by nine, 88-79, but it was closer than it sounds. [Estonia] made free throws at the end of the game, but it was a two-point game with two minutes left, and it just finished better than we did.

After adding up the point differential between the three teams that finished 2-1, the standings for the Four Nations Cup fel like this: 

1st: Belarus
2nd: Estonia
3rd: U.S.
4th: Slovakia 

Personally, I was very happy with my performance throughout the week. Statistically, my best game was against Slovakia as I had 13 points and four assists. I felt best about the final game against Estonia, though. I had 10 or 12 points and a few assists, but I was very much involved in a lot of our success and lit a spark during part of our comeback.

One part of the trip that I really enjoyed probably more than most of the guys were the days we had practice. It was an honor to be selected to play on this team, and I loved getting the chance to compete against guys like Russ, Eron Harris (West Virginia's leading scorer) and Mike Gbinije (Syracuse transfer from Duke) when we practiced. Those were the main guards who I was going to be fighting for playing time. I see those guys all year on TV and in the NCAA Tournament, and it was just great to be able to compete with and against them.

I am heading back to the States with as much confidence in my game as ever before--not only because of the way I played in games this week, but the way I performed in practice gave me confidence that I can play with anybody.

It also sort of gave me a way to earn some respect out there from some of these bigger-name guys, and based on the amount of minutes I played (fourth most on the team) I think I did that. 

The guys were great all trip! We had such a blast hanging out off the court, and on the court is obviously a part that we all love. I really enjoyed being around Tom Knight (Notre Dame). We really have a lot in common, and both Syracuse guys (Rakeem Christmas and Gbinije) were fun dudes to be around. 

I am so thankful that I was able to go on a trip of a lifetime like this, and I have a long list of people to thank, but it starts with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There were countless "God things" that happened that allowed me to be able to go on this tour. Like the fact that when I left Colorado on July 1 to go back home for a month, I couldn't find my driver's license and had to have my passport with me to get on the plane. Otherwise, I never would have brought it with me, and I got the call to go [to Estonia] on such short notice that I wouldn't have gotten it in time.

Another thing was when my mom dropped me off at the airport to go to New York for training camp, traffic on the highway was backed up for 15 miles because of a serious accident after she dropped me off. If we were two minutes later to the airport I could have missed my flight.

There are so many examples and so many cool stories that I have about the tour that I can't fit in this post. But please if you see me around don't hesitate to ask about anything--please! I'd love to talk about it with you.

Thanks for reading. Go, Bears!