Shiver and Shoot

A UM star headed for the NBA detours to the Czech Republic

Zidek compares Diaz's experience to his own. "Obviously he's a twenty-year-old kid, first time out of the U.S., so of course it must have been a shock for him, just as it was for me when I was eighteen years old and came to L.A.... We've had no complaints from him. He comes in and does his work like he is expected. He's a good professional."

Diaz says he is learning to deal with day-to-day obstacles like language, weather, and food — he is plainly disgusted by the typical Czech fare of fatty meat, thick cream sauce, and doughy slabs of starch — and working to meld his slash-to-the-hoop game with a bruising foreign style that revolves around the twin poles of inside beef and outside shooting.

The team, accustomed to hosting imported talent, takes good care of him. He has a rent-free apartment in Podebrady, a similarly small town near Nymburk. And the presence of fellow American rookie Walker Russell, a graduate of Alabama's Jacksonville State, tempers the provincial isolation. Diaz says he gets along well with his European teammates, most of whom speak at least some English. He has asked his colleagues for basic Czech tutoring, but they just "teach me all bad words." (He politely declines to share.)

Nymburk's chanting, drum-pounding fans seem taken with Diaz's explosively quick game, though when they hail him on the street, he can't offer much response. ("They smile, so I smile back," he says. "That's all I can do.") After the buzzer, kids seek his autograph. His No. 6 jersey, which retails for 690 Czech crowns (about $31.50), is already a big seller, reports the lady who hawks merchandise courtside. When Diaz pops a jumper from the baseline in a close contest, the 1200-strong crowd shakes the rafters, and the Czech announcer lets loose a credible "Gee-YER-mo DI-az!"

It's not the BankUnited Center, not ACC intensity, not the NBA. Still, Diaz says he is looking forward, not back: "This is where I'm at now. I can't do nothing about it."

Reached by phone November 14, six nights after the Riga loss, he strikes a more philosophical note. Maybe it's being over the flu. Maybe it's being in sunny Athens, where Nymburk has another FIBA match that night. (They would lose.) Or maybe it's just having another week under his belt, another week of adjusting, of keeping his focus on the game.

"It's different. I'm on a different team, different environment, different players, but basketball's never gonna change," he notes. On the court, he says, he doesn't think about being so far from home, or from where he wants to be. "You just want to win. It's the same thing when the game is on the line."

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