COUGARS • UPDATE: 11 P.M.
Let's get the list. Check it twice. Beard? Check. White hair? Check. Pleasantly plump? OK, if that's how you want to describe fat, check. Jolly? Ya, most of the time, so, check. That's it. We've officially morphed into Santa Claus. So I guess we better deliver the presents (though there is a certain athletic administrator in Pullman who called me Santa earlier this year that is on my naughty list). You guys? You're on the nice side of the ledger. So you get to read our Christmas feature a day early. To open your gift on Christmas Eve, read on.
• We'll start this morning's post with our Christmas story. Yes, we understand there is no Dickens-like undertone of redemption here. Heck, there isn't even an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle mentioned anywhere. All there is, is our attempt to let you know the Christmas tale of a couple guys thousands of miles from home. ... After the story, we have some links (another nice showing by a Pac-10 football team last night, huh?) for the holiday. ...
PULLMAN – There are perks that go with being a college basketball player. But there are pitfalls as well.
And there are none of the latter more obvious than those that surface during the holidays.
Christmas is almost always spent away from home, especially when home is half a planet away.
"I haven't been home for Christmas in a while," said Washington State University senior Nik Koprivica, who hails from Serbia.
"Even before I got (to WSU) I haven't been home for Christmas, we had some games or something. So I haven't been home for five, six years. Even for New Year's, nothing. So I'm kind of, I want to say, getting used to this."
Koprivica and his family are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, so when his talking about Christmas, he's not referring to Dec. 25.
"Our Christmas is Jan. 7 this year," Koprivica explained.
No matter the date, the yearning is the same. The holidays are a time to spend with family.
For freshman Brock Motum, who calls Brisbane, Australia, home, not being home for the holidays is something new – in more than one way.
"This is the first Christmas I've been away from my family," he said. "Usually back at the (Australian) Institute (of Sport in Sidney), we get six, seven weeks off over summer, so I've never really not had a Christmas without my family with me."
The "over summer" part is what makes this Christmas so different for Motum.
Dec. 25 is near the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere, so the holiday traditions are a bit different. Instead of snow men, yule logs and sledding, the holidays are often spent at the beach.
"Around New Year's, the beaches are full because it is usually the hottest time of the year," Motum said.
With temperatures hovering around 40 Celsius (or 104 for you Americans), Motum's family rises late, has a big breakfast, heads to one of the grandparents house for a large lunch, then spends the day together.
So some things are similar.
"You just hang out all night because it's so hot," Motum added, "the sun probably won't go down until about 7:30, and then you go home."
OK, so some things are really different.
Motum is trying to adjust to the dissimilar ways of celebrating. At Thanksgiving dinner, with a family in Anchorage, Alaska, where the Cougars were playing in a tournament, he ate turkey for the first time.
For Christmas he's been adopted by teammate Charlie Enquist's family, and will spend the holiday with them in Edmonds.
"So I have a family there," he said. "It's the same atmosphere, just different people."
Koprivica understands the adjustment. He said his freshman year was tough, especially on New Year's, which "is a big deal back home."
"I'm seeing New Year's, it's 12 o'clock, watching TV, I'm alone in the dorm, everybody's gone," Koprivica remembered. "Just like three of us on the floor, Robbie (Cowgill, from Austin, Texas), Thomas (Abercrombie, from New Zealand) and myself.
"It's like, 'OK, guys, happy New Year.' Just go to sleep. Kind of get sad, then Christmas comes and I'm the only one celebrating the day. I'm not even kind of celebrating."
But New Year's isn't the hardest day. Nor is Christmas. The hardest day is the feast day of the family saint, Nikola, a key date for Serbian families.
"Those are the days when I feel the worst because they call me, 3 in the morning, dead drunk, you hear music, they're yelling, 'we miss you over here, come over,' " he said. "And I haven't been there for like six years, definitely. It's amazing. Those are the things I definitely miss."
The feast day falls on Dec. 19, according to Koprivica. This year, he held his own celebration on the court in Kennewick, scoring a career-high 23 points, hitting every shot he tried against Portland State.
"I called my dad and told him it was my gift to him," Koprivica said, smiling.
So how do you deal with being so far away for the holidays? Koprivica has his way.
"You give a call to the family and wish them well," he said. "Hopefully, in the future, you'll get a chance to get together for this."
• Around the Pac-10: Another bowl game, another loss for the conference, with the Bad News Bears showing up in a 37-27 defeat to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl. ... On the basketball front, Texas A&M's Derrick Roland suffered a tremendously horrifying broken leg in the game against UW on Tuesday night and had to spend time in Harborview Medical Center. So a few Huskies went for a visit Wednesday. It was the right thing to do, that's for sure. ... One nice thing about yesterday: I had a chance to watch some Pac-10 games. Watched quite a bit of Oregon State's victory over Fresno State – an aside: I attended UC Irvine with Bulldog coach Steve Cleveland. How come I got old and he didn't? Is there a painting in his house of an old man, or what? – and almost all Arizona's survival against North Carolina State. After seeing those two games, I don't think the Pac-10 is down, per se. It's just with all the changes, the conference is going to be up-and-down just about every game. ... USC keeps improving. The Trojans got a big win in Hawaii over St. Mary's.
• That's it for this morning. Have a Merry, Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays if you prefer). We'll be back as events warrant. Until then …
UPDATE (DEC. 26): Found this story this morning while I was trolling the web. As it was the only thing I found WSU related, thought I would pass it on here. Oh, you want to know what it's about? Eric Oertel, WSU recruit, makes a kid in Wisconsin really happy.