Saturday, October 30, 2010

History of Basketball: Naismith Hall of Famer coach Alexander Gomelsky

After the Second World War basketball became one of the most important sports in the former Soviet Union. The National Team was worlwide known as the strong former club "Red Army" and it was totally dominant till the '80's at Euro level, winning 14 European Championships, but also 2 World Championships (1967 and 1982) and 2 Olympics (1972 and 1988).

After the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in 1991, the successor indipendent countries all set up their own national teams. Based on the number of titles, the basketball program of the former Soviet Union remains one of the most successful in the history of international basketball competitions. The Russian National Team was back at high level winning two Silver medals at the FIBA World Championships 1994 and 1998 while the most recent success was winning Gold at Eurobasket 2007 in Spain.

The games between the Russians and Americans during the "Cold War" were memorable and the unforgettable and controversial finals at the Olympics in Munich, Germany in 1972 has become a piece of modern history about the difficult relationship between the two power nations.

Among the most influent characters that built basketball successes in the Soviet Union first and then Russia, needless to say the real "patriarch" was coach Alexander Gomelsky. His story begins in 1945 when the Soviets occupied Warsaw and a few days later liberated Auschwitz: Gomelsky was Jewish,  only 17 years old, and a huge love for basketball. He attended the high school in Leningrad (now St Petersburgh) where he started his career as a coach. In 1966 he took the helm at CSKA. Gomelsky - he was nicknamed Silver Fox - coached the Soviet Union National team for almost 30 years, leading them to 6 European Championships titles, 2 World Championships titles, and the Olympics Gold medal in 1988 in South Korea.
He was the Soviet National team coach in 1972 too, and was expected to coach the team at 1972 Summer Olympics but the KGB (soviet intelligence) confiscated his passport fearing that, since Gomelsky was Jewish, that he would defect to Israel. The Soviets won the Gold with his assistant Vladimir Kondrashin as head coach, thank to a controversial call of a buzzer-beater basket over the USA in the finals.

"At that time there were no clinics, the TV was just born, there were only very few books to study, we were all self-taught - Gomelsky said when he was asked about his incredible career - but we had so much passion and desire to learn". The birth of the European Competitions was a crucial step because it allowed him to travel to foreign countries and experience new styles of basketball. Once retired from coaching, Gomelsky stayed always close enough to basketball, publishing 10 books and becoming a commentator for the Russian television. He was named the president of the Russian Basketball Federation in the 1992, and then of glorious CSKA in 1997. He was also inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and in 2007 he was enshrined in the FIBA Hall of Fame. The Euroleague annual coach of the year award is named after him, as well as CSKA Universal Sports Hall.
Coach Alexander Gomelsky passed way in 2005.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"In Europe I've experienced the bulk of my practice time focusing on timing, angles and concentration" Mathis says

Basketball Telegraph is happy to announce that veteran pointguard Donte Mathis comes on board: Donte starts his collaboration with BT drafting this article in which he analyzes the different coaching styles in the United States and Europe.

From being a fan of the game to being a player, I've witnessed the game of basketball evolving right before my eyes. The game I grew to love as a kid is being taught, played, and followed throughout the world with each country leaving its culture and mark on the game as we know it. The coaching styles I've closely witnessed are the American and European style, which have put aside their egos and self-supposed superiority and have taken positives from each other benefiting the sport hugely.

Legendary coach Bob Knight
Listening to American coaches as a youth I often heard quotes "there is no substitute for speed", "no substitute for strength or height". Early emphasis on physical attributes led coaches to favor the more athletic, physically blessed athlete. Even outside the United States years ago we were seen as athletic, but not highly skilled. The norm is America was to play at a high pace, above the rim and in your face... if you couldn't keep up... then you lost. Coaches felt more comfortable figuring to mold the "athlete" into a complete player rather than solely develop his basketball IQ.

Upon arriving to Europe I didn't know what to expect as far as the style of the game. I knew a few of the rules were different... but it all came down to putting the ball in the hole. My first question to all of my coaches throughout my professional career in Europe was "What are your personal expectations of me?". Early in my career I heard "score", mid to later in my career I heard "Get everybody involved and make your teammates better". European coaches and the Euro game in general are focused on TEAM. The biggest task with coaching in Europe is developing cohesion, trying to mesh the foreign and domestic, experienced and inexperienced. Chemistry is valued more than talent or athletic ability. European teams are basically a huge puzzle... pieces have to fit in order every game throughout the season to be successful. Some pieces are bigger and more valued, but every piece is viable. In Europe I've experienced the bulk of my practice time focusing on timing, angles, and concentration, while playing back in America I remember errors were considered by the number of shots you missed, the personal challenges won or lost within the game... on the contrary the greatest thing I learned while playing in Europe was the biggest mistake you can make is not being focused. Concentration and focus are the biggest assets in being successful in the European game. European coaches stress concentration and focus, they both have an ability to control what your body thinks it can or can't do.

Euroleague: coach Ettore Messina
Fast forward to today... and you will witness something very strange. American players can shoot, and European players are tough as nails. A result of espionage? ... Not at all. The worldwide spread of the game of basketball has offered the coaches of the world the opportunity to observe and exchange ideas. Coaches haven't sold everything they believe in but have instead carefully picked and implemented the things that can make their brand of basketball more efficient, or harder to guard. More emphasis today is put on player development. Coaches are getting the most out of player's ability by thinking outside the box and getting right to the things that will give their players the opportunity to be better on the court and in their system. I have personally stole everything possible from everyone of my coaches in the past trying to get the most I could out of my talent. I don't lean to any side particularly more than the other, but I take what works and helps me and use it the best I can.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Q&A with Spanish coach Pedro Martinez Sanchez: twenty years always at the top in the strong ACB!

Pedro Martinez Sanchez is the head coach of Gran Canaria in the Spanish ACB. The 49 year old Barcelona native began his career with Joventut Badalona: he won three consecutive titles with the junior team under his tenure. In 1990, Martinez at only 28 was asked to take the helm of  the pro team: he quickly stepped up to the challenge, leading Joventut to the 1990 Korac Cup (former european competition) and overwhelming the Italian team Scavolini Pesaro in the finals. Martinez in his long and successful career has coached Manresa, Salamanca, Girona, Granada, Ourense, Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
Coach Martinez Sanchez talked to Basketball Telegraph columnist Dr FingerRoll about his career and many other topics of  Spanish basketball.

Coach, your career is long and successful. Do you still remember the first time you thought that basketball was going to be your life?

For me it was simply the arrival of a process. I began my career coaching the youth teams of Joventut Badalona and when I started having some success coaching young players I started to think that basketball could become my job, my profession. You see, for me it has never been a goal in the beginning, like I had to reach no matter what, it was more the consequence of my dedication to the game.

Can you describe to our readers what are the qualities that a young coach has to posses to become a legit professional?

There are many aspects, but I would love to stress out a few of them randomly: perseverance, common sense, ability to relate and team-work, patience and empathy. And, well, you would also need technical and tactical knowledge of the game, but these two qualities are the easiest to achieve and, believe me, not the most important ones..

Like you told us, you started your career coaching in the youth program of Joventut Badalona: what are the skills you see in a kid that make you think he can play?

Well, of course, his body frame, then it's very important to notice if it comes easy to him to pass the ball, to move without the ball and to score. Needless to say, it is also very important that the kid is able to focus on what he is doing and his work ethic is of paramount importance. Last but not least I would like to mention the family background, which is something that usually plays a big role in the development of a player's personality and attitude, on and off the court.

You are now the head coach of Gran Canaria in the strong ACB. Has the world economical crisis affected the Spanish teams dramatically?

Well, like in every business, the international crisis has affected ACB either, but I have to say that the work the League has done through the years made the teams stronger and ready to work with financial difficulties. The spanish teams have professional structures that proved to be strong and solid enough to resist the financial dwindlings of the budgets. Currently there are quite a few teams facing economical problems but I would say that the overall future of the League is solid.

In Gran Canaria's roster there are Spanish players and American players. Some ballers are young and some experienced of European basketball. How can a coach find the right chemistry among guys with different backgrounds and ages?

Like you said, we basically have just American players and Spanish players. We always try to avoid having guys with too many different nationalities on our roster and most important, this is our policy, we try to keep at least a small group of players from one year to the next, because this is crucial to me for building a program and a team with common and known rules. I do believe in this and I will also try to carry on some values that mark my philosphy as a coach through the teams.

Your career has never brought you to coach away from Spain. Have you had any opportunities to work abroad?

Honestly, I never had the opportunity to coach abroad. I guess that Spanish coaches don't have a very good reputation outside Spain. When I was younger I hoped I could work in France or Italy and I really wanted to try and live that experience. Unfortunately, I doubt this is something that it's going to happen in my future. But you never know.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Exclusive interview with German coach Andreas Barthel: Basketball IQ and discipline make the difference!

Andreas Barthel is the emerging star of coaching in Germany. At only 25 he has been named the assistant coach of the Webmoebel Baskets Paderborn in the Beko Basketball Bundesliga (BBL). He is also the assistant coach of the U19 team and the head coach of the Paderborn second team who plays the Regional League. In the 2008/2009 season, Andreas Barthel had a great experience in the United States, being part of the Harker School basketball staff of the West Bay League (Central Coast Section), working both with Boys and Girls Varsity.

Hey Andreas, tell our readers a little bit about you and when did you decide to become a coach.

I grew up in a part of Germany without good basketball programs around and a small number of experienced coaches. Most of the basketball techniques I had to teach by myself, as well as the coaching knowledge. A career as a player was never an option for me. At the age of 19, I dedicated myself completely to coaching. I never had to decide, should I do it or not. Coaching basketball is my profession, my love, my life and already was when I was younger.

We know you had an amazing experience in the US. Was the stay overseas successful?

More than successful. Our overall season record was 24-8 and we entered the Top 15 of the Central Coast Section for the first time in school history. Not the easiest thing with so much basketball powerhouses around in the Bay Area. Finally our season came to an end with a narrow defeat in the CCS Quaterfinals against the later Section Winner Menlo School. One of our players became part of the All-Time Top 20 Scoring list of the State California, scoring more than 1.500 points in 4 years High School Varsity Basketball.
Besides all these facts and stats we had great team chemistry and an outstanding time together. For me personally, I had an awesome time getting to know the American way of teaching, playing and most important living Basketball. Especially the two coaches I worked with, Butch Keller (4 times State Championship Winner) and Jeremiah Brewer inspired me a lot and I'm really thankful that they gave me the opportunity to become part of their program. We are still in contact and one of them just visited me over the summer in Germany.

Which are the main differences between the American basketball and the European one. Did you notice a different approach and organization at any level?

I can just compare the American basketball with the German one and I think there are three big differences.

As you know, the organization of Youth Sports in the United States is completely different in comparison to the German system. It's not just different, it's way more professional. I had the same responsibilities in a High School Basketball Program as in a Men's Pro Basketball organization in Germany. That includes everything. Daily practises with the team and Individuals, Athletic training, scouting opponents, video analysis, reviews.

Athleticism is a big factor in the American game. They start lifting weights years before a German kid even has been looking into a weight room. That builds up a strong advantage on the physical side. When you feel strong and are able to use your body you feel confident. And if you feel confident you build up an advantage on the psychological side too. On this way you're able to dominate against opponents.

The status of sports in society:
Sports in the United States are like a social glue. It's a strong medium to transport social values like teamwork, self-discipline and persistence. I had the feeling that everyone is involved in it. Young and old, either as a participant, fan or spectator.

Which is the basketball you like the most. Can you describe it, even giving us some of your technical rules to success? Maybe you have a top level coach who particularly inspired you as a young coach.

In my eyes all starts with great team defense and a winning effort on this side of the court where five guys work together without having the ball in their hands. That's the first step to accomplish success, joy and team spirit. On the offensive end, I prefer a deliberate style of playing the game, where basketball IQ and discipline make the difference and not just the level of athleticism.  In the end it all comes down to the "Willingness to win". Losing is not acceptable, but you should always remember that winning a game isn't everything in life!
For me as a coach, it's very important that I have a dream and goals. You have to have a vision how you want to let your team play and have to teach it with positive passion. Believe in it and make others do the same. I never had just one particular coach that inspired me. I mean, there are so many different types of coaching and playing philosophies and so many coaches using some of them. The ultimate about inspiration is how coaches teach their philosophy, no matter what it is.

What is your next step for a career?

Right now I am really happy with my situation in Paderborn. We have a really young team with a lot of good guys that work hard every day in practise to improve individually and as a group. I feel good about being part of a Pro Basketball organization and one of the top Youth Basketball Programs in Germany and I'm looking forward to a successful season.
During off-season I plan on going back to the States and coach at College Basketball Camps. There are several options for me and it's always good to get in touch with young players, coaches and different basketball mindsets from all around the world.
For me basketball is like a journey. I don't know exactly where the journey is going to come to an end, but that's not the important thing about it. You should always be thankful to be in a position of doing what you love and having the chance to inspire others, no matter where it is or on which level.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pepperdine guard Keion Bell dunks over seven people!!

Do you think you have seen every kind of dunks so far? Maybe you are wrong! During the Midnight Madness at Pepperdine last night there was a kid who challenged the force of gravity.

Six-foot-3 junior guard Keion Bell "The Human Catapult" positioned three teammates and four others from tallest to shortest between the free-throw line and the rim, strolled out to mid-court and then took a running start at the basket. Amazingly, he cleared all seven with only the help of a slight push-off, finishing with a one-handed slam to the delight of the crowd at Pepperdine's Firestone Fieldhouse.

Bell averaged 18.5 points per game as a sophomore at Pepperdine last season, but he received little notoriety for anything besides his dunking prowess since the Waves struggled to a 7-24 record. With five starters and 13 players returning from last season's team, Pepperdine is hoping to give fans a reason to pay attention to Bell's exploits after Midnight Madness this season.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Q&A with Lithuanian Eimantas Bendzius. Inspired by dad, he is ready to shine

Eimantas Bendzius is one of the most interesting talent in Lithuania. The 6-8 combo forward has just turned 20 and plays for the Vilnius Perlas in the LKL Lithuanian league and the SEB-BBL Baltic league as well. With a good size and outstanding athleticism Eimantas has a great future as a 3-man, being fast and with great shooting ability. Bendzius is definetely predicted to have a bright career.

Hello Eimantas, you have shined in the recent European Championship U20. How do you feel to be considered a next talent of the Lithuanian basketball for the years to come?

I actually do not think I am such a supertalent. I just have a dream since my early childhood to become as good as possible on the basketball court and I just work hard on daily basis to achieve my goal.

When did you feel you wanted to start playing basketball. When did you fall in love with the game?

My dad was a basketball player when I was a little kid. When I really was just a child I went to the gym to attend my father's practises and so I started to dribble and shoot around to the basket. As soon as I was allowed to join my age team I started to attend practises. I found it very exciting and interesting and since then I don't want to do anything else than playing basketball.

Lithuania is a wonderful country where basketball is very popular. Did you find out the reason why your country, that is relatively small, every year produces big-time talents who become successful in Europe or in the NBA?

We can say that Lithuania is a basketball country. I think Lithuanian guys have adamant character which give us a lot of strength and in my opinion this is one of the most important things if you want to become a basketball player. Moreover there are a lot of good basketball schools with excellent coaches in our youth programs. All these coaches are willing to do their best to train and teach kids and mold them in great players.

Is any top level player who particularly inspired your game?

There are a lot of players! I like Kevin Durant and Reggie Miller either but I think I got inspired a lot by my father.

You are very young, so for sure you have lots of interests off the court. Tell us what you like to do in your spare time.

Last summer after playing with U20 National team I spent a lot of time at the beach, because my home city is very close to the seaside. But when in my hometown Vilnius I like to rest at home also. I like watching movies, and when I go out with my friends or teammates we go for a dinner and afterwards to cinemas. Nice, simple stuff because I like to stay focus on basketball.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Once Brothers"

Article published by ESPN 30 for 30 and all the rights of the films belong to the NBA Entertainment/ESPN.
Basketball Telegraph really thanks NBAE/ESPN for this amazing, emotional documentary. One of the best ever and truly worths of any kind of awards. Congratulations!

Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac were two friends who grew up together sharing the common bond of basketball. Together, they lifted the Yugoslavian National team to unimaginable heights. After conquering Europe, they both went to America where they became the first two foreign players to attain NBA stardom. But with the fall of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day 1991, Yugoslavia split up. A war broke out between Petrovic's Croatia and Divac's Serbia. Long buried ethnic tensions surfaced. And these two men, once brothers, were now on opposite sides of a deadly civil war. As Petrovic and Divac continued to face each other on the basketball courts of the NBA, no words passed between the two. Then, on the fateful night of June 7, 1993, Drazen Petrovic was killed in an auto accident.
"Once Brothers" will tell the gripping tale of these two men, how circumstances beyond their control tore apart their friendship, and whether Divac has ever come to terms with the death of a friend before they had a chance to reconcile.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pavlicevic sets sail in Shimane. Two-time Euroleague champion coach details plans for BJ-League expansion team

This is a guest blog by Ed Odeven, staff writer of The Japan Times. Basketball Telegraph got the permission to publish the article by the author.

Zeljko Pavlicevic, 59, has been called one of the top 20 coaches in European basketball history. He guided croatian Cibona Zagreb to the 1986 Euroleague title. He repeated the feat in 1991, coaching croatian Split, also from the former Yugoslavia, to the Euroleague title. He has also coached Ferrol and Vitoria, a pair of spanish (ACB league) teams, and served as the bench boss for Panathinaikos Athens, for which he earned a Greek Cup crown in '93. Pavlicevic's career has also included time as the Croatian National team's technical director. He led the Japan National squad from 2003-06, serving as the team's head coach during the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. 

As you prepare for Shimane's season opener against the Saitama Broncos, what are the team's top objectives for 2010/11?

Look, because the Shimane is a new club, with no background and no history, it's difficult to say how we'll perform in the opener. But the most important thing is to develop a good club - everyone. The club is not only a team, but also the front office, the fans, the boosters. To be a stable club is the most important thing for all of us. It's important to find good foreigners, even if we don't have very big success this season. We can be very active to search and find guys with talent, but between them there may not be good chemistry. Maybe we are lucky this year and we can find good guys and good players, but as we build for the second season and future seasons that foundation will help us to produce winning results.

So, in other words, team unity and stability will be vital for the team's success?

Yes, that's right. As the first coach in Shimane in the history of the club, I wish that the club will have a long, long life. That is my main expectation.

Is it too early to say what you want to be the Susanoo Magic's trademark for the 2010/11 season?

I'm still waiting to add players, so it's early. But, yes, so many have asked the same question before. When some coaches don't have what they would consider the right type of players, they refuse to adjust and change their system, only trying to play one kind of game.. I try to stay flexible and change our strategy, using different tactics to fit the players we have.

How would you describe the energy of Shimane's team staff and the attitude of the community as it prepares for the club's first season?

The strong support in Shimane is not surprising. The entire city is behind the club, and that is something that is very important for me and all the players. We have up to 5,000 boosters now; that is a big number. I think we will have even more. That is very good, I think.

As a league with a number of teams in rural areas and the countryside, how important is it for teams such as Shimane to develop a strong local following and to be indentified as part of the fabric of the community?

Shimane is a nice small city, and I was in Tokyo for four years. It is one of the greatest cities in the world, but I like this city, it's a nice city. In Europe, soccer is the big sport in the big cities, except for some big cities like Barcelona and Madrid. Basketball, especially in Italy, is mostly in small cities, such as those with a population of 200,000 and 300,000; the same in Spain, where you have so many small cities. With the BJ-League expansion plan - to have 24 teams as the final number - you have to start to catch the fans from the countryside and small cities, small cities like Akita and Shimane, where people can support one good basketball club.

Based on your experiences following the JBL over the years and attending the BJ-League Final Four in May at Ariake Colosseum, what are your overall impressions of both leagues? And how has the BJ-League changed since it was established in 2005 with six teams?

The Final Four game me good impressions, the Final game (Hamamatsu Higashimikawa vs. Osaka) was good, and the semifinals were good. I will say from the beginning that I respect the JBL because they are the old league, but they are always staying with eight teams. In a big country like Japan, with 120 million people, it's a big number, so I hope in the future there will be one big league. Season after season, there is better organization in the BJ-League and the players are improving.. I think in the future, not so many from the university ranks can come to the JBL because of only eight teams, but they will come to the BJ-League and it has a very good future for growth.

Analyzing the overall state of basketball in Japan, not just at the pro level, how would you characterize the sport here?

Well, more education and improvements are needed. Regarding basic fundamentals, some players don't know them. They need to know more basic concepts and develop fundamentals at different levels.

Do you believe it's wise for the BJ-League to use a salary cap - reportedly Y77 million this season - to limit spending?

That is a smart move. It helps clubs be stable; they don't want to spend too much money. The league knows some clubs cannot survive (without the cap). But I think with the salary cap it is difficult to find some very talented foreigners, because you also have to spend a bigger amount with four or five foreigners on your teams. You can spend 80 per cent (of your foreign-player budget) on one player, but then it's limited to the others. If you have a higher salary cap, it can be a bigger problem and less chance of stability for the clubs. Season after season, you can increase the salary cap little by little. And after a few years, the BJ-League can find better foreigners, more expensive foreigners.

What have been the biggest compliments you've received since becoming a head coach in 1984? And what accomplishments are you most proud of from your distinguished career?

There have been big successes - titles, trophies and recognition - and so many nice things came and I don't remember everything that many nice people said. But one thing that's special for me is when some of these coaches, through Facebook and other online sites, communicate with me or write nice things, you can see them, catch up with them, after a long, long time. They say, for exemple, they really respect your job and follow your style, like this style, etc.
About my proudest achievements, it begins with my first (European Cup) title in 1986 with Cibona Zagreb with Drazen Petrovic, and I was not very old, so it was really special for me.
In 1991, Pop 84 Split began the season with three new starters after winning consecutive titles, and it was my first year with the team. Dino Radja had left (and later played for the Boston Celtics) and another starter (guard Dusko Ivanovic) also departed. People didn't believe that team would reach the Final Four again. But we won the European Cup. I'm very proud of that team.
Also I am very proud of the Japan National team and how we did at the 2006 World Championship. Based on the National team's history, it really hasn't had big results in basketball, but we exceeded our own expectations. It was really very exciting.. We played very good basketball and nearly advanced to the second round.

You've coached some great players - Tony Kukoc, for exemple - throughout your career and also coached many average players. Do you generally adjust the way you speak to challenge players of different ability levels?

That is a very important question. And also if you always tell players, you don't know this, you don't know that, or say, he's always can he do things himself? My point off the court is to give a player the confidence to believe he can do much better than he can really do.

So confidence is a big part of your coaching message?

Yes. If he is 60 percent confident, I need to get him to be 70 or 80 percent sure he can do something. Some coaches always cut players down, down, down. So how will they believe? Each player on the team, I need to push him to give him the belief he can do almost everything, even if I know he can't do it. This is very important.

There are some very young new coaches in the BJ-League now and established bench bosses, including Hamamatsu coach Kazuo Nakamura and new Tokyo coach Bob Hill, who has led four NBA teams during his long career. Do you think the league's older coaches will be helpful role models for the up-and-coming sideline supervisors?

I respect the decision of the young coaches to pursue this career. It can be a tough career. Some players will be older than the young coaches and that can be difficult. They will make mistakes, but they will also accomplish some good things. I know, I was a head coach at 34. You only live once, so it's a good challenge. Some coaches only want to go to top teams with a history of winning trophies. But for me if I can build the Shimane team and if the team is happy because I am here, that will give me satisfaction.  When you are young, money is more important, but as you get older, there are other thoughts too. Sometimes it's not only about money. There's also pride and it's a personal challenge. My good friend Nakamura (who is 69), he appears young in his style. He's very aggressive and he has very good intelligence. He's young and energetic. Bob Hill is a big name and like me he came here to promote the sport.. It may be good for promotion of the BJ-League but also very good for these young coaches because of the experience of Bob Hill and Nakamura and my experience.
This is something we have done for a long time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Q&A with Marcus Morrison: the superstar of the ASEAN League!

Marcus Morrison, 6-6 swingman from St. Petersburg Florida, played four years at Middle Tennessee before starting his pro career in Israel and Japan. This summer he signed for Satria Muda Jakarta, the Indonesian national league reigning champions. Satria Muda also plays the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) League. Marcus stepped out with 34 points (5/8 from 2's and 7/10 from behind the 3 point arc) in the season opener in Singapore against the local Slingers. In the second game the all-around former Middle Tennessee graduate scored 20 points in the win on the road at the MABA Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia against the KL Dragons. Marcus talked to BT columnist Dr FingerRoll about his career thus far.

Marcus, how is life in Jakarta, Indonesia for an American basketball player?

It is a different experience playing in Jakarta. The way the team has it set up is unlike any team I have played with before. They have it so everything that you need is in the same building, like a Basketball Workshop. It is similar to a prep school in the US: we have around the clock access to the gym, weight room, and food. I think this is a great advantage, because it really helps me focus and has helped my basketball considerably. And it has also helped me gain 4 kilos in about a month! So the living is pretty much in the gym, I have not seen the city much but that's not why I'm here. I'm here to hoop!

What were your expectations after college? How did you end playing in Asia? And tell us a bit about your pro career overseas.

My expectations after college were to play overseas, I didn't know what country or what level but I did expect to play. Well, things didn't end so well with me and my coach at Middle Tennessee so, after college, I was on my own as far as finding somewhere to play. I was one of those players in the US just trying to find a way on to somebody/anybody's team. I didn't play my first year out of college, but I was attending local camps and playing in a semi-pro league where I caught the eye of a few small time agents (which I am thankful for because without them I may not be here today). They landed me a job in Israel, and I loved it out there. Then a coach from Japan saw my stats and wanted me to join his B-J League team. From there I kept ALL of my games and created a highlight tape which landed me in Jakarta.

We always hear that the American game is different from the European game. But we seldom hear about Asia. How is it playing ball in Asia? And tell our readers about the fans as well.

I would say the Asia game is different from the US game due to the tempo: it's more of an up and down game; Asia has a lot of great shooters as well, it's an adjustment because here the emphasis is more on defending the three. As for the fans, playing in Asia is very exciting, the fans support is amazing! They are really crazy about basketball here in Jakarta as well as in Japan. I also must say I have been to Singapore and Malaysia and they really have some great fans, they really let you have it as an opposing player!

Satria Muda is the only team in the Indonesian League to have an American player in its roster. You are the star of the League.

Yes, we are the only team in this country with US imports so it's kinda crazy, because when you walk around the city or when you're in the airport the people are not used to seeing such tall individuals. But we don't play against anyone in the country, we have two separate teams, one playing in Indonesia and one playing in the ASEAN League. This helps us because we get scrimmage against a very good team whenever we need to. They are a great team and a great bunch of guys and I will be shocked if they don't repeat as champions this year. As far as being the star of the league, that's not my goal; my goal is to win the championship. I have always been a very energetic type of player who also gives the fans a show.

Satria Muda plays also in the ASEAN League, so you have an overall idea of the quality of basketball throughout South-East Asia. Can you briefly rate the other leagues for our readers?

Well, I have only played two games so far but the competition is tough, you can expect a war every night. As far as comparing it to other leagues, I would say it is similar to B-J League in Japan. In Japan you are allowed  3 US imports on the court and as many as you want on the roster so that made it possible for some pretty tough teams.

At 26 you are still a young player, what's your goal for the future? Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?

Yes, I'm 26, but I feel even younger than that. Hopefully, God willing, I will still be playing ball in the next couple years. I'm just trying to compete at the highest level possible. I've heard good things about the Middle East, Korea and The Philippines and I would love to make my talents to either of those countries. And I have not giving up on my dream of playing in the NBA.

Maybe some of our readers are young players considering balling in Asia: what would you say to them? What's the right mindset to approach this experience?

Basically just be ready to grind. It's different in this part of the world, there will be certain things that you will have to get used to but it's a very exciting place to play ball. The fans really will love you if they see you playing your heart out, and you can inspire a lot of people.

Thank you Marcus! And good luck for the season.

I just want to say thanks for the interview, and before I go I would like to give a shout out to my team Satria Muda, my family and friends back home in St. Petersburg FL and all over the States. And I thank God for putting me in this position.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ron Artest provocation: "There's no balance..". Too many non-Americans in the NBA?

Is the NBA board or Commissioner David Stern thinking to put a limit to the number of  international players in the League? This sounds like a shocking project: is there something real in that idea? America has always been open but something could change in the next future.
The NBA has become in the recent years a melting pot of players from all the nationalities. There are almost one hundred ballers non-Americans in the League, lots of them just make the team but no more than a dozen of them have an effective impact on the game.

Does the NBA need to keep the door open to international players when thousands of Americans have to ball overseas at any level, from the Euroleague to the Careebean leagues or North Africa for a living? The topic is serious, even more in a so troubled economy.

Maybe the big media didn't take too serious what Lakers forward, Ron Artest said  when on tour in Europe with Kobe and co. the other day about the international leagues: "They need to let more Americans play in the European leagues".
The provocation of Ron Artest hit the core of the problem. With the exception of the Euroleague, all the domestic major leagues - like the spanish ACB, the italian Lega A, the greek league and the russian one.. -allow a maximum of two-three non-europeans per teams. Is that fair comparing to the NBA?

The Ron Artest analisys makes sense if you think about the Milwaukee Bucks but even to the Toronto Raptors.
"You see a lot of foreign players - Artest said - come over to America to play in the NBA. It's not fair that a lot of American players can't come to China or can't come to Europe to play with as many players as they want, so there's no balance.. They should just make it more even".
What might it happen if the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) should decide to threaten a strike to defend more jobs to Americans?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Exclusive reportage from Lithuania: from Sabonis to the next superstars, the country where basketball is an art

Lithuania is a european country with an area of 25,200 square miles situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea and its population is approximately 3.5 millions. Religion is Catholic..but if you ask any lithuanian what is his religion he will answer: Krepsinis! Needless to translate, it's basketball.
Yes, basketball is the main sport practised with unbridled passion of the people of this country. It's amazing how any person in any place, on the street, at the bars, at work talk about ball. The history of basketball in this country is founded in the first decades of the last century, imported by an aviator, Steponas Darius. If you think that the days in the Baltic region are long and cold and that darkness comes early, we can deduce that this was the ideal sport to keep fit, stay together and have fun in the appropriate facilities.

Arvydas Sabonis
 The Lithuanian National team won two European Championships in 1937 and 1939, just before the II World War. Pranas Lubinas was the coach who helped popularize basketball in the country and was called the "Grandfather of Lithuanian basketball". Meanwhile, Lithuania was annexed by the former Soviet empire but Lithuanian players kept forming the core of the Soviet National team. That was especially for the historical 1988 Olympic where the russian basketball National team won the Gold medal. That fantastic squad had four lithuanian talents such as Valdemars Chomicius, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Sarunas Marciulonis and Arvydas Sabonis. That time the games at international and domestic level between Zalgiris Kaunas and CSKA Moscow were epical. This challenge is still alive nowaday when the teams play at Euroleague level, where Zalgiris and CSKA is like an ultimate fight for upsetting the archrivals on and off the court.
The disintegration of the Soviet empire finally makes Lithuania an independent country in 1990.
Sabonis was in the past and still is a true legend for the Republic of Lithuania. Nicknamed "Prince of the Baltic" he was one of first players with great tonnage (220cm tall and 130kg) with the ability to play like a guard. He was equipped with pianist's hands, had a soft touch and his fundamentals basic movements just comparable to a dancer. Furthermore, his vision of the game was spectacular and his IQ superior.  He was also the first baller to play in the NBA even getting over there maybe after spending his best years of the career in Europe. Unfortunately he could sign in the NBA only at 30 years old.
Once the political situation changed with the dissolution of the former Soviet empire Sabonis was free to go to America, but first he opted to play in the Spanish league for 6 years, 3 at Valladolid and 3 in Real Madrid, where he became a global star. In 1995 Sabonis finally landed in the NBA, and although a 30 years old veteran with no experience of the American basketball he had an impressive impact on the team that hired him, the Portland Trailblazers. He was the first european ever to play as a starter producing big-time numbers, averaging 14ppg, 8.1rpg, 1.8apg and 1.07blk.
Sabonis and the shooting-guard Marciulonis with the Golden State Warriors opened the door to the next talents on the world stage like Sarunas Jasikevicius, Ramunas Siskauskas, Darius Songaila, Mindaugas Zukauskas, Saulius Stombergas and many others.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas
 One thing stands out immediately when you scout the Lithuanians: their basketball is close to perfection in every detail.  But where you can see the lithuanian trademark is shooting: they are deadly shooters. Behind every shot there are hours, months and years of hard work. The accuracy of the Lithuanin players prove that. It does not matter if you are tall 2.30 or 1.50..shooting in Lithuania is a pure art. Yes, over there it is not a fundamental..but art.
They really have dozens of lethal shooters: the most recent names are Sarunas Jasikevicius, Saulius Stombergas, Dainius Adomaitis, Ramunas Siskauskas, Rimantas Kaukenas, Mindaugas Zukauskas, Arvydas Macijauskas, the twins Darius and Ksistof Lavrinovic and even the NBA star Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a 220 giant who runs and plays smoothly like a guard.
Unfortunately nowadays the fundamentals of basketball are no longer treated and trained like in the past. Today we all focus mainly on physical talent and athleticism. But if you are romantic and want to see again the old school basketball fundamentals, the ones that still make the difference in the game, then take a trip to Lithuania. No matter where or which city. Lithuania is a small country, you can easily choose to stay in any city, from the capital Vilnius to Kaunas, from Klaipeda to Siaulai, from Panevezys to Kedainiai..and if you really want to see the fundamentals still taught and practised, you don't need to attend a spectacular game of the Euroleague or of the Lithuanian LKL league..go to any gym where you can attend a practise of some youth program and you will soon realize that the talent, the enthusiasm, is still alive in the Lithuanian kids like it was for the past generations and this way you will see the big-time players of tomorrow!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dwight Howard is ready to dominate the next NBA season! Adding new moves to his game with Hakeem "The Dream"

Watch the training sessions with former-All Star / Hall of Famer center Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon!
An amazing document in which everyone can check how the superstars keep working to perfection.

Here the "old" Dwight Howard. With the new moves he is gonna be unguardable!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Interview with veteran Donte Mathis: what american kids need to make it in Europe

Donte Mathis is a 11 year European leagues veteran. The San Antonio native point-guard just turned 33 and has experiences in Germany BBL, Slovenia and Italy. In his second year with the Lega Due team Snaidero Udine he has been named the team captain. Donte was very kind to talk to Basketball Telegraph columnist Dr FingerRoll about his career in Europe thus far, the transition from American basketball to European ball when just graduated, the NBA dream and what rookies need to make it in Europe.

Donte, when did you fall in love with the game?

Since I was a kid I was a huge fan of the game, I developed a passion for it at a young age, there was some sort of a culture of basketball around me, the older guys that I would look up were playing basketball, and the whole city of San Antonio is passionate about the game.

When did you realize basketball could become more than just a game for you?

When I was about 15/16 years old because I had the opportunity to get a scholarship and that was the first indication that I could use basketball as a tool to have my education paid for and then, if everything went well, I could get paid to do something that I love: the American dream right there.

After college, did you have the "NBA dream"?

Well, to go to the NBA is everybody's dream, but at the same time you have to realize where you are in the big spectrum: everybody wants to go to the NBA, but not everybody can go to the NBA. For me it was always a dream to go to the League, but after college I realized that I wasn't going to play there, so the next step was to prepare myself as best as I could to play in Europe and I have no regrets, I am still a huge fan of the NBA, I watch it all the time but I'm totally happy with where my life is right now.

Tell us about the first experience outside the U.S., was it a culture shock for you?

It was a very huge culture shock, also because I didn't go to a city where there was an outside influence, I went to a small town in East Germany where they kinda forced me to think outside of my comfort zone and, of course, I had to adapt quickly. Thank God I had guys on my team - both Americans and Europeans - that were social and friendly enough to help me adapt.

How important it is to be comfortable in the place where you play?

The older I get the more important it is, because you spend 9 to 10 months in one place so it's good to be comfortable, even in a superficial sense - the city, the house, etc. - but when you go to any place in Europe if you're winning that makes it automatically comfortable; you could be in a village, but if you are winning every game and having fun it's the best experience.

Let's imagine you are talking to a player who's graduating from college this year and wants to play overseas, what would you tell him?

It's funny you ask me this, because this summer with a friend of mine we started a program to help young guys who are finishing college and young players who are in Europe but are trying to get to different areas and to better situations. Well, my advice is, first off, you have to work as hard as you possibily can, because there are so many guys trying to play basketball and very little jobs, so you have to be in the best shape and you don't have to be stuck in your own ways, because a lot of times you're not gonna go into a situation where everything is perfect, so you gotta have a self discipline that will allow you to succeed and also, well, you need some luck to end up in the right situation, or maybe there's a team in need of a player and you're that player or somebody gets hurt and they need a comes down to luck, so you have to be in the right place and the right time but you gotta be ready.

Tell BT readers more about your program.

In Houston everyday during the summer we had some 25-30 guys - some of them out of college, others with one or two years pro experience - with whom we did a lot of player development to get them ready for the European season since the American game is a lot different from the European game. For me it's just a way of giving back, I just give my time and my experience to try to put them in situations where they can better their careers, better their lives. I give them advice on daily basis in the gym. It's really rewarding when a young kid comes to me and can't get a job and I help him and then he gets a contract and he comes back to me saying "thank you, I appreciated it": it's the best reward for me. We'll try to expand it every year and try to help as many kids as we can to fullfill their dreams.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The unparalleled Serbian school. Interview with coach Aleksandar Vrzina

Aleksandar Vrzina is an emerging serbian coach. At only 35 he has an impressive resume so far: in 1999-2000 he was the youngest coach in former-Yugoslavia pro leagues when he took the helm at Sabac. Then he had experiences in Bosnia with Radnik Bjieljina while in the last five years he has been in Ukraine where he was the head coach of Khimik-OPZ Yuzny and Gryfony-Symferopil in the ukrainian Superleague and european cups as well.

Coach, when did you first know what you wanted to do for a career?

I was a promising guard when due to a spinal surgery I had to stop playing when I was only 21 year old. I didn't have any other option, I had to quit my pro basketball career as a player. One year later, I had the chance to talk to my former coach and he asked me if I wanted to start coaching assisting him. It was a fascinating opportunity and that is how I started my new career. Later on that same season I got a chance to coach a team by myself. And in my first game we won. Some veteran players told me it was a great game managing. I had a great feeling during the game and..that was it..I got caught.

Was any top level coach who particularly inspired you at the beginning of your career?

I can't tell there was one coach only who inspired me. We in Serbia have a lot of big-time coaches. The list of great serbian coaches is very long and lasts for decades. So it is hard to tell you only one name. Basketball is more than a game in Serbia and it's like a way of living, I would say. I think I got inspired with that special atmosphere and enthusiasm for basketball. Or, as I often say "I've got infected by everlasting virus"

Aleksandar, tell our readers about your professional experiences so far and also what makes the former-Yugoslavia basketball school so successful at any time?

I have been coaching at high level in the last 8 years. I spent the last five years in Ukraine. It is amazing when when you work abroad, in a foreign country. Your responsibility is much higher than in your home country. And I love coaching young team, with perspective guys with talent and work ethic: in that case you really can focus on trying to improve your players and work hard to develop their basketball skills. But I definitely like to teach my players also how to behave as adult people off the court. We are living in very tough times. Nowadays it's not easy to keep youngsters in the gym: there are so many things, and some of them even dangerous round every corner. Our task as coaches is teaching and point the right way, not only on the court. I can tell you moreover that, in my experience as professional I have coached a lot of great players and they always are very helpful, because they want to improve, they want to work hard and they want above all win. Trouble makers are often average players. To me, not always while building a team you take in mind you do need positive players. You really do not need bad people in the locker-room. Having kids with bad attitude it will be like a cancer, especially when in tough times (and everybody passes through though times) . Choosing players for your team, you have to consider many stuff: every team has players coming from different countries and it is very important to find soon the right chemistry, on the court and also off. You as a coach and your organization must be able to let the player feel themselves like at home. That is the key for a successful season. Our destiny, you know, depends on our players. We should stick all together all the time. But about former yugo school.. hmm.. a lot of people have tried to figure out that success and the reasons and fundamentals around that success is built. First, our coaching school was no doubt the best: our gifted coaches have changed the game, set new standards, rules, methodologies that have become trendy. I think that we are made for basketball. Our people are very strong, tall and creative. Don't forget then that Serbs have built their winning mentality through decades. There is something in our winning mentality, I can't describe it. Each generation has a clutch player, able to decide a game and take the big shots:  in the 70's and 80's they were Kikanovic and Dalipagic, in the 90's and early years of 2000 Djordjevic and Bodiroga and nowadays Teodosic.
One friend of mine has interesting opinion: "we are good in basketball cause it is a highly intelectual game and you have also to cheat both ends, offensive and defensive, to hide your intentions. When it is about cheating, the Serbs are the best in the world! - he laughs - I do not know, but maybe there is a little bit truth in this sentence.

What's your next big challenge as a head coach?

I have a few challenges but the one which attracts me the most is to coach a perspective young team like diamonds in the rough. And help these kids to become great players and good men off the court.