My new head coach was Jack Armstrong. He was proof that you can take the guy out of Brooklyn but you can’t get the Brooklyn out of the guy. Keep in mind that my only exposure to the East Coast mannerisms had come through the Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro films I had watched late at night. Keeping up with Coach Armstrong’s speech cadence was tough at first because it was so entertaining. I felt my mellow West Coast vibe slowly dissolving and knew it would be a challenge to keep up with his pace mentally, as well, as physically.
Armstrong was a hard-working guy and a real throwback to what I imagined a barnstorming coach in the fifties might have been like. The one thing about him I learned to count on was his consistency. Well, okay, two things: his consistency, and his extraordinary flair for showmanship. Before we had played half of my first season I realized that he was on a first name basis with every other referee in our conference. The way they went at each other, I got the impression they had all grown up on the same block and had been arguing streetball calls since they were kids.
During the very first game of the year, an official made a call that rubbed Armstrong the wrong way. He executed a move worthy of an Olympic shot putter. No, to be precise, it was much more like an expert hammer throw. He exploded out of his chair, spun around, tore off his suit jacket in mid swing, and before he came around again, the jacket had landed in the third row behind the bench. It’s a good thing Armstrong wore slick-soled dress shoes on game days, because if he had tried that move in sneakers he would have torn his ankles out at the roots. The referee walked over, soothingly put his hand on Jack’s shoulder and explained the call from his vantage point. Armstrong, accepting his jacket from the outstretched hand of a beaming Niagara fan, penitently nodded and patted the ref on the back as if to say, “Oh yeah, well when you explain it like that I can see how you could have blown the call.” I’d seen coaches lose their cool trying to play to the refs many times, but they were just as likely to cross the line and end up listening to the rest of the game from the locker room. My new coach had a real knack for timing his outbursts. And I had never seen anyone with Armstrong’s astounding recovery time.
Later in the season we found ourselves fighting to win a close game that would keep us on pace to have Niagara’s first winning record in nine seasons. With less than a minute left on the clock, Coach Armstrong called our last timeout and we huddled around him to get instructions for what would be our final offensive possession. One of the assistants shoved the dry erase board into his impatient grasp and he was practically writing up a play before the marker touched the board. The marker darted furiously back and forth across the board as he improvised our first, second, and third options on the fly. It was remarkable the way Coach Armstrong’s mind worked. Even more remarkable, all of us, to a man, stood and nodded as if we had a full and complete understanding of this amazing play that not one of us could actually see. In the excitement and gravity of the moment, Jack had scribbled away the entire timeout without realizing he was using a dried out marker. But a small detail like that wasn’t going to prevent us – all of us – from pretending we knew exactly what we wanted us to do. With fire in his eyes and his mouth foaming at the corners, he screamed, “Are you ready?” We answered with a resounding “Let’s go!”
We went on to win that game in the final moments. I don’t know if the play we ran had anything to do with Jack’s invisible ink act but I’m certain his intensity in the timeout is what got us the win. And it’s a good thing it did, because I wouldn’t have envied the person that put the spent marker into Armstrong’s hand if we had run out the final seconds of the game bumping into each other and acting like Jack had just drawn up an invisible play.
Randy Wittman chatted with the media about the strong play from his rookies, John Wall’s up and down season, Rashard Lewis’ veteran leadership and a host of other topics.
Stan Van Gundy chatted with the media about why Hedo Turkoglu does so well in his system, he gives his argument for Dwight Howard being the MVP and he warns that the Raptors have gotten the rep as being giant killers this season.
We Johnson talked with HOOPSADDICT.com about being selected to play in the Rookie-Sophomore game, the growth in his game this season and the challenges he faced learning Kurt Rambis’ offense.
Lukoil has a rich basketball history, including runner-up finishes in the first two seasons (1958, 1959) of what is now the Euroleague. Building on their strong beginnings, the team has consistently landed good players, including American Willie Deane.
Deane, a 2003 graduate of Purdue, was the Big Ten Scoring leader, Team MVP and 1st Team All Big Ten, and has now won three Bulgarian titles with Lukoil. His resume includes seasons in Greece, Russia, Lithuania and Poland, but perhaps more impressive than his stats and skills are his off the court endeavors.
After a long, hard practice, most players go to rest or enjoy leisure time with friends and teammates. Deane, on the other hand, finds himself driving over an hour from Pravets to Sofia to attend his midday class on time. Even though he is living in Bulgaria and practicing two times a day he understands he cannot play the game forever and is focused on continuing his education. So, following the second practice, he hits the books again as he works towards earning his master’s degree in International Business.
The next morning Deane met with a group of college players from the U.S. participating in an Athletes in Action tour. He shared with them his experience and wisdom as a player as well as with life in general.
Willie also awaited a call from a new friend. Tautvydas Todorov, a half Bulgarian, half Lithuanian 17 year-old had approached him after the championship seeking help with his own skills. Humbled and honored, Deane gave Tautvydas his phone number and waited the next day for the call. The day after the championship, arguably the best player in the country was on the street courts of Bulgaria helping a youngster work on his ball-handling and shooting form.
Deane credits his parents for shaping him into the man he is today, saying, “My parents always kept me in line, helping me stay out of trouble when needed and showed me the importance of education.”
He now heads back home to Schenectady, New York, also the boyhood home of Pat Riley. Deane points out that though Riley holds numerous records in many sports, “I broke all of his (Riley’s) high school basketball records.”
Deane will use this local influence to help kids through a variety of programs and local partnerships including: Schenectady High School; Schenectady’s Central Park; The Latimer School; Schenectady’s YMCA; St. John The Evangelist; and the Jerry Burrell Summer Classic.
To see more about Willie Deane and his programs, visit his official site.
Regal FC Barcelona was crowned the 2010 Euroleague Champions this weekend, not by out-scoring their opponents, but by locking down and playing tough defense.
In taking down Olympiacos, the top scoring team in the Euroleague this season, Barcelona put on a defensive showcase. Barcelona held the Reds to their lowest scoring output of the season at just 68 points. Fran Vasquez patrolled the paint for Barca with four of the team’s eight blocks as they took the crown with an 86-68 victory.
Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza had 15 and 13 points, respectively, for the Reds, but they just weren’t enough. In addition, Euroleague regular season MVP, Milos Teodosic, was held to just six field goal attempts as he posted 10 points in the loss.
Barcelona not only played outstanding defense, but continued to score in a variety of ways. Final Four MVP Juan Carlos Navarro, also known as “La Bamba,” led the Barcelona attack with a game-high 21 points, shooting 4-9 from beyond the arc.
Navarro represents the epitome of Barca basketball as he grew up in the program and has won multiple championships with the team. After being drafted by the Grizzlies in 2002, Navarro opted to stay in Spain until the 2007-2008 season. During that season in Memphis, he averaged over 10 points per game and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
However, a multi-million dollar offer to return to Barcelona was too good to pass up and he returned to his homeland for the 2008-2009 season. Now, Navarro is enjoying his MVP status and his role as the hometown hero.
How about a Parisian vacation with a visit to the Louvre, a nice bottle of wine and some high intensity basketball? The last part may seem out of place, but starting May 7th, Paris will be hosting Europe’s largest basketball event, the Euroleague Final Four.
Just like the NCAA Final Four, the Euroleague Final Four comes down to the best of the best. Each team in this year’s Final Four has at least one title under its belt and is looking to add another. Imagine the energy of the NCAA Final Four merged with the patriotic fervor of the Olympics as fans cheer not only for their team, but also for their country.
The 2010 Final Four features teams from four different countries; Regal FC Barcelona (Spain), CSKA Moscow (Russia), Partizan (Serbia), and Olympiacos (Greece). All but Partizan were a part of last year’s Final Four in Berlin, and each team has something to prove after falling short to last year’s Champion, Panathinaikos.
The games are of epic proportion as winning teams and players become legends across the continent. Many players bring NBA experience. The game is pure and and intense, as proven by the rarity of any team scoring 100 points. In fact, you will see many games finishing with scores in the 70’s, indicating that defense is a staple and each possession holds value. As the highest level of competition outside of the NBA, some basketball purists insist that Euroleague basketball is the best brand of the game.
Lucky for basketball fans in North America, ESPN also appreciates Euroleague basketball and has partnered to stream the games online at ESPN 3 beginning this Friday, May 7th.
Regal FC Barcelona (Spain) vs. CSKA Moscow (Russia)
In a rematch from last year’s semifinal game, Barcelona looks to even the score this time around.
A solid team whose talent is approaching the level of its soccer-club counterpart, Barcelona will be looking to exploit any advantage against rival CSKA. One of those advantages is having two players who wore CSKA jerseys last season and know their tendencies well. Both Terence Morris and Erazem Lorbek should bring some inside scouting information and perhaps even some extra motivation. Barcelona won the Euroleague title in 2003.
Players you may know: Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Fran Vazquez, Terence Morris, Pete Mickeal, Erazem Lorbek. Coach-Xavi Pascual
CSKA makes its 8th consecutive Final Four appearance. Perhaps not considered a favorite entering the season, CSKA has again proven itself a force as the team looks to utilize its players’ experience and maturity. However, this is the first Final Four visit with new coach Evgeny Pashutin. CSKA won the Euroleague titles in 1961, 1963, 1969, 1971, 2006 and 2008.
Players you may know: J.R. Holden, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Trajan Langdon, Zoran Planinic Sasha Kaun, Ramunas Siskauskas Coach-Evgeny Pashutin-Italian
Partizan (Serbia) vs. Olympiacos (Greece)
Partizan arrives in Paris as the underdog, perhaps the Butler of the tournament. But this underdog too will fight, as Partizan arrives with strong momentum, and a sense of destiny as they have seen the somewhat “improbable” repeatedly fall in their favor. The latest example includes an amazing win over Cibona with a full-length buzzer beater in the Adriatic League Championship. Their presence is well-deserved, however, as they collected a number of major wins on their way to Paris. They have only one player with Euroleague Final Four experience, but all of Serbia acts as their sixth man and will be in full support. Partizan won the Euroleague title in 1992.
Players you may know: Lawrence Roberts, Bo McCalebb, Dusan Kecman, Jan Vesely. Coach-Dusan Vujosevic
Their opponent is Olympiacos, best known to us for outbidding NBA teams and signing swingman Josh Childress away from the Atlanta Hawks. They won the Greek Basketball Cup this year, and after losing in the final moments of last year’s Final Four, they are poised to take the next step this season. This will be a focused team arriving in Paris. Olympiacos won the Euroleague title in 1997.
Players you may know: Scoonie Penn, Josh Childress, Linas Kleiza, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic. Coach-Panagiotis Giannakis
Do you remember the 2003 Golden Eagles of Marquette that marched their way to the Final Four? Do the names Dwyane Wade, Travis Deiner and Steve Novak ring a bell? It was the basketball world’s first up-close glimpse of Wade and his athletic heroics.
Now, seven years later, even Switzerland is feeling the impact.
Wade has won an NBA Championship, been a six-time NBA All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist, so his effect on the game of basketball can hardly be questioned. However, beyond the marketing and commercials, he is having a strong yet indirect impact on the international game.
The 2004 Marquette team included a freshman combo guard that you may not have heard much about. His name – Karon Bradley. A star out of Houston Cypress Springs High School in Texas, Bradley joined the Marquette team and was excited about the opportunity to play for Marquette, home of the late, great, coach Al McGuire.
Like most freshman, Bradley quickly noticed a significant difference between the high school and college games. Bradley says, “Everything from individual workouts to conditioning was tough, and the game was a lot more physical. “
However, his adjustment included an even greater challenge: “I had to be 100 percent every day to play against Wade and be able to compete. He is the greatest player I’ve ever played against.”
Imagine facing that challenge as an 18-year-old freshman. The responsibility of battling Wade every day was quite a daunting task, but Bradley rose to meet the challenge, knowing it was bound to help him improve his own game. After Wade departed to the NBA, Bradley transferred to finish his career at Wichita State, where he helped lead the upstart Shockers to a Sweet 16 appearance in 2006.
As he continued to improve, he took his game to Europe. Bradley has played in Hungary and spent multiple seasons in Switzerland, coming armed with the knowledge that if he can hold his own with Wade, he can play against anyone in the world.
Bradley admits with a chuckle, “compared to guarding Wade every day, the competition in Europe is blah.”
Bradley is quick to point out that the leagues and level of play in Europe can vary greatly: “The competition in Europe is good overall. It is not the NBA, but it is good. But there are certain leagues that are not as competitive as playing in college.”
Bradley is proving himself to be a valuable and highly desired point guard, averaging over 17 points and 5 assist per game in the top division (LNA) of Switzerland.
Though the stat sheet makes it look like an easy adjustment, Bradley shares that “the toughest part about playing overseas is the different style of play and the language barrier. Sometimes it’s just hard to understand what the coach and organization want you to do.”
With different rules and a different style of play, there is a definite adjustment from the college game. Bradley describes a unique difference that he contrasts with his college days: “In college, the coach wanted us to work the shot clock and make the other team really defend us for a while before shooting. Here, the coaches don’t mind getting up and down for a quick shot. So as athletes, they aren’t faster but the approach is different and they get up and down and take faster shots.”
Both the 24-second shot clock (as opposed to 35 in college) and the trapezoid lane change the game by speeding up the offense and opening up the middle of the floor. But despite these various differences, Bradley agrees that if you can adjust to the college game, you can adjust to playing overseas.
This perspective resonates with a number of other Americans playing overseas who acknowledge that the grind of college basketball forces you to get better, and that if you take the right steps, you will be better prepared to have a great career abroad.
At 6’7” and 215 pounds, he stands out in China for his frame alone. Joe Ye, an avid basketball player and fan, played in high school at the International School of Beijing with former NBA lottery pick Joe Alexander (the 8th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft). He then used his size and 3-point shooting ability to play a season of college basketball in the U.S. He has lived in both countries, speaks both languages fluently, and now works for the NBA in China.
I had a chance to catch up with Joe, who understands the impact of Marbury’s arrival perhaps better than anyone.
These are the words Joe uses to describe Stephon Marbury’s new home, Taiyuan, Shanxi. It is a blue-collar city whose economy is centered largely on coal mining. And even though there are reports that Stephon is staying in a 5-star hotel, Joe chuckles and says, “there really aren’t any 5-star hotels in the city.”
Joe also expects the travel will be tough on Stephon as his team will be busing to away games in close proximity. Joe points out, “Unlike the NBA, there will be several 2-3 hour bus rides through the countryside for away games. In addition, when the team does fly to games, everyone flies coach class.”
The list of former NBA players who have played in the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) includes a wide range of players, from Smush Parker to Stromile Swift, but none generated this kind of excitement. Joe says, “Fans absolutely cannot wait to see him (Marbury) play.”
Though excited by his star-power, most fans were disappointed with Marbury’s first performance – in which his team lost by a single point. They expected Bonzi Wells-like numbers, who posted a string of multiple 40-point games to begin last season.
On the other hand, Joe reasons that if Marbury keeps his cool and stays for the entire season, it is conceivable that he average 30 points per game.
Andre Emmett, the league’s current scoring leader, averages about 33 points per game, including 53 in each of his first 2 games. Marbury’s second game stat line: 34 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals.
What about marketing his shoe?
Marbury’s presence alone should elevate his popularity and generate more sales in Southeast Asia but Joe shares that “the CBA will not let Marbury promote his shoe officially as a part of the league or with his team’s assistance.”
The CBA’s official sponsor is Anta (worn by Luis Scola of the Houston Rockets). So with the exception of foreign players or those boasting agreements with other international brands, everyone must wear Anta. Nike and Adidas pay the CBA league office significant money to allow selected domestic players to wear their shoes during games, but these players must cover the logos with athletic tape.
The other big name Chinese brands are Peak (worn by Jason Kidd, Ron Artest and Shane Battier) and Li Ning (worn by Shaq and Baron Davis), so the market is already saturated with options.
The Next Yao?
Looking at CBA teams now, Joe agrees that not one Chinese player appears to be ready to make the jump to the NBA. Some people like the potential of the 6’10”, athletic, Dong Hanlin who bumped up to the senior team in Guangdong last season.
However, Joe insists, “One name I promise you will hear in the next few years is a 17 year old, 7’3” kid from Dongguan named Li Mu Hao. If he receives the right coaching, he could definitely play at a higher level.”
Li Mu Hao will be representing the international team at the Nike Hoop Summit Game this April.
In Joe’s opinion, one of the biggest issues hampering young Chinese players is poor coaching, which has allowed terrible defensive habits such as hand-checking.
“Chinese players play defense with their hands and arms their whole life,” Joe explained to Hoops Addict. “So when they try to play in an international tournament or an NBA training camp, they foul out in 5 minutes.”
On the contrary, it is the body-to-body contact that is legal in the USA and most of the world that Chinese players have trouble adjusting to.
Many scouts agree that China also lacks quality point guards with court vision, a problem apparent from the high school level all the way up to the national team. Joe attributes this to “a need for grassroots programs across the nation…and not just programs paid for by sponsors.”
While in China the last three summers, I noticed a burgeoning craze for basketball that most likely began with the emergence of Yao Ming, but is now merging with pop-culture and becoming a way of life. Instead of the usual one or two pick-up games seen on U.S. campuses, schools across China are hosting up to 16 pick-up games on side-by-side, full-length, outdoor basketball courts.
Joe recognizes this basketball revolution as well, and with a nod to Field of Dreams adds, “If you build it, they will come…”
Dodging M-80’s on the court is not what basketball players expect to do. But when you are playing in front of the rowdiest crowds in the world, you have to be prepared for anything. In his 13th year of professional basketball overseas, Derrick Alston (D.A.) has seen almost everything.
Alston was the 33rd pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, but during his third NBA season, he made the journey to Europe.
“My time in the league was short and I have made a great living playing overseas and had a lot of success,” Alston explained. “My 12 years of experience overseas has been where I learned about the world and played some great basketball. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
I can’t blame him and I wouldn’t trade his two Eurocup Championships, three National league titles and multiple MVP awards either. But none of that success would have been possible without the correct approach and willingness to try something different.
“One of the most important things in making the transition to overseas basketball is to have a open mind,” Alston told me. “You have to be ready to adjust to your surroundings and not think everybody else has to adjust to you. I tell all the young guys that they have to adjust to the culture and with that alone, they can make life, basketball and everything else a little easier and more enjoyable.”
As Y2K rolled around, fans in the U.S. were watching Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant win three straight NBA Championships. Meanwhile, Alston was getting his passport stamped all over the world and playing for teams in Turkey, Spain, France, Russia, New Zealand and Argentina.
I got the chance to hang out with D.A. while we were in China staging basketball camps. As we shared stories, he told me about playing in a 2000 Euroleague Final Four game in Greece. These games hold just as much excitement as our NCAA Final Four.
The fans are like Cameron Crazies on steroids and are incomparably boisterous and wild.
Alston recalls, “our fans were trying to put up signs but the Greek fans came right in front of them and tore it all down.”
If that was not enough, the Greek fans then started jumping around and chanting for their team.
“Then again outside, they circled our fans and families and yelled at them in Greek just trying to scare them while the police just watched,” Alston told me.
The best part of the story is that Alston’s team was not even playing the Greek team.
The excitement and atmosphere of high level European basketball is unmatched. This passion derives partly from the fervent way of life and national pride. When the NBA or NCAA Championship begins, many of us watch the games as entertainment and usually have an allegiance to a favorite or local team. However, when the Euroleague Final Four is played, there is the love of the game and entertainment value plus national pride on the line.
Each game brings together teams from different parts of Europe, each with deep and rich history. Living in America we forget how young our country is. European teams face-off for a chance to bring a hero’s glory back to his country, especially if there is animosity or a history of hostility between the teams or countries.
It becomes more than just a basketball game.
This is how legends are born. Past Euroleague Final Four MVP’s include, Toni Kukoc, Manu Ginobili, and Sarunas Jasikevicius, each of whom became great NBA players.
Once while in Cypress playing in the Korac Cup, Alston was lacing them up for Pamesa Valencia. Alston’s team was making a run so a timeout was called.
“I look down and see something small rolling towards us but it was smoking,” recalls Alston. “Not knowing what is was, I went to kick it away. It exploded and cut mine and another teammates’ leg. It was a M-80! Everybody’s ears were ringing and we couldn’t believe what just happened. Security didn’t do anything that I know of because there were two more thrown during the game.”
Extreme actions have all but disappeared at Final Four games in Europe. However, this is a glimpse of the excitement and pressure of basketball in Europe.
“The NBA has pressure to win but it’s nothing compared to what you have to deal with overseas,” Alston explained. “Over here (Europe) you have to the pressure to win, overcome the culture and always be a top performer.”
Do you have questions about how overseas basketball works? Are you curious about how a former college player is doing overseas? Is there is anything else you would like to know? Ask me and I will do my best to help you understand. I have played professional basketball and conducted camps in over 10 countries from all corners of the world, so let me share some insights. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org