Former Medway Park Crusaders Head Coach, James Vear, continues with his blog from overseas (University of Dalhousie, Canada). Vear left the UK about three months ago, and will be regularly updating us with his experiences and life abroad. You can check his first blog entry here, second one here, and third one here. Over to James:
It’s been an eventful and a busy month here in Halifax. At the beginning of October I managed to meet up with (GB women’s assistant coach) Damian Jennings who is now the Calgary Women’s coach, it was great to share stories with him about our experiences so far here in Canada. He has a talented group of girls and I think he will have a successful first season.
Our pre-season officially started with us traveling to Ottawa for the Carleton tournament; one of the toughest and best tournaments in Canada. First up, we played Laval University from Quebec who are a very well-run and physical team. We were a little inconsistent, especially on the defensive end, and ended up losing by 6. I think the speed and the physicality took a lot of our freshmen by surprise and with 10 new faces this year it was a steep learning curve for all of them.
I ended up staying to watch and scout Carleton University vs. Queens University. The gym was packed and the atmosphere was amazing, Carleton ended up winning by 50 and Queens are by no means a bad team. I don’t think I ever experienced a team work as hard as Carleton do. Even when they are up by that much they play like the game is tied, it truly was a great game to watch and I will admit, it had me a little worried as we played Carleton in the last game of the tournament.
Before that though, we had Queens University from Ontario to deal with; we got off to a great start and controlled the game for large parts but couldn’t see the game out, eventually losing by 2.
The next day, we got off to a great start against Carleton and stayed with them for most of the first half. At halftime, we were down 14 which was the lowest points difference they had experienced at the break in the entire tournament. Unfortunately we had a really poor 5 minutes to start the 3rd Quarter and Carleton punished us for it and put the lead out to over 20, sustaining the lead to the end of the game.
Carleton have a couple of players this year who could play on any NCAA Div1 program in the states; Phillip Scrubb, their PG, is one of them – he’s the reigning player of the year and this past week dropped 32 points on Villanova. Jay Wright, the Villanova Head Coach, said Scrubb could play at any Big East school.
Although we lost all 3 games at the tournament I think we started to find an identity and the players realised how much hard work we would need to put in at practice if we wanted to be successful. We now had 2 weeks of practice before we would play Guelph University and Calgary University for our first home games of the year.
One afternoon when we got back from Ottawa I was doing some individual workouts with some of the team and I saw a pick-up game on the other court. I went across to watch and met an elderly man on the sideline stretching. He told me he was 80 years old and he had played pick up or worked out by himself for the last 60 years!
I couldn’t believe it to start off with; he didn’t look close to 80 but a few of the other guys backed his case and said he was here daily. It was great to see someone have such a love for the game – not only that, but he could really play! He said he was a pass first, shoot second player and told me we don’t see many players like that these days which is very true.
We practiced hard for the next two weeks and watched some film to drum home some of the teaching points we had learnt from the tournament. Our head coach John Campbell is great in film sessions, having done it for the Canadian Senior Men’s team in the past. I have really learnt a lot on how to conduct a proper film session and things to look for, especially things we are trying to do this season.
Our first home game of the season would be against Guelph from Ontario. Our guys were keen to put on a good show for our home fans and we got the job done, eventually winning by 6 and getting our first win of the year. We would now play Calgary on a day’s rest. I had scouted Calgary’s offense and we worked on defending their action in the next days practice. Calgary has a GB (U20) player on their team in Josh Owen-Thomas who is their starting shooting guard.
We would get off to a great start against Calgary and went into the half up by 5, but unfortunately we had a poor 4th quarter and Calgary’s point guard hurt us, ending the game with 27. We would end up losing by 8 which was a real disappointment as we controlled the game for large parts – as we all know you have to play for 40 minutes, not the 35 we have being doing in some of our losses.
We would now travel to New York the day after the Calgary game to play two Division 1 teams and one Division 2 team. I was excited to see how we measured up to the US schools and how the standard compares. Being a huge US college basketball fan, it was a big moment for me to be able to coach against some of the US’s best coaches.
When we got to the airport I saw a small report on a hurricane that could hit New York while we were there but didn’t give it a thought. There was no mention in the news report that this was going to be the worst storm to hit New York in recent memory!
In New York, we went to the 9/11 memorial which was a very humbling and emotional experience. I went to ground zero in 2002 with my Dad when they were still clearing away the debris; it was a big change from then till now. I think it was important for all of the team to see this site and I think they all took something away from it.
That evening we would play Felician College, a Division 2 team in New Jersey. The game was brought forward due to the hurricane and no one knowing how bad it might be. We played well in patches but lost both scrimmages by small margins. We got back onto our coach after the game and it started to become apparent that this storm could be worse than we first thought.
The storm would hit New York on Monday evening; we were staying in a hotel in Bergen, New Jersey which was 15 minutes from New York. We got very lucky as we were on higher ground and we didn’t feel the full force of the hurricane. Our power did go out late Monday night, but compared to what was happening to the rest of New York, it was a small inconvenience.
Despite the storm, our next game against Rider hadn’t been cancelled so we drove to there the next day. The storm damage along the way was quite extensive with lots of felled trees (see picture above) and flooding; an hour’s drive turned into a 3 hour one, with lots of the freeways being closed. Earlier that day we would get to look around Princeton’s campus which is just down the road from Rider – the Ivy League school has one of the most impressive campuses I have ever been on.
Later that evening we would arrive at Rider, a place familiar to many British fans with Justin Robinson having played there for four years, and Tom Pereira going into his junior year there this season. I managed to spend some time with Tom before our scrimmage, he’s a great kid and a great shooter. The coaching staff there are very high on him; expect him to a big player for them this upcoming season.
The first half of the scrimmage was our best defensive display so far this season, with 1 min left in the half we were up by 2 holding them to only 20 points. Unfortunately we turned the ball over a few times in that last minute to allow Rider to win the first half. The second half Rider won comfortably by 20, but it showed us we could match up with a Division 1 school. We needed to become a lot more consistent on both ends of the floor for us to be successful.
Due to the hurricane our last game had to be cancelled but we luckily found a small Division 2 school just outside of Philadelpha willing to play us called Holy Family. This would be the most disappointing game of our trip, Holy Family did a good job of running their action and we struggled against their pressure defense. We ended up losing the game we should have won by double digits.
Although we lost all 3 games I think this was a great learning curve for all of our guys especially our freshman, at this level you have to be consistent and if you have a bad 2-3 minutes teams will punish you.
The last day before we left we were treated to a visit to Penn University, our second Ivy League school that week. We got permission to go onto one of the most famous basketball courts on the planet “The Palestra” – this court has had more people watch college basketball than any other court in America, and we were all in awe of the place and the history behind it.
We now have a full week of practice before our first conference game of the season against PEI. I still have a lot of confidence in this team and what we are trying to achieve this season; when we play well we can beat anyone in the AUS.
These past few weeks I have also been in touch with Joe Riley who is coaching out in Spain, he has a great blog that has some great information on what they are doing at Estudiantes, one of the biggest and best clubs in Europe. All coaches should definitely check it out here.
It’s going to be a busy month with the start of conference play but I’m looking forward to the challenge and us picking up some wins.
Feel free to email me with any questions on firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on twitter @coachvear .