Former Medway Park Crusaders Head Coach, James Vear, chimes in with his final blog from overseas (University of Dalhousie, Canada). Vear left the UK at the start of the season, and has been regularly updating us with his experiences and life abroad. You can check all his previous blog entries here. Over to James:
Due to it being playoff time here in the AUS conference, it’s been a while since I wrote my last blog; a lot has been going on! The team have had a great second half to the season winning 8 out of our last 11 games, beating the 3rd ranked team in the nation, the Acadia Axemen, in our last regular season game.
We eventually finished 4th in our conference, leading to a first round match-up with Saint Francis Xavier University – a team we had beaten three times on the season. They not only have one of the best players in the country, a first team all-conference player named Jeremy Dunn, who was among the league leaders in points and rebounds but are also coached by Steve Konchalski, a coaching legend in Canada, who has amassed over 825 wins in 35 seasons.
The AUS playoffs are a great way to end the season. All the games are played at the Metro Centre in Halifax with the top two teams in the league getting a bye in the first round. It would be a unique experience for most of the team as we have 8 freshmen and only a handful of players having experience playing at the Metro Centre. This year the playoffs in Halifax were given even more significance and media coverage locally due to the national finals not being held in Ottawa.
In the week building up to our game we had the opportunity to watch a lot of game tape, of both ourselves and our opponent. Our practices went well and the team looked focused and ready for the challenge ahead. The night before our playoff game the AUS had a banquet for all the teams participating and two Dalhousie players; Will Yengue and Simon Marr, made the AUS Second Team – great recognition for their play this season.
The game itself was a very nervy affair, perhaps to be expected with our inexperience, but we went into the half only down by 4. We came out very flat in the third quarter and the game was in danger of getting away from us, however, we managed to climb all the way back in the fourth, and with under a minute left we were down by 1.
Unfortunately, Saint Francis Xavier’s seniors hit some big baskets down the stretch and we came up just short. The players gave everything and I was gutted that we couldn’t execute the game plan a little better. It was a tough loss, but I think it will only make the younger players stronger and more determined for next season.
After the game had finished it took a good couple of hours for it to finally sink in that the season had officially finished and all the hard work over the last 6 months had come to an end. Anyone who knows me will tell you I take losses worse than most and I found this one especially hard. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed coaching a group of players this much in my coaching career and it’s made even harder knowing I won’t get the opportunity to coach them again next season.
I watched both the semi-finals and final on TV – I knew on our day we could beat any of the teams in our conference, but that’s basketball for you! Cape Breton deservedly went on to win our conference championship; they only lost one regular season game and were consistently the best team in our conference throughout the season.
The national finals were also televised, both Cape Breton and Acadia would represent our conference in the national Final 8. Carleton would eventually beat Lakehead in the final by 50! GB U20 Joe Hart actually plays for Lakehead and had a very good weekend at the finals; he has a bright future ahead of him.
Carleton’s win meant they have now won 9 out of the last 11 national championships, which is just a ridiculous record! It’s unfortunate that Coach Smart is no longer involved in the GB Under 20 set up, I watch a lot of basketball from all over the world but I have never seen a team work as hard as Carleton. I implore every coach and player to try and watch some of their games next season online because it is a pleasure to watch.
Now the season was officially over it was time to reflect and what I had taken from it. I went back and looked through my note books on all the notes I had taken after practices and games – I realised I had 4 big note pads full to the brim!
I learnt more in this one season than I had in my last 8 yrs back home. Our head coach John Campbell has a very similar coaching philosophy to myself, and he is a great teacher of the game. I have had the pleasure of working with/watching some of the best coaches in the world, and I would put him definitely in that bracket; I was extremely lucky to be able to learn from one of Canada’s best coaches. The team itself have the potential to be very good over the next few years especially with the entire team returning and I’m looking forward to going back next season to see them in action.
Unfortunately, I’m not be able to stay a second season in Canada due to my VISA, but spending this season there has opened up a lot more avenues for me. I now have coaching interviews in Europe lined up over the coming months and I look forward to my next challenge.
This season has been an amazing experience and I encourage every coach to try and get out of their comfort zone and get abroad to either camps or to watch teams practice as it will improve you greatly as a coach. Canada is a place where basketball is starting to become a world power and their junior national teams are amongst the best in the world. It was great to experience the differences between Canada and the UK and see how these differences are really starting to pay off for them.
I also wanted to say congratulations to Damian Jennings on being named the Canada West Conference Coach of the Year. I had the pleasure of meeting Damian earlier in the season when his Calgary team played Dalhousie. I’m not sure if Damian’s achievement got any press back in the UK but it was a great first season for his Calgary women’s team.
I want to thank Sam for letting me do this blog this season (no problem – pleasure is all mine! – ed) and I hope that it’s been insightful to both players and coaches. I hope I can continue to do it next season with whatever team I might end up at.
Once again feel free to contact me by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @coachvear.