When Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College basketball academy offered me the chance to come on an Easter trip with them to Valencia, Spain, I jumped at the opportunity.
Having only been to Europe a couple of times on basketball related duties, it has always been an eye opening experience, and a chance to see how things are done differently to the UK; this super quick visit to Valencia was no different.
Having returned to England late on Friday night, I’ve had a bit of time to throw together a little recap with some observations and reflections below:
A 4am wake up and (20 minute walk in the freezing cold temperatures to Stratford for the bus!) was a shock to the system, but with the knowledge that 20+ degree temperatures in Spain awaited, I was in no position to complain! Meeting the team at Stansted, we caught the 8:00am flight out to arrive at Valencia at 11:30 local time.
Stepping off the aeroplane, still wearing my jacket and scarf, I can’t even tell you how good 23 degrees felt!
Hotel Tactica, our four star lodgings for the duration of the trip (yeah, we were looked after!), was a short 5 minute drive from the airport, and on arrival it was straight there for everyone to get some rest (hotel window view pictured, right).
We met downstairs for dinner at 5:30, before the team having their first practice at 7; a joint session with Paterna’s U18 side.
Paterna, from what I’ve gathered, are a fifth division professional outfit. Fifth division, and all the players are full time basketball players! Don’t get it twisted, they’re not earning bucket loads, but enough to live (approximately €1000 a month); it is only as a result of the financial crisis that the team has been hit so hard – before that, players would be earning almost three times that!
The other thing that immediately jumped out on arriving at the practice facilities and arena, was, well, they have their own practice facilities and arena! One 3,000 seat arena for the teams to play their home games in (main picture at the top of the page), and then an accompanying building next door, with four more courts (one half of this can be seen below left). All of this for a side that is nowhere near competing at the highest levels in Spain. It’s a different world!
Crudeli explained to me that it took him four years to become a fully qualified coach, having to attend a number of clinics, work under a number of different coaches and of course, get real world coaching experience. A stark contrast to the terrible state of coaching qualifications here in the UK. Not only that, but Crudeli’s thirst to get better and learn more (every summer he travels Europe to work different camps and with different coaches, and is constantly attending clinics put on by the Spanish federation), as well his own recognition that he’s far from a finished product was incredibly refreshing.
Working with both teams meant there was a lot of players in the session, as Crudeli focused on 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and 3 on 3 work.
Straight after practice it was into a game, moving across to the main arena to face Paterna’s U21 side. The game remained close throughout; at halftime, EHWLC held a slim 36-34 lead and the team’s star, England Under-18 Tyrell Isaacs had been quiet with just 8 points.
In the second half, for me, there was only one story and that was Isaac’s dominance. Tyrell imposed his will on the game, and just refused to let his team lose. He went OFF, scoring 24 points, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter; including an 8-0 run by himself as Paterna made a last ditch effort. EHWLC won 76-63.
Isaacs finished with 32 on 14/20 shooting, scoring on a variety of pull up mid range jumpers and drives to the basket finishing in traffic. Naim Salihu had 10 points and 8 rebounds, whilst Maurice Gilbert had 8 points and 6 assists, and Dario Wisdom had 9 points in just 15 minutes.
Job done on Day 1, back to the hotel for some much needed rest and preparation for the huge game the next evening against Valencia.
Thursday was no doubt the biggest day of the trip, with an evening match-up against Valencia Under-18s. Valencia, who’s senior side compete in the ACB, were going to be the toughest test of the trip by far.
A big buffet breakfast, consisting of fresh fruit, yoghurts, croissants, breads, cheeses and meats was the perfect way to start the day.
Christian Crudelli ran the morning practice, which focused on fundamentals. I had a chance to have a quick chat with him about the set up of the club and how it all works; turns out the club is financed by a mixture of the local government council and private sponsorship. All players affiliated with the club have to pay a fee of €100 and in return get access to the facilities whenever they like – pretty good deal if you ask me!
Throughout the three days, whenever we were in the gym, there was normally kids in the accompanying gym playing or being coached, many of them as young as 8 or 9 years old. The entire basketball culture is so different to the UK (well, it actually exists for a start!).
After lunch, and a few hours break which saw some of the guys chill in the pool downstairs, there was a team meeting before heading to the gym for the game against Valencia.
Tyrell Isaacs continued from where he left off, dropping 20 points in the first half (43 over his last two halves of basketball) but Valencia’s team play, execution and ridiculous outside shooting (they ended up with 15 triples) was too much.
Adding injury to insult, Isaacs injured his leg on an awkward landing off a dunk which saw him play limited minutes the rest of the way.
Valencia cruised, winning 97-64. A comfortable 33 point victory, which was only made worse for EHWLC on being informed that Valencia were actually resting their six best players! The talent gap is just huge.
Isaacs finished with 24 points on 10/11 shooting, Dario Wisdom had 21, and Kevaun McKenzie added 7.
A deflated EHWLC returned to the hotel to eat, sleep and reflect on the night’s activities.
After another big breakfast (bloated all morning for the second day in a row!), morning practice was ran by Paterna’s senior team coach, Nicolas Sanchez.
It was another session that focused on fundamentals, and, I think, made a lot of the players realise just how much they didn’t know. There was a lot of emphasis on footwork, using floor markings and cones to help players practice getting off their shot getting into the lane or coming off screens, and passing, both strong and weak hand.
In their final game of the tour, they were to take on Paterna’s Under-18 side – the same team they had the joint practice with on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the sun had left us and instead we were faced with rain which led to a very cold gym with a few leaks in the roof (I guess when it’s hot pretty much year around there’s less urgency to fix any leaks!).
There was an air of (over?) confidence going in, and initially this seemed to not be a bad thing. EHWLC jumped out to a 30-9 lead after the first quarter and by all accounts it looked like the blowout was on.
However, it was far from over. EHWLC put in their second unit to start the second quarter and Paterna immediately saw an opportunity to capitalise. Pressing throughout, they forced turnover after turnover, and began hitting from distance. By halftime, they were right back in it, having outscored the academy 28-10 in the second period.
With the teams trading baskets in the third, it was tied at 53 going into the fourth but Paterna seemed to have all the momentum. The Spanish team went on a 6-0 run early in the period to take a lead they would not relinquish. There was a last minute comeback attempt by EHWLC but it was too little too late as Paterna ran out 86-81 winners to give the English academy side a 1-2 record over the course of the trip.
Dario Wisdom had 28 points on 13/16 shooting, going off for 19 in the first half, Tyrell Isaacs finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and Maurice Gilbert added 11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.
For me, it was straight to the airport after the game as I had to return a couple of days early for some personal commitments, whilst EHWLC had one more day, where they would practice, and then watch the senior team in action in the evening.
I would encourage anyone, whether you’re a player, coach, or fan to try and visit Europe on a basketball related trip at some point. It was an eye opening experience, from the coaching, to the facilities, to the standard, to the cultural differences – there is so much to be learned.
To think that what we experienced wasn’t close to the highest levels in Spain makes it even more awe-inspiring. I can only hope that more trips like this are organised for teams, coaches and organisations so we can bring back the knowledge gained to benefit basketball in the UK.
Massive thanks to Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College for making it possible for me!