Duco Van Oostrum: Armchair Reflections on GB U20s - Hoopsfix.com

Duco Van Oostrum: Armchair Reflections on GB U20s

Great Britain Under-20s 2011Duco Van Oostrum, the father of GB prospect Devon Van Oostrum, has been out in Sarajevo, Bosnia, blogging for the BBL website about the GB U20s’ Division B European Championship campaign that finished with a 13th position placing. Here he reflects on the tournament.

After the long journey home yesterday and the tournament still fresh in my mind, some personal reflections.

The Result
To say the least, 13th was not a good result and not a proper reflection of the quality of the team. At the same time, anything below the first two spots would probably also have been regarded as a failure.

The tournament structure really hurt the team, as they finished with a 7-2 record (best ever) and a 7-game win streak. Yes, they are against the ‘lesser’ teams, but at the same time, the difference between the teams is small and sometimes a day-to-day affair.

Great Britain lost the opening games by 3 and 4 (both 2 point games but other team put on the line with a few seconds left), both with chances in the final minute. It’s harsh, but that’s sport. The small details matter at this level.

The Games
Those first two games will never be forgotten. As I’ve written before, my sense is that the team was not ‘tournament ready.’ The entire preparation was England based, in Colchester and Bristol. There were only 4 preparation games with the final 12 of the roster, against Denmark and Belgium. After the Belgium games, combinations changed and were not tested until the tournament itself.

I don’t understand why there weren’t preparation games on foreign soil this year or something done more to reflect the conditions of the tournament itself. The teams that went over to Sarajevo early to play a couple of games in the heat, the gym, eating the hotel food etc, had a major advantage.

Portugal was ready. Portugal was probably a better team than anticipated, and that should have been addressed as well. I didn’t see the game (was live stat watching) but it was clear that the rhythm wasn’t there. That first game is so incredibly important.

Finland was next, and always seen as a crunch game. My blog, I hope, makes it clear that we played a different defensive style than ever before (or since) and the Finnish guards didn’t score numbers like that against any other team. We still had chances to win, however.

From that game on, we started winning games, and grew every game in the tournament. The final two games, GB were very good, especially on the defensive end, but also on offense the passing was superb. If only those final two games had been at the top half of the competition.

Changes during the tournament.
It was striking to have different starters and combinations on the floor in all the opening games. This was clearly a coach decision and you could see why the changes were made to counter the specific strengths of the opposition or award a good performance the previous day.

Lee Reilly, Levi Noel, Will Hall, John Bantock, Lee Goldsbrough all started a game and DNP a game; Alasdair Fraser moved up in the rotation. To me, it relates to tournament preparation where coaches perhaps hadn’t seen the players perform enough in tournament conditions prior to the tournament, and a factor of not trusting your own team’s strength by responding to the opposition.

Of course all of this is highly debatable and mine is just an opinion, and other coaches have completely different justifiable game plans.

What if.
One of the most annoying features of the tournament has been the talk of all those players (all US based?) for some reason or another not available for selection (sometimes even while playing in an under-aged tournament and dominating).

Commitment to a summer of hard work, putting your game on the line in a tough international competition is itself a selection process. There is a choice of rest, picking up summer credits, working on your game individually, or once again not having a summer holiday (don’t forget, most these boys have had summer commitments since playing U16).

What also plays a considerable part is the risk involved in putting your game on the line in such a tough tournament. What if you get cut, don’t get a lot of time, have bad stats, or the team doesn’t do well? It’s always easy to play the excuse game (favourite one, ‘coach hates me’) and put yourself in more favourable places.

The international game is tough, very tough. It’s not an American game. FIBA rules (24 second clock and not 35 as in NCAA), team basketball, different types of national systems (P&R to the 10th degree in terms of complexity), and in many cases already professional opposition in the U20s. None of the other teams have the extraordinary American influence that the GB team has, and most don’t have the problem of American players not available in their country.

For the other teams, these are the best players in their country, they will make a living out of basketball, and the standard of basketball is generally higher—literally, their job is on the line. I feel people seriously underestimate the level and intensity of this international competition.

The American emphasis on recruitment and always being ‘managed’ to fight for a scholarship (read AAU ball) or that elusive playing time that the coach has promised/guaranteed you for next year, does not align well with this type of international competition. The boys who are here have put the pressure from other things aside and chosen to compete for their country. They’ve taken the hard road and all of them should be applauded for that.

Just a quick part of about this important aspect of the game. The refereeing was consistent and calls made sense. Of course there were bad calls, but what was amazing to see was referees talking to the coach and basically saying, ‘I’ll get you the next one’—not afraid to admit they got one wrong.

None of the games I saw were decided by a referee; in most cases, you didn’t notice them. And what a difference it makes to the game of basketball. Some striking differences.

Offensive players were allowed to touch the ball after a score, especially if the ball was flipped back to the referee. When an offensive player goes after the ball on the offensive rebound, you want that instinct of going after it and the referees recognize that here. Lane violation on free throws or moving in early hardly ever called. One 3-second call witnessed in the entire tournament. Fouls to stop the fast break occurred throughout the tournament and were never unsportsman ones if they slapped their forearm across the player; unsportsmanlike ones were the ones from behind. Referees communicating with players and actually putting a hand on a shoulder.

There was just so much more confidence from the referees and they ‘felt’ the game. The referee was also our only presence in the final, Keith Williams, and he did GB proud. He called the game together with a Spanish and Bosnian referee; Keith talked, explained, made tough calls clearly, and let the players decide the game.

Tournament Organization and Facilities.
Sarajevo is an amazing city where history lives. They put on an excellent tournament. The aptly named Hotel Hollywood housed all the teams and they got it right. While none of the facilities were amazing, there were only basketball lines on the court, decent seating, and fantastic scoreboards in three different venues.

It was hot and stuffy but everything to do with the courts, the table officiating, the timing (all games started at the exact time of advertising), was perfect. Videos of all the games were immediately available for all the teams, and there was free internet at all facilities.

The Future.
Playing a role in international basketball: Why can’t we organise a championship? There are six of them. Why not have at least one age group each year? How come Sarajevo organise one seemingly every year, and we do one every 10 or 20 years?

Preparing Players and Coaches for International Basketball.
There is a real disparity between the English game and the European game; my sense is that the English game models itself more on the American game, which, as I explained above just a little bit, is actually quite different from the FIBA rules games.

In England, it’s ‘park basketball’ (parents coaching, playing on hilly pitches, putting up the goal posts, practicing once a week, paying subs, etc). In ‘park football,’ the scouts lift the best talent to the academies, and everything changes: the coaches, the facilities, practice time (ever heard of a 13-year academy football player complaining about practicing twice a day?), and money.

European basketball is very similar with major professional clubs in the country picking up the talent and developing it. The major professional clubs also are the power base for all basketball in those countries and there is little confusion about structural power and money comes in from local councils, national bodies, and sponsors.

We’ve tried to highlight the problem of Devon practicing here in England, for example. A local ‘English Institute of Sport’, paid for by the tax payer to bridge the gap in facilities with other countries and make us competitive during the Olympics excludes the local basketball player with the ‘Olympic Gold Passport’; how many potential Olympians are there in Sheffield? The £32million EIS is actually owned by a corporation (Sheffield International Venues) now it seems; their venues have basketball courts used for local badminton players and footie 24/7. We have to ask at gyms. Nothing is arranged or put in place. This is the ‘ground-level’ of the structural problem here. We can have all the strategic papers we want and do fantastic tick-boxing exercises, but it is pretty impossible to practice every day when you ‘come home.’

Will it ever happen for the boys? I’m rooting for Simon Fisher’s U16. Think that programme hits many of the preparation issues for other teams. Foreign trips, together throughout the year with selections and rotations established well before the tournament, many international friendlies, and a pride in playing for England (heard of anyone declining?).

We were so close in Portugal, where it came down to that semi-final v Denmark, and England had their one bad game of the tournament. It still haunts. It does become so much more difficult after U16 because of the ‘Americanization’ of English basketball.

And something happens between U16 and U18 in England in terms of the competition—the development of players seems to decrease. The top players leave and it becomes hard to get them back. Also, the U20 and U18 tournaments are earlier on the calendar and school exams always interfere with the ideal preparation.

Finally, I’d like to see us playing against A-division teams in preparation and play at the competition level we’re aiming for.

Comments. I’ve recommended that Sam should move his comments section to another website—perhaps link it, but disassociate from the ‘levelling of comments.’ Positive results don’t get the most comments; it’s the gloating when things go wrong.

Article is much too long. And again, they’re just my thoughts.

Please support the U18 and all those other teams representing your country.

What are your thoughts on Duco’s thoughts?! Let us know!

Image: FIBA Europe

You can find links to all of Duco’s previous blogs on the BBL site below:
GB U20s vs Finland Part 1
GB U20s vs Luxembourg Part 2
GB U20s vs Norway Part 3
GB U20s vs Czech Republic Part 4
GB U20s Rest Day Part 5
GB U20s vs Israel Part 6
GB U20s vs Iceland Part 7
GB U20s vs Romania Part 8
GB U20s vs Iceland Part 9


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