The vast international experience of Pau-Orthez head coach Gordon Herbert was on display in this week's edition of Fan Mail. After guiding Pau to the Top 16 for the first time in three years, fans across Europe bombarded the Canadian-born Herbert, who also serves as the head coach for the Georgian national team, with questions about a range of topics from the future of French and Georgian basketball, to how he beat defending champ CSKA Moscow earlier this season and even touching on his off-court hobbies. One thing clear from his answers is that Herbert sees great things in the future for Pau and all of European basketball. “Europe has jut gotten so much better every year over the last 10 years,” Herbert said in response to one Fan Mail question. “I think that French basketball has a tremendous future. They have a chance to be, in my opinion, in the next three-to-five years, a top three team in the world at the men's level,” he said in another. See what else Herbert has to say in this edition of Fan Mail.
Coach Herbert, it's been a few years since you coached Frankfurt Skyliners in the Euroleague. Can you say there are any big differences or trends you have noticed since coming back to the Euroleague?
Raul Trujillo - Spain
“When I coached Frankfurt in the Euroleague in 2001-02, there were 32 teams. Just by reducing it to 24 teams it has become stronger and every year basketball in Europe gets stronger. Europe has jut gotten so much better every year over the last 10 years. So it's, in my opinion, much stronger now than it was four years ago.”
Coach Herbert: how much harder is the Top 16 than the regular season?
Herve - France
“The Top 16 is difficult, very difficult because there's only six games. If you lose one game at home, you put yourself in a very difficult position, just like we have. We lost to Tau at home and it put us in a very difficult situation. To advance to the last eight, you really have to win your home games. That's why it's difficult.”
Hello coach, Could you tell us your thoughts about the club's prospects, such as Mahinmi, Vaty, Ajinça, Sambe and Heurtel? Where do you see them playing in a three years' time? Why don't you give them more first-team playing time? Thanks a lot coach
Nicolas – Istanbul, Turkey
“Mahinmi, Vaty and Ajinca are young players with a lot of potential. All three are big players and big players usually don't reach their full potential until they're 26 or 27 years old. Mahinmi just turned 20. Vaty and Ajinca are 18. Vaty actually played 11 minutes for us versus Tau and he started for us [Sunday] night in the French League. You know we've been criticized for not playing Ajinca more, which frustrates me because when Ajinca came to us, he had a bad knee and we had to hold him out for three months. He missed the first three months of our season, he was out for three weeks in December and now he's out for another two weeks with injuries. And so he's been out for a total of over four months. And for a young kid, 18, in his first year in the program, it's very, very difficult for him to learn the system and get into the system. When you criticize somebody for not playing somebody, I think people should get the facts straight first. People don't realize he was out for three months. That's what's frustrating for me. Mahinmi was a starter for us the first two or three months of the season and then we brought Michael Wright in and he came off the bench. In the last three or four games, he started for us at the four [power forward]. With young players, sometimes you take one step forward and two steps back. I had a lot of young players in Frankfurt, I truly believe that you have to make them work hard for every minute they get. It's like handing a kid a high school diploma without making him work for it. When he gets to the next level, he's not gonna make it. So my job is to make them work for it, earn their minutes, earn their situation and there are no wasted minutes. For our young kids, we try to get them as much playing time as possible with the junior team as possible and have them practice with the pro team. And when they progress they get to play with the pro team.”
Hello coach! Pau is the surprise package of this year's Euroleague. Could Georgia do the same on the national team level? I know you have an abundance of riches at your disposal like Stepania, Boisa, Tsikitishvili and Markoishvili, to name just a few. Do you and them have what it takes to get to the higher level?
Mitja Križan - Slovenia
“I think we do. We're a young team in Georgia. Very, very young. Our best players are between 18 and 23 years old. Vladimer Boisa is one of the only players over that age, so we're a very, very young team. But it's a very, very interesting group. The federation is great in Georgia. The people of Georgia have a great passion for sport, so I'm really looking forward to this summer and hopefully qualifying for Group A.”
Hi coach, It has been some years since French clubs last played a major role in European basketball. Can you see this changing in the near future?
Angelos Georgiou - Pireaus, Greece
“France has, in my opinion, a great group of kids coming and a great group in the NBA. It probably has the best group of young kids in Europe right now. It's just that we have to develop these kids. The problem is that when these kids are 21 or 22 years old, they're either going to the NBA or they're going to Spain or Italy and then we don't see these kids. We don't have enough money to keep these kids in the French clubs. It's difficult to really have a good team that could do something in the Euroleague. I think that French basketball has a tremendous future. They're got a great group of young kids, they've got five or six good young players in the NBA. They've got a great group coming. They have a chance to be, in my opinion, in the next three-to-five years, a top three team in the world at the men's level.”
Hello. I respect you and your team a lot for what you have done this year. My question: which team is your favorite to win the Euroleague this year?
Georgi Demirov - Bulgaria
“I think my favorite is CSKA. I think that Messina is a great coach. He gets the most out of his players also and they play great defense. They rebound the ball and they take care of the ball on the offensive end. They don't give up easy baskets and they don't turn the ball over. They play the right way, they play as a team. I don't know if they have the best talent, but in my opinion they're the best team.
“I might be the only to say this, but to me Benetton has an outside chance. Benetton is like a dark horse. They play great team basketball. They really pass the ball well. They shoot the ball well. David Blatt has done a great job. Twice we played them and we've really had a hard time playing them. They play a little bit of that Princeton stuff. Pass and kick and a lot of dribble hand-offs, which are really difficult to guard. And they can really shoot the basketball. Whether they have enough inside presence, I don't know. But they really play good basketball.”
Hi coach! Having coached in Finland, Austria, Germany and France, not to mention the Georgia and Canada national teams, is there some place you want to coach that you haven't yet?
Luigi - Italy
“I'm in a great situation right now with Pau here in southern France. The organization is great. The infrastructure is very, very good. I think right now I have a great job. Of course the one place I'd like to go is maybe is Spain.”
Coach, your team is the only one to have beaten CSKA in the Euroleague this season. What is the secret to stopping the champions?
Nenad – Israel
“We were lucky... It was a game where we were down by 10 points, we went to a desperation zone, and it worked. And we had a great crowd factor, we made shots and we were lucky. We lost maybe our best player at halftime, C.C. Harrison, and he did not play in the second half and somehow we found a way.”
Mister Herbert, what chances does the Georgian national team have to move up in the near future?
Irakli Pertaia - Tbilisi, Georgia
“I think right now we have a great chance to move up this summer. We have to win in Iceland and we have to beat Finland in Georgia. And we have two more games after that. I think we have to all be committed 100 percent, have a great training camp get in great shape. And once we do those things, I think we have a great chance to move up to Group A.”
Hi Gordon, Do you ski in the Pyranees? If so, where? Thanks, and good luck in the Top 16!
Sylvain Perret - France
“I'm Canadian and I grew up playing ice hockey and skiing. I really have a great passion for ice hockey. Hockey is my favorite sport actually. I'd rather watch an NHL game than an NBA game. I grew up skiing and I used to race when I was young. I skied in the Austrian Alps and about 10 days ago we went skiing in the Pyranees. I cannot remember the place though, I'm sorry. But I like to ski. It's great for piece of mind and in this job to get away and go skiing, it's great for the mind.”