A bridge between basketball cultures
Euroleague.net's editorial director, Frank Lawlor, has spent most of his career as a basketball journalist in Europe and his native United States, writing about and interviewing the top players in the world on both continents for more than two decades. In terms of practical basketball experience, he was a head coach in the Spanish second division for one fortuitous season in the late 1990s. Frank's blog will draw on all that background to enhance the Turkish Airlines Euroleague experience for you, the fans.
During this break in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague action, while eight teams gear up for the upcoming playoffs in attempts to reach the Final Four, it has been quite interesting to hear about a special visitor from abroad coming to study just what makes basketball here so special.
Guo Shiqiang, who coached the Chinese national team from 2008 to 2010, is in the middle of a three-week stay in Malaga, Spain, where he has been the guest of Turkish Airlines Euroleague club Unicaja.
Coach Guo, who was also a top player in China, makes it very clear why he wanted to go behind the scenes at a Euroleague club in the middle of his new career in coaching.
"Team basketball," he said this week through an interpreter. "Europe and China work in the system of team basketball. I like team basketball systems, and that's what I came here to learn."
That is no small statement. Coach Guo probably could have gone anywhere in the world to study basketball. It is just as likely that before he chose Unicaja, he could not have named one of the team's players or coaches. But that didn't matter, because of the very reasons he stated.
Basketball as teamwork has become the calling card of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague in a sport that is played in almost every country on all five continents. There are stars everywhere around the world, players who can light up a scoreboard. But when it comes to team play - five-on-five, yes, but up to 10 or more players contributing, night-in and night-out, from every roster - there is nothing like this competition.
You see it when passes ricochet around the court to find the open man for the shot, as opposed to the ball being given to the star while everyone else watches. You see it in the revolving door of substitutions, the new normal in the Euroleague, as teams hustle to keep up the non-stop intensity level of their rivals.
Coach Guo even sees it during the Unicaja practices.
"To begin with, European basketball is a lot more physical and intense," he said after his first 10 days in Malaga. "That intensity and that physical contact is the same in practice as in the games. What I also like is that the plays all come within a team system. All the players work together."
Coach Guo had good reason to be attracted to Euroleague Basketball. Just a few years after he finished a stellar playing career, following stints as the head coach of national youth and pro club teams, he was hired as an assistant to Team China head coach Jonas Kazlauskas, a former Euroleague champion, prior to the biggest date in that country's basketball history, the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
"I learned a lot from him, mainly concerning modern basketbally theory," Coach Guo, 36, said from Malaga. "He is a great coach who has a lot of passion for his work, and he showed me many things. He had both experience and a strong work ethic, so I was very happy to be able to learn from him."
Kazlauskas, who won the 1999 Euroleague title with Zalgiris Kaunas, now has CSKA Moscow heading into the playoffs tied for this season's best record. His experience in China, where he spent five years as either assistant or head coach of Team China, tells Kazlauskas that there is a lot of synergy between basketball there and here. Indeed, Guo traveling to Europe has been made possible thanks to the close cooperation in place between Euroleague Basketball and the Chinese Basketball Association.
"I think it's great that China is looking toward the Euroleague and the Euroleague looking towards China now," said Kazlauskas. "These are two basketball cultures that have a lot to offer each other, as we have seen in the past, with Euroleague teams like CSKA visiting China and some of the Chinese juniors taking part in the Final Four junior tournament. The visit of Guo Shiqiang, with whom I worked closely, is another such step. He can learn a lot by spending time with Euroleague teams and that can only help basketball in China."
Coach Guo, who returns to China next week, sees those ties only getting stronger.
"If Chinese fans has more opportunity to see Euroleague games, I am sure that they would like this basketball," he said. "And one day, for sure, I hope that we can see Chinese players in Euroleague games."
FRANK LAWLOR - EUROLEAGUE.NET
Friday, March 09, 2012