Three years removed from his first experience on a Euroleague bench, two seasons with Cantu of his native Italy, head coach Andrea Trinchieri returned this season as German League champion with Brose Baskets Bamberg after having detoured for a season to Russia to coach Unics Kazan. Of the 11 players who have appeared so far for Bamberg, six had no Euroleague experience at all and another played just 10 games, making it one of the least-experienced teams in the competition. For his Coaches Corner contribution, Coach Trinchieri talks about the challenge of acclimating rookies to a competition that he says requires more focus at a faster pace than any other.
One of the duties of a coach is to help stimulate his players' improvement, so during the preseason I made a test with my team. I put them in a kind of classroom and gave them around 20 questions about the Euroleague. Who are Spanoulis and Jasikevicius? What is Bodiroga's best move? How did they play? You'd be surprised by the answers. But it was a funny way for young but hungry guys to approach the Euroleague.
Another thing we did at the beginning of the season: instead of me talking them about what the Euroleague is, I had another player do it. Coaches are talking all the time, do this and do that, so sometimes it's better to have a player talk to the other players. So I said to Nikos Zisis, "Please explain to your teammates who don't know what is the Euroleague, what makes it different."
And Nikos told them: "Everything is faster. Everything is more physical. Every possession counts more. And if you have a few bad possessions in a row, in the domestic league you'll suffer a 5-0 run and you can make it up quickly. In the Euroleague it will be a 12-2 run and you will not come back."
I believe that the level of concentration required and the physical impact playing in the Euroleague is unique. Concentration is not just required, it's VITAL. The level of basketball knowledge and the speed with which you need to apply it, reading the game and reacting, is the fastest you can find. The trick for us is to look for things that make up for all our inexperience. To make it simple, I tell them: when you play the Euroleague, play every possession like it's the last one of your career. Play with care, focus, mental toughness: like it's the last possession of the last game of your career. In this way you call up sense of urgency and sense of responsibility from your players.
When we have to play a big team, we are a team of Euroleague rookies, so we don't have the experience of playing these games together. You need to find a common ground where you can play with a little self-esteem and face the adversity that is sure to come. Life, in the end, is about going through adversity and finding solutions. If we don't have enough basketball experience, we do have a common ground in terms of emotions. Our passion and love for what we are doing is the common ground.
Whenever we go to a new gym, I have 9 or 10 players with their eyes up, looking around the gym, seeing it for the first time. This is the picture of how fresh we are. We go to Moscow, they see the names on the wall and ask, who is this and that player. It's kind of romantic in a way. I feel like I am taking some young, talented, good guys to the big stage. Or like I'm driving the school bus through this amazing thing that is the Euroleague. But what I don't want is to limit ourselves by over-respecting all the other teams. In the end, it's five on five. Maybe the other team is better, but they have to earn that. We don't give them the game just because they are more experienced or more talented. They have to win it from us.
This season so far, we didn't do that in the opener in Malaga against Unicaja. They simply destroyed us on rebounds. It was painful. We learned from that and did what we had to do against Darussafaka to protect our home court. Then, we tried to come back against CSKA in Moscow. We fought, but we lost. And finally, last week, we played good against Maccabi at home and won. But the key game for a team like ours was being down 13 in Moscow and then coming back strong to lead on the scoreboard with 2 minutes to go.
A game like that gives you the feeling that you can play a big game. There's still something missing, because we lost the game. But at least we faced that adversity, being behind by a lot, and we didn't melt down. We stuck together and adjusted the plan that wasn't working. We needed to go then with more personality and less Xs and Os. We manned up.
The players needed to take responsibility and change the momentum. And they did. We were close to the win after coming back. But in the end, CSKA was better. However, what that game in Moscow gave us came the next week, when we were struggling in the third quarter with Maccabi. We shook it off and came back very strong in the fourth quarter. We did the very important job of linking good things from one game to the other. It's amazing what playing with passion and showing some love to your players can do. The learning process isn't ever over.
Everybody talks about experience, all coaches would buy experience if they could, but they never find the right shop. The only way to get experience is to play the game, to swim in stormy waters. I say this to my players: It's like every loss and every bad experience leaves a scar on your body. Next time you play, when the game becomes tough, you put your fingertips on the scar and remember what caused it. That is the way to build experience. In Malaga, we were tentative, worried and concerned about the first Euroleague game. We didn't use our energy at all. Since that day, however, we won all the rebounding matchups. We put our fingers on the scar.