It's gameday and tip-off time is rapidly approaching…in these crucial final few hours and minutes before a game gets underway, how do the players and coaches spend their time? Darussafaka Tefken Istanbul head coach Ahmet Caki reveals all.
The final preparations for a game begin three hours before tip-off when we have a coffee break and our last pre-game meeting. We will watch some video of our opponent's most recent game and talk about the specific abilities of each opposing player and how we will guard him, emphasizing the players and our tactical plans for defense. The day before, we have another meeting when we decide our offensive approach and look at how the opponent defends. But on the day of the game itself, we only talk about our plans for defense.
We always plan to arrive at the gym an hour and a half before the game, and on the bus journey from the hotel to the arena I leave the players alone to do their own thing. We have already talked enough about the game, with team meetings and, if necessary, individual meetings, so on the journey I don't talk to the players. It's important they have some time for themselves to relax, listen to music or do whatever they need to feel good for the game.
"You don't want to give players too much information, because it's impossible for them to remember everything about the opponent."
In the same way, each player has his own routine in the first few minutes after we arrive at the arena, so I don't interfere with them during this time. There are always two locker rooms: one for players and one for coaches, and I go to the coaches' room with my assistants so we can talk for the last time about the most important things we are planning for the game. The players can do their own thing – listen to music, go onto the court and take some shots, maybe eat some fruit, get themselves taped up.
About 40 minutes before game time we begin our warm-ups with the fitness coach. We split the players into two groups of six – one of them on the court doing ball work, shooting and dribbling, and the other group on the side of the court doing stretching exercises and skipping. By having them in two groups, we can give them more individual attention and make sure everybody has enough chances to touch the ball, and after a few minutes we swap the groups. We also might need to give extra attention to an individual player if he has an injury and needs to do specific stretching exercises to protect his muscles.
Twenty-five minutes before the game, the players come back into the locker room for the last speech, which takes five or six minutes. This last meeting doesn't cover tactics too much, because we have already discussed everything in our previous meetings. You don't want to give players too much information, because it's impossible for them to remember everything about the opponent. Every team can run 40 or 50 plays on offense, so you can't talk about all of them.
"Our goal is to have the players mentally, physically and tactically ready, but a lot of that must come from the player himself."
Instead, we talk about general concepts, how they like to attack or defend and what we want to do. But if we have prepared something special for that game, on offense or defense, I will remind the players, and maybe also have one or two words about motivation. But not too much, because you don't want to do this all the time – we prefer to create an environment where every player is able to motivate himself for each game. When you have 60 games a season, you can't keep telling the players the same thing every week, so the motivation has to be personal. Our goal is to have the players mentally, physically and tactically ready, but a lot of that must come from the player himself.
Then we return to the court, 20 minutes before the opening tip-off, for our regular warm-up – layups, jump shots, three-point shots. And really, by this time our preparations are already finished. The last thing is to return to the sidelines for one last huddle just before the game starts, to remind the players of the first two offenses we will run, or maybe something specific for one or two players depending on our starting five. And that's all; it's time for tip-off!