U20 Men Division B
By Paul Nilsen
|If you are a powor forward or a center with a tendency to 'showtime', you can be sure that you'll fail to impress someone like Paul Mokeski |
When former NBA center Paul Mokeski speaks, it would be a good idea for young players to listen and take note.
For the assistant coach of the Great Britain National Team has warned too many of the current crop of youth stars are intent on showboating rather than plain sailing.
While he has spent the last couple of weeks coaching at the U20 European Championship Division B in Sarajevo, his message is one that should be heard way beyond the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Players tend to get ahead of themselves these days," explained Mokeski.
"They start thinking of playing for a big time college program, NBA or making money too early in their career. They should focus more on developing their skills and becoming the best player they can be and the other stuff will take care of itself.
"They need to focus on playing basketball the ‘right' way- keeping it simple.
"I like to tell players there are three simple rules on offense. If you are open in your range, shoot it, if there is an open lane to the basket then drive and if your team-mate is open, pass it. Too many players today over-complicate the game. They want to make the spectacular play when they should just make the simple play."
Working at a youth tournament this summer has certainly brought the memories flooding back for Mokeski who remembers his own youth days vividly.
"Being in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have seen a lot of tall skinny players that remind me of myself when I was young. At 19 and 20 years old, I was playing at The Universiy of Kansas -the very highest level of college basketball in the United States.
"I was pretty athletic and hand good basketball skills. My goal at that time was to become the best player possible and maybe make some money playing basketball. The game I love.
|Big guys are the ones who benefit more from Mokeski's training programme, with Great Britain center Daniel Clark (now with the senior national team) probably being the prime example |
"I ended up playing 12 years in the NBA. I played hard, had a good basketball IQ, was a good team-mate and knew my role - to help the team win by doing the little things. Like setting picks, knowing the plays, diving on the floor for loose balls and doing what the coach asked of me."
One of the most common features of many youth tournaments is the number of stand-out players who dominate in their teams but according to Mokeski, finding the right balance between the influence of the rising stars and their supporting cast isn't a universal formula which suits everybody.
"Balance on a team is very important but that means different things to different teams. Some teams have six or seven players of equal talent on offense so your team scoring will look different then on a team that has two or three very talented players and four or five ‘role' players," Mokeski says.
"That team's scoring will look different but it doesn't mean you don't have a ‘balanced' team. You just have a different team.
"A good team is full of players that put winning first and their teammates ahead of themselves. The all know their strengths and play to them."
Mokeski also reiterated the competitive nature of youth basketball in Europe and even in the second tier, the competition is intense and demands near perfection to succeed.
"The tournament is very competitive. It's so hard to qualify for the A division. There is no room for error. If you are in Division A you just have to win a game or two to stay up there, but to get from the B to the A division you must win pretty much all your games or you can maybe get through with one loss and so it's very difficult."
So how did the Spokane native end up coaching for the Great Britain programme? Well, that was down to Head Coach, Chris Finch who incidentally has just been hired by the Houston Rockets for next season.
"I was his assistant coach at the NBA Development team Rio Grande Valley Vipers in Texas two years ago , as well as this year. We hit it off and he saw that I had a lot to offer on his Great Britain staff.
"I have a defensive accountability system that I have used with the Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA as well as the Jamaican National team and the Vipers.
"Coach Finch really liked it and thought it would help GB. We used it last year to help us qualify for EuroBasket 2011 and will use it as we prepare for this years tournament.
"It's a system of drills and video grading that goes along with our defensive philosophy and helps us see our weakness and how to correct them. We are also using it with the Under 20 team this summer.
"Another one of my strengths is player development. I work with the players with a particular emphasis on the big men to help them with their skills. Dan Clark from the senior National Team is one example.
"I also think I have a good feel for the game and can give coach Finch another set of eyes during the game. I really enjoy working with the Great Britain program. From top to bottom Great Britain is a class organization and I look forward to continuing the relationship."