Day 13 of the Euro trip… Yesterday and today we took in some of the most enjoyable games of the women’s FIBA U19 World Championship so far: Serbia vs. Czech and Spain vs. Slovakia were especially good.
There’s a distinct style of play that each country plays with that make it so much fun to see teams go head-to-head internationally. Japan, for instance, is a run-and-gun squad, where a three pointer seems to be better than a two. (Wow, do they ever fire them deep!) Serbia by contrast is a multi-skilled, deliberately precise in their execution; while Czech pushes the ball with speed, yet is adaptable and can slow it down and grind it out.
I’ve seen a whole slew of physical types at these FIBA U19 World Championships. What can’t be overlooked is a trending toward multi-skilled athletes – that can dribble, pass and shoot – at all positions.
To see a 6’2 female athlete rebound the ball, breakout dribble to lead transition, use an inside-out move only to then cross up the defender and drop a finger roll at front rim, brought me out of my seat. It was a thing of beauty – especially, when on the next play this same player pulled up and drained a three from deep. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would have thought it an anomaly. Yet, the vast majority of the teams at this world championship, had their ‘bigs’ doing some similar things.
BREAKING THE RULES
As a Development Coach with Canada Basketball, I drank the “kool aid” when asked to identify kids with height and athleticism and train them as a ‘global’ multi-skilled player. That, I was told, is the future of the game. I bought in then, and now I know, unequivocally that it’s true.
Having said all that, Miguel (a.k.a. Yoda Master Mike MacKay) and I had quite the discussion on one particular athlete from the Slovak team. Her name is Lucia Vista-(something)-lava. [Sorry, I don’t have a program and my Slovak is non-existent to understand the announcer. Let’s just call her Lucia… pronounced Lu-chee-ya.]
Now, Lucia is the starting centre for the Slovakian U19 women’s team. [This is where I’m going to get into trouble if I don’t say this correctly…] She’s about 6’1 and horizontally-challenged or as I’ve learned from my Maritime Mentor, his dad calls it, “six axe handles wide!”
Hey… Thing thing you need to know about Lucia is that she can flat out BALL!
Multi-skilled? No doubt. She can shoot the three-ball, handle the rock, lead the break, finish around the basket with both hands and drop dimes with precision while under pressure. I’m not hyping this kid up. For real… I was on the nay-saying side of this discussion before the tip off.
The icing on the cake… Lucia has heart. She plays with a fire in her belly! She woos you with her skills and then locks you up with her infectious passion for playing; punctuating a great play with arm extended, finger pointing to the sky. A true joy to watch. I mean, she converted me by the third quarter.
Lucia proved me wrong. Or, at least, is making me revisit my position and rethink a few things.
The biggest revelation I walk away with, after having witnessed Lucia: size is NOT an accurate indicator of athleticism or fitness.
If you were hoping for something deeper, forget it. This was a misconception I held, up to this point.
This kid was (is) fit. Her conditioning wasn’t rivaled by any other on that court; and it was an up and down game. She made transition (led it at other times), closed out shooters when required and moved her feet extremely well on post defense.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that I would choose her for our Centre for Performance in Canada. The focus of CP is to select and develop athletes with potential to make the National Team.
Mike and I went back and forth on this too at length. My final dig-your-heels-in rebuttal to him: “I’ve never seen an athlete like her at a national team or WNBA level.”
In writing this post, I think about that word I used… “seen”.
That’s a loaded term.
Are the only athletes we choose for teams based on what we’ve previously seen? Or, what we’ve previously coached? Or, who we’re comfortable teaching?
FINDING A BLACK CAT IN A DARK ROOM
The problem with perception, as Mike just reminded me, is: How do you change perception? How do you change what you see? Or, how does that lens with which we view, interpret and make sense of the things inhibit us from finding it true value or potential?
What I do know, as a coach, athlete selection is an art, not a science. Years ago I asked an NBA scout about how he does his job. His response: ‘Scouting and drafting is like finding a black cat in a completely dark room.’
This dude, who is considered tops in the League, gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and that’s what he came up with!
Well, since then, I’ve participated in a lot of NBA Draft workouts over the years and had intimate access behind the scenes to the 2006 and 2007 NBA Drafts. I understand his point. Further, for the curious, it’s not what happens during the Draft that shocks you. It’s what doesn’t happen. More so, you see how perception (often inevitably) gets the swing vote.
I’m leaving this thought open-ended; abruptly, in fact, on purpose. Why? I don’t have a complete answer for this one.
Experience tells me though, that the answer falls within the question; or, questioning, I should say. Expose yourself to new ideas, challenge preconceived notions, seek to understand why others feel/think differently and meet new people who have lived lives in ways you wouldn’t consider.
I’m just over half way there, but this experience has taught me that much having met so many and seen such new things.
I’m better off for having ‘met’ Lucia. One day I’ll ID another version of her elsewhere in the world. I’ll be sure to challenge first perception then and give her (or him) a second look when that happens; especially, if they have have her heart.
Think outside the well.
The things we look for often are the things that we’ll find. What about the things we fail to look for?